1930 Duesenberg Model J Convertible CoupeSOLD
See all the Images for this Car
Estimate: $1,100,000-$1,500,000 US

Sold: $1,072,500

265bhp, 420 cu. in. four valves per cylinder twin overhead camshaft inline eight-cylinder engine with hemispherical combustion chambers, three-speed synchromesh transmission, front suspension via semi-elliptical leaf springs and beam axle, rear suspension via semi-elliptical leaf springs and live rear axle, and vacuum-assisted four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Wheelbase: 142.5"

The Model J Duesenberg has long been regarded as the most outstanding example of design and engineering of the Classic Era. Introduced in 1929, trading was halted on the New York Stock Exchange for the announcement. At $8,500 for the chassis alone, it was by far the most expensive car in America. With coachwork, the delivered price of many Duesenbergs approached $20,000, a staggering sum at a time when a typical new family car cost around $500.

The Mighty Model J

The story of Fred and August Duesenberg and E.L. Cord is among the most fascinating in automotive history. The Duesenbergs were self-taught mechanics and car builders whose careers started in the Midwest at the beginning of the twentieth century with the manufacture of cars bearing the Mason and Maytag names. Fred, the older brother by five years, was the tinkerer and designer of the pair. Augie made Fred’s ingenious and creative things work.

The Duesenbergs’ skill and creativity affected many other early American auto manufacturers. Their four-cylinder engine produced by Rochester powered half a dozen marques. Eddie Rickenbacker, Rex Mays, Peter DePaolo, Tommy Milton, Albert Guyot, Ralph DePalma, Fred Frame, Deacon Litz, Joe Russo, Stubby Stubblefield, Jimmy Murphy, Ralph Mulford and Ab Jenkins drove their racing cars.

In 15 consecutive Indianapolis 500s, starting with their first appearance in 1913, 70 Duesenbergs competed. Thirty-two – an amazing 46 percent of them – finished in the top 10. Fred and Augie became masters of supercharging and of reliability. Their engines, because engines were Fred’s specialty, were beautiful and performed on a par with the best of Miller, Peugeot and Ballot.

In 1921, Jimmy Murphy’s Duesenberg won the most important race on the international calendar, the French GP at Le Mans. It was the first car with hydraulic brakes to start a Grand Prix. Duesenberg backed up this performance at Indianapolis in 1922 – eight of the top 10 cars were Duesenberg powered, including Jimmy Murphy’s winner.

In 1925, Errett Lobban Cord added the Duesenberg Motors Company to his rapidly growing enterprise, the Auburn Automobile Company. Cord’s vision was to create an automobile that would surpass the great marques of Europe and America. Cadillac, Isotta Fraschini, Bugatti, Rolls-Royce and Hispano-Suiza were his targets and Duesenberg was his chosen instrument. He presented Fred Duesenberg with the opportunity to create the greatest car in the world, and Fred obliged with the Duesenberg Model J.

The Duesenberg Model J was conceived and executed to be superlative in all aspects. Its short wheelbase chassis was 142.5 inches, nearly 12 feet. The double overhead camshaft straight eight-cylinder engine had four valves per cylinder and displaced 420 cubic inches. It made 265 horsepower. The finest materials were used throughout and fit and finish were to tool room standards. Each chassis was driven at speed for 100 miles at Indianapolis.

The Duesenberg Model J’s introduction on December 1, 1928 at the New York Auto Salon was front page news. The combination of the Duesenberg reputation with the Model J’s grand concept and execution made it the star of the show and the year. Duesenberg ordered enough components to build 500 Model Js while development continued for six months after the Model J’s introduction to ensure its close approximation of perfection. The first customer delivery came in May 1929, barely five months before Black Tuesday. Unfortunately, the Model J Duesenberg lacked financing and support from E.L. Cord and Auburn Corporation, which were both struggling to stay afloat in the decimated middle market.

The effect of the Duesenberg J on America cannot be minimized. Even in the misery of the Depression this paragon of power illustrated the continued existence of wealth and the upper class. Duesenberg’s advertising became a benchmark, featuring the wealthy and privileged in opulent surroundings with only a single line of copy: “He drives a Duesenberg.” The outside exhaust pipes inspired generations of auto designers and remain, 60 years later, a symbol of power and performance. “She’s a real Duesy,” still means a slick, quick, smooth and desirable possession of the highest quality.

Duesenbergs were expensive cars, and only men or women of means could afford them. At a time when a perfectly good new family sedan could be purchased for $500 or so, a coachbuilt Duesenberg often cost $20,000 or more. If a full-sized family sedan sells for $30,000 today, that is the equivalent of more than $1 million dollars now. Such extravagance was born of an era of unbridled capitalism – a time when a man with vision and ability could make – and keep – a fortune of staggering size.

