Duesenberg Model J Convertible Coupe
The Model J Duesenberg has long been regarded as the most outstanding example of design and engineering of the Classic Era. Introduced in 1929, trading was halted on the New York Stock Exchange for the announcement. At $8,500 for the chassis alone, it was by far the most expensive car in America. With coachwork, the delivered price of many Duesenbergs approached $20,000, a staggering sum at a time when a typical new family car cost around $500.
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 the 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-sized family sedan sells for $30,000 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.
It is interesting to note that during the course of Duesenberg production, various enhancements were made, but according to Duesenberg historian and author J. L. Elbert, most of these changes were implemented after the first 250 cars were built. J395 is chassis number 2414, and is therefore approximately the 289th Model J to be assembled. It was also at this point that the price of the chassis was increased by $1,000 to $9,500.
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. The Murphy Body Company of Pasadena, California is generally recognized as the most successful coachbuilder on the Duesenberg Model J chassis.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in March of 2009 at the The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, Florida and in March of 2011 at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, Florida.
265bhp, 420 cu. in. four valves per cylinder twin overhead camshaft inline eight-cylinder engine with hemispherical combustion chambers, three-speed synchromesh transmission, front suspension via semi-elliptical leaf springs and beam axle, rear suspension via semi-elliptical leaf springs and live rear axle, and vacuum-assisted four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Wheelbase: 142.5".
Source: RM Auctions and Gooding & Company
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel