Duesenberg Model J Arlington Sedan

In 1925, E.L. Cord added the Duesenberg Motors Company to his rapidly growing business enterprise, the Auburn Automobile Company. With the acquisition of Duesenberg, Cord’s lofty vision was the creation of an automobile that would surpass even the greatest marques of both Europe and America. The deal offered Fred Duesenberg the opportunity to create the greatest car in the world, and Fred obliged with the creation of the legendary Model J, which is widely regarded today as his crowing achievement.

The Duesenberg Model J was conceived and executed to be superlative in all aspects of its design. Its highly advanced inline eight-cylinder engine remains an engineering tour de force today, with its dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder, displacing 420 cubic inches and producing 265 horsepower. The finest materials were used throughout the Model J, while its fit and finish were to exacting, tool-room standards of precision. Once completed, each chassis was then test-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 its introduction to ensure its closest approximation to perfection. The first customer delivery came in May 1929, barely five months before the infamous stock market crash on Black Tuesday. Ultimately, though, the Model J Duesenberg lacked financing and support from E.L. Cord and his Auburn Corporation, which were themselves struggling to stay afloat in the collapsing mid-level automobile market.

Nonetheless, the Duesenberg Model J has long been correctly regarded as the most outstanding example of Classic Era design and engineering. Priced from $8,500 for the chassis alone, the Model J was by far the most expensive car offered for sale in America at the time, along with the Springfield-built Rolls-Royce. When completed and fitted with its custom coachwork, the delivered price of many such Duesenbergs actually approached $20,000, a truly staggering sum at a time when a typical new family car such as the Ford Model A Sedan was priced at around $500 and a nice single-family house sold for less than $10,000.

The tall, elegantly shaped radiator shell and long, tapered hood of the Model J, along with a choice of two lengthy wheelbases, made it the ideal platform for some of the most stunning custom coachwork produced during the Classic era. Indeed, the proportions of the basic Duesenberg Model J are so well balanced that it literally required deliberate effort for a coachbuilder to produce an unattractive car. In particular, the Derham Body Company, which was founded in Pennsylvania in 1887 and remained active until 1971, produced some of the most desirable bodies for the Duesenberg Model J. While Derham’s bodies were famous for their beautiful designs and luxurious interior appointments, their lofty prices rendered them unattainable by all but the wealthiest and most important personalities of the era.

Fitted to a wide assortment of chassis from many different makes, Derham bodies routinely cost in excess of $15,000 during the 1930s, and over the firm’s long history, they were constructed for such figures as Joseph Stalin, Pope Pius XII, King Farouk, President Eisenhower, Gary Cooper and Raymond Loewy. In addition, Derham limousines were used in no fewer than fifteen coronation ceremonies around the world. Accordingly, with its strong reputation in the industry, Derham went on to become both the longest-lived American custom body builder as well as the only classic-era custom coachbuilder that managed to survive the Great Depression.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in January of 2010 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona.

265 bhp, 420 cu. in. inline eight-cylinder engine with hemispherical combustion chambers, four valves per cylinder and dual overhead camshafts, three-speed synchromesh manual transmission, front suspension via semi-elliptic leaf springs and beam axle, rear suspension via semi-elliptic leaf springs and live rear axle, and vacuum-assisted four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 153.5"

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Hugh Hamilton

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