These were the men who could afford the very best, and there was absolutely no doubt that when it came to automobiles, E. L. Cord’s magnificent Duesenberg was the best that money could buy.

It is interesting to note that during the course of Duesenberg production, various enhancements were made, but according to Duesenberg historian and author J. L. Elbert, most of these changes were implemented after the first 250 cars were built. J395 is chassis number 2414, and is therefore approximately the 289th Model J to be assembled. It was also at this point that the price of the chassis was increased by $1,000 to $9,500.

The new Duesenberg was tailor-made for the custom body industry. It had the power and stance to carry imposing coachwork, and the style and grace of the factory sheet metal was ideally suited for the execution of elegant custom coachwork. The Murphy Body Company of Pasadena, California is generally recognized as the most successful coachbuilder on the Duesenberg Model J chassis.

The Walter M. Murphy Company

Associated initially with Packards, Murphy built bodies that suited the California tastes of the time. They were simple and elegant, with trim lines and an undeniable sporting character. Murphy bodies seemed all the more revolutionary when compared to their contemporaries from the East Coast, who built heavier, more ornate designs.

The trademark of Murphy body design was the “clear vision” pillar. On the convertible coupe, the windshield pillars were designed to be as slim as possible, creating a sportier, more open appearance, while improving visibility for the driver. In fact, Murphy advertised that their windshield pillars were “narrower than the space between a man’s eyes”, a design they claimed eliminated blind spots.

The convertible coupe is generally considered to be the best looking of Murphy’s designs, and indeed, it became one of the most popular bodies for the Model J. There is no doubt, however, that the rarest – and most desirable – variant is the car known to collectors today as the “Disappearing Top” Murphy roadster. In the original design, the top, when lowered, was stacked on the rear deck – the only awkward note in an otherwise stunning design. This flaw was corrected with the advent of the disappearing top cars, in which ingenious modifications to the top framing, along with a rear hinged tonneau cover allowed the convertible top to be hidden completely, leaving only the car’s original sleek lines. Consequently, this is one of the few Classic Era designs that look as sporting with the top up as it does when down.

The magnificent Duesenberg offered here was delivered new carrying the same coachwork as it does today – Murphy convertible coupe body number 938. Like all 900 series convertible coupes, it is a disappearing top car. Although there is some disagreement as to the number of these special cars built, it is certainly true that they are far rarer today than their non-disappearing top counterparts.

The Duesenberg as a Soldier of War

It is a little-known fact that at the onset of World War II, Pratt and Whitney needed an engine to spin up the supercharger for the R-2800 aircraft engine – the largest and most powerful of its kind at the time, producing 2,000 brake horsepower from nearly 46 liters of displacement and 18 cylinders. The engine was so successful that it ultimately powered a large number of fighters and fighter-bombers, including the P-47, the F6F Hellcat, the F4U Corsair and also the B-26 and A-26 twin engine medium duty bombers.

The problem was that to test and develop the engines, a method of turning the supercharger when it was separated from the power unit was needed. At the time, no electric motors capable of generating enough power were available, and the Duesenberg was the only reliable automotive engine capable of doing so. As a result, Pratt & Whitney contracted with Inskip Inc. of New York to locate and purchase four Duesenbergs to be used in this testing program. Within a month they had done so, and they were J573, a Rollston convertible Victoria (with a twin carbureted supercharger!), J472, a five passenger sedan by La Grande, J401, a Castagna-bodied convertible sedan, and finally, the example offered here, J327, a Murphy Convertible Coupe.

The engines fulfilled their duty remarkably well, given the incredible strains they endured during testing. The tests were run at 6,000 rpm, and the engineers calculated that to turn the R-2800 blowers at their rated speed required between continuous output of between 250 and 300 brake horsepower! Amazingly, only one engine failed, and then only when cold water was suddenly added to the coolant loop, causing one cylinder to seize.

When the testing program was complete shortly after the war, Pratt & Whitney began selling off the cars and parts. Two of the three remaining running engines were sold to highly respected Duesenberg expert and legendary mechanic Jim Hoe. Only the last engine, J401, was re-installed in one of the original four cars – chassis 2340, the Murphy Convertible Coupe offered here, where it remains to this day.

Roster of Keepers

Chassis 2340 was delivered new to Emory M. Ford of Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan. Before long, he sold the car to Walter Cook of New York City. However, by mid-1934, the car was in the inventory of New York-based dealer Hilton Motors.

