1929 Duesenberg J Dual Cowl PhaetonSOLD

RM Auction - Vintage Motor Cars at Amelia Island - March 10, 2007

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ESTIMATE: $1,600,000 - $2,000,000

$1,490,400 Sold

265bhp, 420 cu. in. four valves per cylinder twin overhead camshaft inline eight-cylinder engine, three-speed transmission, front beam axle, live rear axle, vacuum-assisted four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Wheelbase: 142.5"

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 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, 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 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 size sedan sells for $25,000 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.

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. While most of the leading coachbuilders of the day were commissioned to clothe the mighty J, many believe it was LeBaron’s interpretation of the dual cowl phaeton that became most identified with the mighty Model J.

Founded by Thomas L. Hibbard and Ray Dietrich, and later joined by Ralph Roberts, the company established itself as innovative, creative, and responsive.

Although Hibbard and Dietrich later left the firm to pursue other opportunities, the company flourished at the hand of Ralph Roberts. LeBaron’s bodies have stood the test of time, their classic elegance and tasteful embellishment distinguishing them among the most coveted coachwork on these great chassis. In an era of great designers and coachbuilders, the Model J LeBaron dual cowl phaeton has become an icon, recognized almost anywhere.

The example offered here, car 2149, was delivered new to S. D. Locke of Bridgeport, CT. The second recorded owner, in the early 1930s, was Hugh Herndon, but in 1933 the car was sold to Jack R. Aron of New York City, via Kickerbocker Auto Co., also of New York City. Aron kept the car for about five years before it went to R. S. Huested, another New Yorker, via Harlem Motors in 1938.

After the war, 2149 was at J.S. Inskip in New York, but shortly afterwards was offered by Havell Motors of Morristown, NJ – asking price $500! A series of New Jersey owners followed; first J.C. Woodhull, then a man named Sheppard, and finally W. A. Crowhurst.

Crowhurst advertised 2149 at $15,000 on July 21st, 1950. Apparently the car didn’t sell until 1952, when it was bought by William Metcalf III of Pennsylvania. The next owner was Frank Lang in New Jersey, who had the engine rebuilt at a cost of more than $3,000. In February of 1963, Lang sold the car to enthusiast Allan Thurn, of Bethlehem, PA. About a year later, Thurn sold the car to George R. Wallace of Fitchburg, MA.

Wallace had J126 completely restored in the late 1960s, and added the car’s external exhaust. He displayed car at the AACA National Fall meet in 1970, where it earned a National First Prize – no small feat in those days. In addition, Fitchburg showed the car in Classic Car Club of America judging, where it earned its National First Place in the Senior division. He sold the car in August 1974 to Ray Lutgert of Florida at a Kruse auction. Although the sale price is not recorded, it was apparently a record sale for a Duesenberg at auction at the time.

Lutgert kept the car for about six months before selling it to Richard Slobodien of New Jersey. Slobodien kept the car for about three years, selling it to Thomas Storms of California in 1977. The next owner, Axel Wars of California, kept the car only briefly before selling it via the Tulsa auction to Zach Brinkerhoff of Denver, Colorado in June of 1978.

Zach sold the LeBaron to Tom Barrett, who was buying the car on behalf of Axel Wars for a friend of his, Mexican Federico Medarazo. Two other Mexican owners would follow – Jorge Jimenez and Mexican President José López Portillo (Portillo served as President from 1976 through 1982, making him perhaps the only modern day head of state to own a Duesenberg while in office!).

J126/2129 returned to the U.S. when it was purchased by Dick Barbour of San Diego, CA via a Texas intermediary. The car’s next owner was William Schutz, who is illustrated in a photograph of the car dated 1987. The next owner was noted collector Noel Thompson of New Vernon, N.J. In November of 1999, Thompson sold the car to the Imperial Palace collection, where it remained until it was purchased as part of a large package of cars by auctioneer Dean V. Kruse of Auburn, IN.

Former owner Zack Brinkerhof had always regretted selling J126, and finally in 2001, he was able to repurchase the car from Dean Kruse. He immediately began a comprehensive mechanical restoration involving a full professional engine rebuild, as well as a variety of detailing and cosmetic upgrades. Since then, J126/2129 has successfully completed two Classic Car Club of America CARavans – without a single problem.

Eventually, Zach decided he would no longer use the car in CARavans and tours, and he decided to sell J126 once again – and the vendor acquired the car from him about two years ago.

J126 is also well equipped; options include a proper set of Pilot Ray driving lights, a full set of six chromed Buffalo wire wheels fitted with wide whitewall tires, wind wings, and the aforementioned external exhaust.

Today, J126 stands as an exceptional example of the marque. It has a known and continuous history since new, and has been maintained and cared for throughout. It has never been seriously deteriorated, and has only had one high quality restoration – completed in the early 1970s. It is a testimonial to the quality of the workmanship that the car remains in excellent condition today, more than thirty years later.

J126/2129 is also one of the most original surviving Duesenbergs – not only does it retain its original body, but no major components have ever been changed. It is, without a doubt, exactly the car it was when Mr. Locke took delivery back in 1929.

Reference Number 7107

as of 2/7/2007

Car 1929 Duesenberg J Dual Cowl Phaeton
VIN 2149 
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