1931 Duesenberg J ToursterSOLD
See all the Images for this Car
Estimate: $1,200,000-$1,500,000 US

Offered Without Reserve

AUCTION RESULTS: Lot was Sold at a price of $1,485,000

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

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.

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.

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. One of the better known firms of the era was Rosemount, Pennsylvania based Derham Body Company.

Like many coachbuilders, Derham earned its reputation catering to the carriage trade - those wealthy Philadelphia customers who could afford to commission a specially designed carriage in which to travel - and be seen - in the fashionable areas of town. With the advent of the automobile, Derham’s clientele naturally looked to them to provide the same elegant and luxurious bodies for their motorcars.

Known for their formal bodies - town cars and limousines, primarily - Derham built relatively few open cars. Among them, however, was the body that many consider to be the firm’s piece de resistance, the Derham Tourster. Starting with a close-coupled body, Derham added a very rakish top, a wind up tonneau windshield, and very smart - although not flamboyant - bodyside moldings and trim. The result was one of those rare instances where the overall effect was truly striking.

Just eight original toursters were built:

Body Engine Chassis Received Original Owner
2320 431 2425 10/25/1930 Gary Cooper
2321 423 2440 11/10/1930 Butler Hallahan
2322 444 2456 1/12/1931 Joe E. Brown
2323 451 2468 1/3/1931 David Joyce
2324 448 2464 1/3/1931 William S. Odom
2349 412 2472 1/5/1931 George B. Heister
2350 489 2499 6/30/1931 Mrs. Payne Whitney
2351 504 2524 12/16/1931 Roger Converse

All eight cars survive; the McMullen collection car is J444/2456, the third of the eight cars built. It was delivered new to noted comedian Joe E. Brown in San Francisco, CA.

Born Joseph Evans Brown, he was 39 years old and at the height of his career when he took delivery of his Duesenberg. His comedy career began on Broadway in the 1920s, but by the late 1920s he was working for Warner Brothers. His big break came in 1929 with the release of the first color talking movie, “On with the Show”. A series of other films followed, all big studio productions, including “Song of the West” in 1930.

Joe E. kept J444 until 1938 when he sold it to film director Harry Joe Brown (no relation). Harry kept the big Duesenberg only a few months before trading it on Christmas day for a new Cadillac limousine.

Clement Hirsch bought the car from the Cadillac dealer, and kept it until just a few months before the war began, when he traded it to his brother-in-law, Mark Jelmeland. The next owner was William Hunter, who bought the car via Kal Kam Ford, where Jelmeland had traded it.

Hunter sold the car to Howard Hughes, who is reported to have enjoyed the car during the war years, before deciding to remove the rear body sections in order to use it to tow test airframes and gliders, where the car’s exceptional torque made it ideal for launching even the largest aircraft. Later, in 1945, Hughes sold the car to Briegleb Aircraft, where it continued to be used as a glider tow vehicle. In 1948, Briegleb sold J444 to Robert Straede of Santa Monica.

In a letter to Otis Chandler, Hoyle notes that “the rear portion of the body was missing. I’d go so far as to say it was in good condition, and otherwise complete.” Hoyle then sold the car to Fred Buess Jr. in June of 1949.

Buess kept the Duesenberg for 11 years, selling it to Nate Derus in January of 1960. Later, Derus sold J444 to Lewis Landoli, a Florida collector who arranged for California restorer Harry Andrews to have the rear body reconstructed. After the body was restored, but before the restoration was completed, Robert McGowan of Branford, CT bought the car from Iandoli.

Robert (Bobby) and his brothers completed the restoration in the mid 1970s before selling the car to the late Otis Chandler, a well known collector and classic car enthusiast. He kept the car for ten years, showing it occasionally, and displaying it in his private museum in Oxnard, California. During Chandler’s ownership, the car was awarded its CCCA National First Place award, followed by its Senior award in October of 1989.

In March of 1996, Chandler decided to sell the car, and consigned it to an auction conducted by Rick Cole at the Peterson Museum in Los Angeles, where John McMullen purchased the car for his growing collection.

Today, J444 remains in excellent condition. The black paint holds a deep gloss, and is very close to flawless in condition, as is both the quality and condition of brightwork. The tan leather interior is expertly tailored and shows no evidence of age since completion. The tan top is also as new, with straight seams and near perfect fit. The instrument panel is in excellent condition, and the instruments are both correct and excellent. As with all the Derham Toursters, the floor boards are varnished to perfection.

The engine compartment has been detailed to show quality standards, although the age of the restoration is beginning to show. With a careful cleaning and minor upgrades, the engine bay could easily be returned to high point concours condition. The under carriage has also been professionally restored, with the frame, suspension and drive line components all finished in concours quality gloss black.

Many collectors agree that the Derham Tourster was the best looking of the four door open cars offered on the Model J chassis. Its trim lines, low cut body sides, and close coupled top give the car a light and sporting appearance, and combine with the interior detailing to create a look of timeless elegance.

There is no doubt that J444 will allow its next owner inclusion in a circle as exclusive now as it was over 70 years ago – just eight cars were built, and just eight remain. It is a testimonial to the attraction these cars hold for their owners that many years pass between purchase opportunities – making this quite possibly an unrepeatable opportunity.

Award History

1987 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance 2nd in Class
1995 Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance Best in Class Award
1996 Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance Gordon Buehrig Memorial Award, Best ACD Award
1997 Eyes on Classic Design Designers Choice Award, Best Interior in Show
1997 Gilmore car museum “Grand Experience” Class Award
1998 Willistead Classic Concours d’Elegance Peoples Choice Award
2001 Gilmore car museum “Grand Experience” Best in Show
2001 Huron River Hunting & Fishing Club Best in Show
2003 Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance Duesenberg Cup
2004 CCCA First in Class Award
2005 Eyes on Classic Design International Vehicle Design Award
2005 Willistead Classic Concours d’Elegance Class Champion
2005 Willistead Classic Concours d’Elegance Best of Show
2006 Glenmoor Gathering Grand Marshall’s Award

Reference Number 8663

as of 4/17/2007

Car 1931 Duesenberg J Tourster
VIN J444 
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
See all the Images for this CarSee all the Images for this CarSee all the Images for this CarSee all the Images for this Car