On June 19, 1934, Hilton sold the Duesenberg to Phillip Gossler, Jr. of New Jersey. Gossler owned the car until January 20, 1943 when J.S. Inskip bought 2340 along with three other Model Js to fulfill the order placed by Pratt & Whitney. All four cars were delivered on February 11, 1943.

Following the testing program, sometime in 1946 Robert J. Wilder bought 2340 (now engineless) along with J401, and restored the car as needed. He kept the car until November 1947 when he sold it to Garrett B. Fuller of Newtonville, Massachusetts. A series of other owners followed: Dr. Ray Sabourin, New York, September 1948; Henry Matthews, Ohio, January 1950, the Moore Brothers, Ohio, and C. Richard Bell, Pennsylvania.

Al Thurn, of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania bought the Duesenberg in late 1953, and would own it for a dozen years. During his tenure, the car received a great deal of mechanical and cosmetic attention, including the installation of an original supercharger. An active CCCA member, he showed the car on many occasions, earning its AACA Senior National First Place Award, and making the cover of the CCCA Bulletin in spring of 1956, along with an article detailing the restoration shops that had been involved in the project.

Finally, in October 1965, Thurn sold the car to Irv Tushinsky, a California collector for the unheard of sum (for the time) of $23,000. A perfectionist, Tushinsky then spent another $40,000 upgrading the car – after which it won its second AACA Senior National First Place Award. Four years later, in April of 1969, Tushinsky sold chassis 2340 to New York collector Roy Egidi, Jr.

New York collector Herb Wetanson bought the car in January 1971, keeping it just a year before selling it to Richard Slobodien, of New Jersey, who removed the supercharger installed by Thurn. Chassis 2340’s next long-term owner was Chris H. L. Owen of New York in March 1973. Owen would care for the car for 14 years, trusting it only to Jim Hoe. Finally, in June 1986 Owen sold the car to well-known collector Noel Thompson of New Vernon, New Jersey.

It is interesting to note that by this point, 2340 had earned the reputation of being one of the finest driving Duesenbergs extant, something many attribute to Jim Hoe’s ministrations. In fact, for many years, Rick Carroll of Jensen Beach, Florida tried to buy the car, finally succeeding in June 1987. Carroll was well-known in collector car circles, having bought, sold, and owned some of the greatest classic cars. Unfortunately, Rick was killed in a tragic accident and his collection was auctioned by Sotheby’s in March 1990. It was at this sale that Sam Mann purchased the car, beginning a lifelong fascination with the marque.

During his tenure with chassis 2340, Sam has diligently maintained the car, once again entrusting the car to Jim Hoe, until his retirement some ten years later. His priority has been to keep it in top running order as he feels that a Duesenberg makes the ideal tour car. In fact, despite the number of choices they have in their collection, the Duesenberg has had regular exercise over the years. Events included two 1,000-mile CCCA CARavans (New England and Pacific Northwest), and the Colorado Grand (a high speed, 1,000 mile event through the Rocky Mountains west of Denver). Recent events include the Wyoming Duesenberg Tour and the John Mozart Classic Car Tour, both in 2007.

Although Sam is clearly passionate about Duesenbergs as wonderful tour cars, anyone who has seen Sam and Emily’s collection knows that they care as much about the intrinsic beauty of the coachwork as the engineering that underlies it. Given the caliber of their other cars, the fact that chassis 2340 has found a home there for nearly 20 years is an endorsement of the outstanding lines and superb proportions crafted by Murphy so many years ago.


Today, chassis 2340 remains in excellent mechanical condition. With the 3.50:1 rear axle installed a few years ago, it is still capable of 100 mile-per-hour speeds – and will cruise comfortably at 75 to 85 miles per hour for hours at a time. It is regularly maintained by Sam’s own in-house shop to ensure that it is truly “on the button” and ready to drive on a moment’s notice. The car is well-equipped, fitted with the strikingly beautiful 19-inch chromed wheels, accessory side exhaust, twin Pilot Ray driving lights and twin Lorraine spotlights as well.

At a time when so many cars have been resurrected from parts bins, it is refreshing indeed to find a car that retains its original body, chassis and an engine that has been installed for more than sixty years – installed as a result of the role this car played in developing the engines that helped America win the war.

Today, 2340 still presents superbly, finished in ivory with red leather and a striking polished chrome beltline. Although the restoration is no longer fresh, it has aged ever so gracefully, acquiring the patina of a lovely original. It is a wonderful example of what many feel is the ultimate Duesenberg – the disappearing top Murphy Convertible Coupe.

Reference Number 38571

as of 2/10/2009

Car 1930 Duesenberg Model J Convertible Coupe
More Images
See all the Images for this CarSee all the Images for this CarSee all the Images for this CarSee all the Images for this CarSee all the Images for this CarSee all the Images for this Car