1934 Duesenberg SJ Boattail SpeedsterSOLD

RM Auctions - The Ponder Collection - Texas - April 20-21st, 2007

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ESTIMATE: $600,000 - $800,000


$660,000 Sold

320hp at 4,200rpm, 420cu. in. dual overhead camshaft four valves per cylinder inline
eight-cylinder engine with centrifugal supercharger giving five psi boost at 4,000rpm,
three-speed manual transmission, front and rear semi-elliptic leaf springs,
four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 142.5"

Formerly the Property of Raymond Lutgert, the Late Rick Carroll and the Richard and Linda Kughn Carail Collections 1934 Duesenberg Model SJ Boattail Speedster Coachwork by Walton Body Shop

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 the highest possible build quality. The first customer delivery came in May 1929, barely five months before the notorious stock market crash on Black Tuesday.

Unfortunately, Duesenberg lacked financing and E.L. Cord and his Auburn Corporation, which were both struggling to stay afloat, could not provide it. After the Model J’s introduction Fred Duesenberg worked on making it even more powerful, primarily through the addition of his favorite centrifugal supercharger to the Model J’s giant eight - just as he had done so successfully to his 122 cubic inch racing eights a decade earlier. Unfortunately, Fred was killed in a Model J accident in 1932 and his brother Augie, until then independently and very successfully building racing cars, was retained to put the final touches on the supercharged Duesenberg.

The result, christened the “SJ,” was the pinnacle of American luxury performance automobiles. It has never been equaled, or even realistically approached, in concept or execution.

The Duesenberg SJ delivered 320 horsepower at speed while retaining the strong performance of the naturally aspirated J at lower rpm. Alone among the Duesenberg Js, only the SJ represented the collaboration of both Duesenberg brothers. Duesenberg built just 36 SJs at the factory; properly converting a standard J to SJ specification was no small job. The engine required complete disassembly to fit stronger valve springs, high performance tubular connecting rods and numerous other components. The SJ also required external exhaust manifolding to fit the supercharger under its hood, and the resulting dramatic chromed flexible tubes became its signature.

The effect of the Model J Duesenberg on America can’t be minimized. Even in the misery of the Depression, this paragon of power and luxury was a metaphor for prosperity and success. 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. At the turn of the twenty-first century, the Duesenberg J remains the ultimate symbol of high performance luxury.
In 1933, Denver, Colorado resident Mr. Harry G. Liebhardt ordered Duesenberg chassis number SJ 507 from the factory to be fitted with a Convertible Sedan body by Derham. A stately and handsome car in its own right, it seems that Mr. Liebhardt decided that Colorado summers required something more sporting. Mr. Liebhardt must have been a bit of a sporting man as well, as records indicate that his Derham Convertible Sedan was also used as the Indianapolis 500 pace car on May 30th, 1934.

It is thought that in about 1937 Mr. Liebhardt commissioned the Walton Body Shop in Denver, Colorado to begin construction of a second body that could be easily mounted to his chassis. The body was to be sleek and in the style of a boattail speedster, the results of which were unique and distinctive and closely resemble the SJ Duesenberg illustrated here. Additionally, Liebhardt is thought to have modified the Derham body by altering the fenders and grille and converting the open top to a stylish fixed roof.

The commission given to the Walton Body Shop is interesting, as it has been reported that Liebhardt’s motivation in having the alternative bodies constructed was to make his already rare, limited production Duesenberg even more unique and truly one of a kind with either body mounted. Unfortunately, the known history of the car ceases in the late 1930s until the original chassis and both bodies were bought by Bill Harrah. When Mr. Harrah purchased the group, both bodies were original to 1937 and retained their original paint.

Mr. Harrah had other plans for the Duesenberg chassis and opted to store the Walton Speedster body for some length of time while he focused on recreating an alternative Speedster body. He commissioned Bohman and Schwartz to design what would be an exact duplicate of a Weymann Boattail Speedster. This new body would come to be mounted on the Walton Speedster’s original chassis while both original bodies awaited new homes.

Shortly thereafter, the Derham body was sold to Homer Fitterling of Indiana, who at one point owned nearly 40 Duesenbergs. Several years later an employee of Fitterling’s, Mr. Keith Brown, negotiated to purchase the original Derham body and then successfully restored the car in its later fixed head configuration.

J134/2159 was originally delivered as a LeBaron Convertible Berline. The car was commissioned for lawyer Robert Gill, who had been instrumental in the formation of the Duesenberg corporation. It is believed that part of the payment was barter for services rendered. Little is known about the subsequent history of Gill’s convertible berline, although sometime after the end of World War II, the engine from J134 was installed in a car owned by A. B. North. Later, the engine was removed, and North’s widow sold it to Dick Meyer. The next step is unclear, but some sources indicate that Meyer sold the engine, along with other parts, to Harrah.

