1929 Lightweight Duesenberg Model J by Murphy
for sale by RM Sotheby's on May 22
Various leading coach builders including Murphy in California, LeBaron in New York and Derham in Philadelphia prepared open bodied cars suitable for enjoying the roads under the American sun and for being better visible by the public.
Various body types were offered by the Walter M. Murphy Company, located in Pasadena in the vicinity of Hollywood. The bodies were handcrafted and no two were exactly alike.
A 1929 Convertible coupe was sold for $ 2.53M by Morphy on October 11, 2015, lot 37. From the same year and maker, a Disappearing top convertible coupe was sold for $ 1.9M by RM Auctions on August 18, 2012, lot 229, a Dual cowl phaeton for $ 1.65M on Octoner 12, 2007, also by RM, lot 259, and a Cabriolet for € 1.04M by Artcurial on February 8, 2013, lot 381.
The pinnacle of the 1929 Model J by Murphy is the Disappearing top torpedo convertible coupe, different from the basic coupe by its tapered speedster boattail. Only two were fitted with a lightweight coachwork in polished bare aluminum.
One of them is in beautiful condition, featuring much of the original aluminum carefully restored for a maximum saving. Its chassis is original but the engine has been replaced by a period correct Duesenberg engine. It is estimated $ 3.5M for sale by RM Sotheby's in Amelia Island on May 22, 2021, lot 156. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
1929 Duesenberg Model J Convertible Coupe
2015 SOLD for $ 2.53M including premium by Morphy
This complete matching number and unrestored car is only 33,000 miles from new. It still has its original user manual.
1929 Duesenberg Model J Dual Cowl Phaeton
2016 SOLD for $ 2.4M including premium by Gooding
narrated in 2020
1929 is a key year for three reasons. The creation of Cord Corporation streamlines the legal structure of the group. Released in December 1928, the Duesenberg Model J chassis emerges as the best in its class. The dual cowl phaeton bodywork designed and built by LeBaron is a spectacular novelty.
The phaeton is a convertible. The dual cowl is a social delicacy offering two compartments separated by a screen allowing rear passengers to be isolated from driver and front seater.
Here are some results including premium for the 1929 Duesenberg model J dual cowl Phaeton in its first year.
By LeBaron :
$ 2.4M by Gooding in January 2016, previously sold by the same auction house for $ 2.1M in January 2014. This car retains its original chassis, engine and body.
$ 1.76M by RM Auctions on January 18, 2008
$ 1.4M by Gooding in January 2009
By other coachmakers :
By Murphy : $ 1.65M by RM Auctions on October 12, 2007
By Derham : $ 1.24M by RM Auctions on January 21, 2011 (screen driven by Elvis Presley in 1966)
Red, White, and VROOM!— Gooding & Company (@goodingandco) July 4, 2020
Celebrate #IndependenceDay behind the wheel of an #American classic - like this 1929 #Duesenberg Model J Dual Cowl Phaeton that sold our 2016 Scottsdale Auctions for $2,420,000.
What are you driving this weekend?! pic.twitter.com/qkyROutNUh
1929 Duesenberg Model J Coupe by Murphy
2012 SOLD for $ 1.9M by RM Auctions
Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
1930 It is a Duesy
2015 SOLD for DKK 17.8M including premium
Located in Pasadena, Walter J. Murphy is equipping the Duesenberg cars of Hollywood personalities at that time when Americans are amazed to finally acquire a high-end car made entirely in their country. Unfortunately, the crisis will soon slow the momentum towards luxury.
On September 26 in a formerly royal Danish castle, Bonhams sells a Duesenberg Model J bodied by Murphy as a roadster in 1930, lot 14 estimated DKK 17M. Its first owner had been typical of the customers targeted by Cord : a Hollywood photographer descendant to the Vanderbilt family.
This car remained highly original. It was never dismantled and its successive owners offered it for 60 years to the admiration of the demanding Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club. It has the rare and prestigious feature of the folding roof which was not in the catalog and required a specific customer request to Murphy.
A similar coupe made in the previous year was sold for $ 2.36M including premium by Gooding in August 2013. Both these cars can not however be compared with the coupe that sold for $ 10.3M including premium at Gooding in August 2011, a single specimen bodied by Murphy in 1931 that takes advantage of the longer wheelbase variant of the Model J to exhibit a superb Art Deco line.
1930 The Phaeton of the Master
2016 SOLD for $ 2.1M including premium
Helped by skilled stylists, Murphy knew to equip chassis with bodyworks whose variety appealed the individualism of his Hollywood clients. The Model J of Duesenberg, released in 1928, was an opportunity for Murphy to capture the high-end market. For a wealthy industrialist, owning a Duesenberg coachworked by Murphy was an outward sign of social achievement.
Frank Hershey began his career with Murphy. He designed for the cumbersome model J open cars that seemed slight, with convertible tops and retractable side windows. The range offered by Murphy is wide : he provides to a roadster or a coupe the luxury of a limousine.
The dual cowl phaeton is a survival of the voitures from old times, with its two independent cowlings and its two compartments separated by an inner windshield to avoid mingling the social classes of maître and chauffeur. Assisted by Hershey, Murphy built three examples of that kind on the model J.
