See also : Cars II Cars 1920s Cars 1930s Cars 1930-33 Cars 1934-35
Chronology : 1931 1935
1929 is a breakthrough year for many 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 Lycoming 420 cubic inch straight-eight engine is producing 265 hp at 4,200 rpm. The dual cowl phaeton bodywork is a spectacular novelty.
The Model J rolling chassis was based on a sturdy ladder frame in alloy steel designed for top performance. Conceived as a competitor to Rolls Royce and Isotta Fraschini, it targeted the wealthy US customers from Hollywood and elsewhere.
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 Murphy Coach Works company of Walter M. Murphy located in Pasadena in the vicinity of Hollywood. The bodies were handcrafted and no two were exactly alike.
The most popular body produced by Murphy for the Duesenberg Model J was the two passenger convertible coupe of which about 60 were made between 1929 and 1932.
A 1929 Duesenberg Model J coachworked by Murphy as a convertible coupe was sold for $ 3.3M on September 3, 2022 by Worldwide Auctioneers, lot 620. It keeps its original engine, body, chassis and firewall.
In 1929 the dual cowl phaeton was indeed a signature body for the new Model J. It was made by three coachmakers with a population of 25 by LeBaron, 11 by Derham and only 3 by Murphy, plus a later variant by LaGrande. LeBaron had been the original designer. A Murphy in the so-called Butterfly variant was sold for $ 3.3M by RM Sotheby's on August 12, 2021, lot 122.
A 1929 Convertible coupe was sold for $ 2.53M by Murphy 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 and a Cabriolet for € 1.04M by Artcurial on February 8, 2013, lot 381.
A 1930 convertible sedan by Murphy was sold for $ 3.5M by RM Sotheby's on March 5, 2022, lot 154. A 1931 tourster by Derham was sold for $ 3.4M by RM Sotheby's on January 27, 2022, lot 152.
1929 Model J Lightweight by Murphy
2021 SOLD for $ 5.7M by RM Sotheby's
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 was sold for $ 5.7M from a lower estimate of $ 3.5M by RM Sotheby's on May 22, 2021, lot 156. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
1930 Model J Convertible Coupe by Murphy
2021 SOLD for $ 4M by Gooding
A 1930 Model J bodied as a disappearing top convertible coupe by Murphy was sold for $ 4M by Gooding on August 14, 2021, lot 122. It is illustrated in first position in the pre sale press release.
It had from a request by its first owner the relocating of the dual spare wheels from the side mounts to the rear, a lovely option that highlights the elegance of the fenders. During a recent restoration, the car was reunited with its original rear hub supporting the spare wheels, a piece that had waited such a matching for three decades.
The specialist also rebuilt the engine in exacting standards meeting the tolerances defined in the factory blueprints. The car won a prestigious 100 point score and a first in Duesenberg class at the 2019 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.
One of only two created with rear spares, this comprehensively restored and authenticated 1930 #Duesenberg Model J Disappearing Top Convertible Coupe represents the zenith of West Coast coachbuilding. #PebbleBeachAuctions— Gooding & Company (@goodingandco) July 10, 2021
Register to Bid: https://t.co/cYeef63uUa pic.twitter.com/fikKzK4lgh
1931 Model J LWB
2011 SOLD for $ 10.3M by Gooding
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 was sold for $ 10.3M on 20/21 August 2011 by Gooding. Totaling less than 20,000 km, it is in perfect working order.
1931 Model J Convertible Coupe
2015 SOLD for $ 3.5M by RM Sotheby's
A basic coupe from 1929 was sold for $ 2.53M by Morphy on October 11, 2015, lot 37 here linked on the bidding platform LiveAuctioneers. This unrestored car in all original condition is only 33,000 miles from new.
1933 Model J Roadster by Bohman and Schwartz
2018 SOLD for $ 3.85M by Mecum
Born into a family of industrialists of the lumber, Walter M. Murphy had 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.
