Duesenberg Model J Torpedo Victoria
Although all Model J Duesenbergs are, strictly speaking, coachbuilt, some are more coachbuilt than others. Most Js were delivered in individualistic fashion, finished to the owner’s particular tastes, but the basic styles were often built in substantial series: more than 50 Murphy convertible coupes, for example, and nearly 20 La Grande phaetons from Union City Body Works. Among the “more coachbuilt” Duesenbergs are several from The Rollston Co. of New York.
The Rollston Co. was founded by Harry Lonschein and partners Sam Blotkin and Julius Veghso on West 47th Street in 1921. Their bodies were among the finest and often built on Rolls-Royce chassis, from which their company name was unabashedly derived. In 1927, Rudy Creteur joined from Locke and became Rollston’s sole designer and, frequently, draftsman. In the beginning they specialized in town cars and cabriolets. At the 1925 New York Auto Show, they had their own stand, with a Minerva sedan-limousine and two Packard town cars on display. Packard, in fact, would be their best customer.
In 1930, Rollston hired Hjalmar Holm, formerly sales manager for a competing coachbuilder, the Holbrook Company of Hudson, New York. Holm, an excellent salesman, had established a good relationship with Duesenberg, and a number of orders resulted during the 1930-32 period. In all, Rollston built 57 bodies for Duesenberg (on 52 chassis, so some were repeat customers), including 16 convertible victorias. Many of the Rollston bodies for Duesenberg are noteworthy and singular – the 1933 Arlington Torpedo Sedan, for example, commonly known as the “Twenty Grand.” At one time, the mayor of New York City, Jimmy Walker, and his police commissioner, Gerald Whalen, both owned Rollston-bodied Duesenbergs. Others, like the car being sold here, have both celebrity limelight and truly bespoke design.
This outstanding convertible victoria was a one-off design by Gordon Buehrig, commissioned by Mr. E.T. Foley of St. Paul, Minnesota. Mr. Foley’s business was an engineering and construction firm involved in building roads, bridges and dams.
Duesenberg and Mr. Foley selected Rollston to build the car to Buehrig’s design. The car was considered an exceptionally elegant design, incorporating a number of unique features. It is, for example, believed to be the only design built with the double belt line, a feature designed to accentuate the body’s elegant curves.
In addition, Mr. Foley specified many other unique features. These included a top which is raised and lowered by means of a hand crank inserted into a special socket on the right side of the body, similar in operation to the Tickford system pioneered by Salmons & Son in Britain. Not one but two rear windshields were fitted, one mounted in each front seatback, raised and lowered using cranks located in the back of each seat.
The car is also fitted with free-wheeling, which disengages the driveline when the throttle is lifted, allowing the car to be shifted without the use of the clutch. Briefly popular on lower-priced cars, it was seldom found on prestige makes. Although documentation of the availability of free-wheeling on Duesenbergs exists, this is believed to be the only one of three cars so equipped that has survived.
Another unique feature is the automatic ride control, which was also installed on only three cars. The dashboard-mounted controls allowed the driver to vary the suspension damping to suit road conditions and loading. It is not known if any other ride control-equipped cars are extant.
The car was modified in the mid-1930s by the Los Angeles Duesenberg agency and updated with more modern-appearing skirted fenders, 17-inch wheels with disc covers, bullet tail lights and a blind quarter top. As originally built, the car was equipped with 19-inch chrome wire wheels, the traditional open Duesenberg fenders, a one piece steel trunk rack and a Duesenberg taillight.
The original interior was made of goatskin. In 1935 or 1936, it is believed that Mr. Foley sold the car to Mr. Bill Boyd, known in the entertainment world as cowboy star “Hopalong Cassidy,” who is believed to be responsible for the updates made to the car. As with other celebrity cars, very little documentation survives of Boyd’s ownership other than the oral record. Although RM is not aware of any documentation that has ever conclusively proven Boyd’s ownership, the car has always been listed as such in Duesenberg registries and is simply referred to as “the Hopalong Cassidy car” by enthusiasts.
In approximately 1940, it is believed Boyd sold the car to a Mr. Garcia, who took the car with him when he moved to Texas. On September 18, 1943, Garcia sold the car to a Mr. Rindall of Brownsville, Texas. In June of 1952 Rindall sold the car to a Mr. J.L. Sewell of Dallas, Texas, who owned a company called Taylor Oil & Gas. In 1954, Sewell hired Joe Lalande to restore the car.
Shortly after completion of the restoration, he donated the car to the Witte Museum of Transportation in San Antonio, Texas, where it remained until the liquidation of the museum. After the closure of the museum, J384 was sold at auction before a second, much more comprehensive restoration was conducted by RM Auto Restoration. Shortly after completion, in January of 1996, the car was acquired by Don Williams and joined his Blackhawk collection. The car received a Classic Car Club of America National First that year and also appeared at Pebble Beach. It achieved CCCA Senior status in 1999. In the late 1990s, Williams sold the car to well-known collector Bill Evans, who kept it until 2009, at which point it was acquired by John O’Quinn for his fast growing and highly impressive collection.
As built by Duesenberg, chassis #2535 had engine #J384 installed, but during the 1954 restoration the engine was exchanged for a rebuilt engine, #J361. During the course of the RM restoration, the original engine was located in the late Dee Howard’s collection, rebuilt and reinstalled in the car.
265 bhp inline eight-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission with overdrive and free-wheeling, solid front axle and live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 142.5"
Source: RM Auctions