One of them was sold to John F. Howard, nicknamed the Mayonnaise King and company founder of the Howard Foods condiments. Probably after some setbacks, Howard and his Duesenberg left for Mexico where his former car will be found walled up in a parking lot in 1962 by a specialist of the brand.
Its excellent original condition was pleasing to an American collector. Having been kept for 54 years in the family of that owner, it is estimated $ 1.6M for sale by RM Sotheby's in Hershey PA on October 7, lot 253.
1930 A Town Cord for Hollywood
2015 SOLD for $ 1.76M including premium
The new chassis is the Cord L-29. It is one of the first attempts for the industrialization of a front wheel drive car.
Few Cord L-29 were coachworked by an independent workshop, unlike the most common practice for the high-end cars of that time. Among the exceptions, the L-29 Town Car was entrusted to Murphy, a craftsman who worked in Pasadena.
The Town Car is an extravagant car destined to please the most eccentric Hollywood personalities. It has a very lowered chassis along with a much lengthened front cover, and an enclosed cab carefully separated from the driver's seat.
Very few cars were made on this model by Cord and Murphy. One of the four surviving examples, made in 1930, is for sale by Bonhams in Amelia Island on March 12, lot 135.
It has obviously been seldom used and remains in an original condition which is extraordinary and unexpected for a car of that period. A plausible later tradition links this car to the actress Dolores del Rio who was then, at 25, one of cinema's brightest glories.
1931 The Long Wheelbase Duesenberg
2011 SOLD 10.3 M$ including premium
At that time, customers bought the chassis and selected the body shop. The choice was great, which gives an infinite variety to Duesenberg vehicles.
The high end was the lengthened Model J chassis (long wheelbase). This huge machine 3.90 m long exceeded by 30 cm the standard (short wheelbase) Model J.
Whittell bought a long wheelbase in 1931 and made it equipped as a coupe by the stylist Franklin Hershey. The result is a surprising example of American Art Deco, including a folding roof that makes this car look like a convertible. The general shape is aerodynamic, anticipating the trend of the automotive design of the later 1930s.
It comes in the sale held in Pebble Beach on 20 and 21 August by Gooding. Totaling less than 20,000 km, it is in perfect working order.
POST SALE COMMENT
Sold $ 10.3 million including premium, this car has certainly exceeded the most optimistic hopes. The press release issued before sale had been particularly enthusiastic.
1933 A Convertible by Bohman and Schwartz
2018 SOLD for $ 3.85M including premium
I narrated it as follows in 2016. The short video shared by Mecum was released before the 2016 sale.
Born into a family of industrialists of the lumber, Walter M. Murphy sought fortune in California. In 1920 he opened a coachbuilding shop in Pasadena by relying on the professional experience of one of his associates. He had no competitor for luxury cars in the area and became the provider of Duesenberg cars to the wealthy Hollywood residents.
An advised businessman, Murphy had therefore no specific training nor a sustained vocation for car bodies. The very sudden termination of his company in April 1932 is not related to the economic crisis because the backlog was abundantly filled. Murphy had lost a lot of money in an investment and felt the need to change his activities. He will become in the following year a major dealer for the Standard Oil Company.
The buyer of his workshop is unable to maintain the business. This is an opportunity for two former employees of Murphy, Bohman and Schwartz, to join their skills for processing the contracts unfinished by their former boss and for proposing the transformation of bodyworks from all brands.
The actress Marie Dressler briefly owned a convertible sedan assembled by LeBaron on a Duesenberg Model J long wheelbase which was the top end as a luxury chassis at that time. Her car was bought in 1933 by the film producer and director Roy Del Ruth.
Much younger than Dressler, Del Ruth expects a more modern look. He commissions to Bohman and Schwartz the transformation of his Duesenberg into a roasdster. This specific order makes this car the only example of a Model J LWB convertible coupe by B and S.
1933 A Phaeton by LaGrande
2017 SOLD for $ 2.3M including premium
Even in the most critical situations some people manage to find their profit. A stock broker named Smith acquires a considerable fortune. He needs a car of the highest performance with a spectacular bodywork. It will be a Duesenberg SJ LWB LaGrande phaeton, of course. LaGrande is the label by which Cord testifies that the bodywork is subcontracted by the group and not carried out by an independent.
The J-chassis has been the top-of-the-range since 1928. The Long Wheel Base version invites to the most extravagant bodies and especially for the open voitures de maîtres named phaetons. S indicates that the engine is supercharged.
The LaGrande phaetons are slightly different from each other but are divided into two variants, the dual cowl phaeton and the sweep panel phaeton. In the sweep panel phaeton the rear cowl is suppressed, offering an easier access to the rear seats and an extra comfort. This version includes on its entire width a folding interior windshield separating the rear seats for the use of the patron from the front seat of the driver.
The car delivered in 1933 to Smith is a sweep panel phaeton Duesenberg SJ LWB by LaGrande. The workshop that realized the body is unfortunately not identified. It has been known for several decades by members of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club under the name of Mexico City SJ.