Meanwhile the Walton Speedster body still remained at Harrah’s. Ultimately, Mr. Bill Craig persuaded Harrah to sell him the original Walton Speedster body along with other parts, probably including the engine from J134. Craig assembled the Duesenberg using another chassis of unknown manufacture, fitted engine J134, and installed the Walton speedster body. At the time the body was still original and retained its original black and white paint. Mr. Craig owned the Duesenberg for some time before ultimately selling the car to the late Mr. Rick Carroll of Florida.

By the time Mr. Carroll had purchased the Duesenberg it was in need of a full restoration. While still complete, the body had aged poorly and the workmanship had failed to stand the test of time. Mr. Carroll contacted noted restored Bob Gassoway in the early 1970s to investigate the potential for restoring the car to show standards. Mr. Gassoway explained in a letter to Mr. Kughn that Mr. Carroll disliked the proportions of the body in its deteriorated state. Carroll commissioned Mr. Gassoway to rebuild the car and improve both the craftsmanship and the lines of the car. Former Duesenberg designer, Mr. Herbert Newport was brought in to advise on the project and his input resulted in extensive changes to the coachwork. Unfortunately, with the project only just beginning, Mr. Carroll was forced to sell the car for personal reasons.

Ultimately, the Duesenberg was purchased by Carroll’s longtime friend and noted Rolls-Royce collector, Mr. Raymond Lutgert. After several meetings with Bob Gassoway, the project was again on track; only now Mr. Lutgert was to be the proud owner following the car’s completion in 1977. The newly designed Walton Speedster body had gone through an extensive transformation under Newport and Gassoway’s guidance. The rear section of the car had been changed extensively, as had the grille and hood, which now reflected the traditional Duesenberg look. It is likely that the supercharger was fitted during the course of the restoration. Notably, the signed original rendering of the Duesenberg by Mr. Newport is included in the sale of the car. Mr. Newport’s involvement is important, as his years working for the company allowed him a creative insight and knowledge many others could not have displayed when faced with this specific challenge.

Following the restoration, the Duesenberg was displayed at the 1977 Auburn Cord Duesenberg Meet where it was shown to the public for the first time and was toured by Mr. Lutgert at the event. Shortly thereafter, the car was sold to Mr. Kughn, who entered into a long tenure of ownership. Notably, Mr. and Mrs. Kughn actually sold the Duesenberg in the late 1980s to an overseas buyer, but in approximately 1998 they opted to return the car to the collection once again. The Duesenberg was purchased by Mr. Ponder in 2003 and he immediately set out to get the Boattail Speedster in optimum running condition. Since then the Duesenberg has been maintained by noted mechanic Phil Compton of Magrathea Motors, who has diligently kept the car in flawless running order.

Currently, the Walton SJ Speedster is in very presentable overall condition. The cream and orange paintwork appears to be without spidering, cracking or any significant damage or wear. The tan canvas top, with piped, deep caramel leather, matches the lovely deep caramel leather interior and both appear to be in excellent overall condition. The condition of this Duesenberg is commensurate with the car’s indicated low mileage as it has been driven
less than 1,000 miles since the restoration’s completion in 1977.

It is complete with many desirable original accessories including Pilot Ray steering operated Spreadlights, Duesenberg spare tire mounted rear view mirrors, Twilite headlamps, chrome wire wheels, whitewall tires and dual horns. The engine is presentable, however it shows sign of use and would benefit from a thorough detail. Additionally a Stromberg UUR carburetor is also fitted. Though now an older restoration, the Walton Speedster is a very presentable example that has held up very well over the years. It shows nicely and is an impressive sight in its distinctive color scheme.

As avid participants in the Classic Car Club of America events, locally and nationally, Mr. and Mrs. Kughn submitted the car for approval by both the CCCA and the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club. Accordingly, the Walton Speedster is a member of both under the Modified Classic Status in the CCCA and certified as a Level Two Rebodied Original car in the ACD Club. It is important to note as these certifications allow for the car to be displayed and participate in the many events hosted by these clubs each year.

This stunning and distinctive Duesenberg will afford its next owner inclusion in a circle as exclusive now as it was over 70 years ago. Few Duesenbergs offer the striking lines of the example offered here. Today, the Duesenberg is ready to enjoy having recently benefited from a thorough service and tuning. We encourage personal inspection, as this sporting two-seat Speedster offers handsome coachwork, grand style and unparalleled performance. RM Auctions encourages any interested parties to contact one of our specialists with any specific questions.

Reference Number 7615

as of 2/27/2007

Car 1934 Duesenberg SJ Boattail Speedster
VIN J1342159 
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