1935 Model SSJ
2018 SOLD for $ 22M by Gooding
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 was sold for $ 22M from a lower estimate of $ 10M by Gooding on August 24, 2018, lot 35.
The car is driven and narrated by David Gooding in the video shared by the auction house.
1935 Model J Convertible Coupe by Rollston
2022 SOLD for $ 4.7M by RM Sotheby's
A Duesenberg long wheelbase Model J made in 1935 was fitted with an earlier Rollston two passenger convertible coupe body. That bodywork had been was made in 1933 for an SJ. Its owner was not comfortable driving her supercharged Duesy and had it transferred to that Model J where it still remains.
The car was still in her ownership when the German occupants stole the wheels and tires. She sold it a few years later to a Frenchman who took it to Cuba but died just after his arrival. It was from 1967 a flagship of the Adderley collection.
Its disappearing top is a one of a kind from Rollston, although they also later made four convertible coupes in the JN series. Its highly elegant lines are nevertheless in the continuation of the convertible coupes made by Murphy for the Model J.
It was sold for $ 4.7M from a lower estimate of $ 4M by RM Sotheby's on August 19, 2022, lot 252. Its chassis, engine and firewall are also in matching numbers.
The last car that Duesenberg commissioned to Rollston was a long 153.5 inch wheelbase Model J prepared as an opulent convertible berline for the 1936 New York Auto Show. It had the highest price tag in the show, at $ 17,000, and was purchased by the president of Coca-Cola. It was later owned by a jazz musician for nearly half a century. This 487th and last Model J was sold for $ 2.7M by Mecum on August 20, 2020, lot S37.
A victim in its turn of the financial crisis, Rollston went bankrupt in 1938.
1935 Model SJ Convertible Coupe by Walker-LaGrande
2013 SOLD for $ 4.5 M by RM Auctions
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 was sold for $ 4.5M on March 9, 2013 by RM Auctions, lot 137. 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 $ 11.8M by Gooding in 2012, is dated 1936, one year after the Duesenberg Walker-LaGrande.
1935 Model SJ Speedster, the Mormon Meteor
2004 SOLD for $ 4.25M by Gooding
The latter example was a supercharged long wheelbase SJ racer without doors designed by Herbert Newport with a special care for aerodynamics including unusual curves. The rear has a tapered tail and the tires are covered with fenders. It was fitted with a 420 cubic inch inline eight cylinder engine producing 400 hp, to be compared with the 320 hp of a basic SJ.
This special was the fastest and most powerful Duesenberg car. It was driven to a 24 hour land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats, covering 3,253 miles at the third attempt, which is 217 km/h. 'Captain' Eyston broke this record the day after with his custom designed Speed of the Wind.
The SJ was purchased by Ab Jenkins who was the manager and top driver of the Bonneville endurance trials. It was fitted for Jenkins with a mammoth Curtiss Conqueror V12 aircraft engine. It soon retrieved the 12 hour and 24 hour records, adding to them the 48 hour record.
Jenkins was an exceptional safety driver who amassed nearly 3 million miles without an accident in 50 years of driving.
The car was nicknamed the Mormon Meteor in a contest by a local newspaper. It was retired in 1938 and the V12 was replaced by its original V8 Special which was later rebuilt.
The Mormon Meteor was sold for $ 4.25M by Gooding in August 2004, lot 37. It is described and illustrated by ConceptCarz. Its image at the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance is shared by Wikimedia with attribution Simon Davison from Los Gatos, United States, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>
1935 Model SJ Town Car by Bohman and Schwartz
2015 SOLD for $ 3.6M by RM Sotheby's
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 took benefit from its vicinity to Hollywood. After it closed in 1932, its successor Bohman & Schwartz applied the recommendations of Newport. An elegant 1935 Duesenberg Town car equipped in SJ from factory was sold for $ 3.6M by RM Sotheby's on May 2, 2015, 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.