It is in very good condition for a vehicle of its age. The body, engine and chassis are original but the supercharger did not survive a heavy early use and has been replaced by a replica in the correct configuration.
This car had already been introduced in my column. On October 10, 2008 at RM Auctions, it had not reached its lower estimate of $ 1.8M and had been sold post block for $ 1.7M including premium. I then commented that the times were hard : it was indeed the beginning of a major crisis in the market. It is estimated $ 2.5M for sale by Auctions America on September 2 in Auburn. Here is the link to the catalog.
1935 Duesenberg with the Movie Stars
2018 SOLD for $ 22M including premium
The brand's chief designer, J. Herbert Newport, plans to use on a shortened chassis the powerful Duesenberg Special 400 hp eight-cylinder in-line engine under development. The stars give their opinion. An enthusiast about luxury cars, Gary Cooper is appealed by the unprecedented performance of the future model but prefers that this roadster looks like a classic Duesenberg. Newport gives up the idea of a modernist body.
The two cars are provided to the actors in December 1935 for a long-term loan. Cooper's wife, Sandra Shaw, immediately has sent their car back to the factory for changing the color.
Six months later the two stars receive a proposal to buy their car at one-third the price of an ordinary Model J. Cooper accepts. Gable is not interested : he already owns one of the ten units of the Duesenberg JN also produced in 1935.
Cooper and Gable did not make the spectacular use that Cord was waiting for. We do not know when Cooper sold his car. Cord could have anticipated that it is not so easy to use the capricious Hollywood celebrities as advertising agents for luxury cars. Already in 1934 Mae West had refused the project of a SJ Town Car designed especially for her by Duesenberg.
There will be no other SSJ. Its supercharged engine was only used on these two cars and temporarily on the one-off Special ordered by Ab Jenkins to race the land speed record in Bonneville.
Little used, Gary Cooper's SSJ has only 20,000 miles on the clock. It had only two owners since 1949, Briggs Cunningham and Miles Collier. Historian of automotive technology and tall ships, Collier wisely prefers to preserve the old cars rather than to restore them. This SSJ has kept intact its original chassis, engine and body and even has the canvas of its folding roof. It is estimated $ 10M for sale by Gooding at Pebble Beach on August 24, lot 35. Here is the link to the press release.
The car is driven and narrated by David Gooding in the videoshared by the auction house.
1935 The Culmination of Duesenberg
2013 SOLD 4.5 M$ including premium
J. Herbert Newport is entrusted by Duesenberg to fit a modernized body on the model J chassis. His masterpiece is a convertible coupe with the top of the doors in alignment with the front and back covers.
Three cars were coachworked on this model by a workshop of Indianapolis, AH Walker Body Company, which seems to have worked primarily, or even exclusively, for the Cord group during its short period of activity. Walker was one of the craftsmen to whom Cord attributed the LaGrande label as a mark for their bodywork.
One of these three cars was mounted on the Duesenberg SJ variant with a supercharged engine. This specimen made in 1935 is thus representing the culmination of this prestigious brand. This car is estimated $ 3.5M, for sale on March 9 in Amelia Island by RM Auctions. Here is the link to the release shared by Sports Car Digest.
This unique Duesenberg SJ Walker-LaGrande convertible coupe must be placed in its historical chronology.
Duesenberg soon loses the game, not because of the design but by failing to change in due time the specifications of the chassis.
The market is caught by Mercedes-Benz with their new model 540K, offering of course a wide range of bodies. The masterpiece of Hermann Ahrens, the 540K Spezial Roadster, has the same styling as the Walker-LaGrande convertible coupe.
Which one had imitated the other? Note that the 540K Spezial Roadster of the Baroness von Krieger, sold for $ 11.8 million including premium by Gooding in August 2012, is dated 1936, one year after the Duesenberg Walker-LaGrande.
POST SALE COMMENT
This car is one of the most outstanding in the history of Duesenberg. It was sold for $ 4.1 million hammer price, 4.5 million including the 10% premium.
1935 A Duesenberg amidst the Thoroughbred
2015 SOLD for $ 3.6M including premium
Duesenberg is still offering the Model J chassis that was the best in the world five years earlier. The novelty of this range of cars is the SJ model with a supercharged engine. The making of the bodies is scattered among many independent workshops but the trends are now offered by the new chief designer J. Herbert Newport.
The bodywork company of Walter Murphy in Pasadena benefits from its proximity to Hollywood. A Cord Town car coachworked by Murphy in 1930 was sold for $ 1.76M including premium by Bonhams on March 12, 2015.
Murphy closed in 1932. Their successor Bohman & Schwartz applied the recommendations of Newport. An elegant 1935 Duesenberg Town car equipped in SJ from factory is estimated $ 3.4M for sale without reserve by RM Sotheby's in Fort Worth TX on May 2, lot 231.
This car originally refused by Mae West was bought new by Ethel Mars, widow of the founder of the Mars Candy company, who used her great wealth to assemble the best American team of racing horses.
The 1935 Duesenberg coupe bodyworked by Walker LaGrande is another example of the beauty of the cars designed by Newport. The only SJ realized in this configuration was sold for $ 4.5 million including premium by RM on 9 March 2013.