Automobiles of Arizona

18 January 2008

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Lot 136

1929 Duesenberg Model J Dual Cowl Phaeton

  • Chassis no. 2174

Sold for $1,760,000

Specifications: 265 bhp, 420 cu. in. four-valves per cylinder twin overhead camshaft inline eight-cylinder, three-speed transmission, front beam axle, live rear axle, vacuum-assisted four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Wheelbase: 142.5"

The Duesenberg Brothers and the Model J The story of Fred and August Duesenberg and E.L. Cord is among the most fascinating in automotive history. The Duesenbergs were self-taught mechanics and car builders whose careers started in the Midwest at the beginning of the twentieth century with the manufacture of cars bearing the Mason and Maytag names. Fred, the older brother by five years, was the tinkerer and designer of the pair. Augie made Fred’s ingenious and creative things work.

The Duesenbergs’ skill and creativity affected many other early American auto manufacturers. Their four-cylinder engine produced by Rochester powered half a dozen marques. Eddie Rickenbacker, Rex Mays, Peter DePaolo, Tommy Milton, Albert Guyot, Ralph DePalma, Fred Frame, Deacon Litz, Joe Russo, Stubby Stubblefield, Jimmy Murphy, Ralph Mulford and Ab Jenkins drove their racing cars.

In 15 consecutive Indianapolis 500s, starting with their first appearance in 1913, 70 Duesenbergs competed. Thirty-two – an amazing 46 percent of them – finished in the top 10. Fred and Augie became masters of supercharging and of reliability. Their engines, because engines were Fred’s specialty, were beautiful and performed on par with the best of Miller, Peugeot and Ballot. In 1921, Jimmy Murphy’s Duesenberg won the most important race on the international calendar, the French Grand Prix at Le Mans. It was the first car with hydraulic brakes to start a Grand Prix. Duesenberg backed up this performance at Indianapolis in 1922 – eight of the top 10 cars were Duesenberg powered, including Jimmy Murphy’s winner.

In 1925, Errett Lobban Cord added the Duesenberg Motors Company to his rapidly growing enterprise, the Auburn Automobile Company. Cord’s vision was to create an automobile that would surpass the great marques of Europe and America. Cadillac, Isotta Fraschini, Bugatti, Rolls-Royce and Hispano-Suiza were his targets, and Duesenberg was his chosen instrument. He presented Fred Duesenberg with the opportunity to create the greatest car in the world, and Fred obliged with the Duesenberg Model J.

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. The finest materials were used throughout, and fit and finish were to toolroom 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 the 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 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.

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. While most of the leading coachbuilders of the day were commissioned to clothe the mighty J, many believe it was LeBaron’s interpretation of the dual cowl phaeton that became most identified with the mighty Model J.

LeBaron Inc.

LeBaron Carrossiers Inc. was founded in 1920 by two of the most respected names from the era of the great coachbuilders: Thomas L. Hibbard and Raymond Dietrich. Both young men worked at Brewster, probably the leading coachbuilder of the day. The pair were ambitious, and decided they wanted to try their hand at their own designs. They took to whiling away their spare time planning their new venture. Unfortunately, Brewster got wind of the plan, and fired them both.

Unexpectedly forced to set up shop, they settled on a location and a name. The location – 2 Columbus Circle, New York City – was more than they could afford, but they decided it was essential to their image. Coincidentally, it was also home to Fleetwood’s design offices.

They chose the LeBaron name because it sounded French – and would lend a sophisticated air to their firm. Most interesting was that they chose to have only a design office, without coachbuilding facilities. Not only was this practical – they had no coachbuilding skills – but it allowed them to work independently from (and with) both chassis manufacturers and coachbuilding firms.

Work began to flow, and soon the pair were approached by Ralph Roberts, who knew Dietrich before he had gone to Brewster. Roberts wanted to design cars, and when he applied for a job, Hibbard and Dietrich liked him enough that they offered him a full one-third partnership – on the provision that he serve as the firm’s business manager.

Hibbard wanted very much to work in France, and in 1923, he left for Paris to look into establishing an office there for LeBaron Carrossiers. While in Paris he met another American designer, Howard “Dutch” Darrin. The two hit it off, and decided to start their own company, Hibbard & Darrin. Hibbard sold his shares in LeBaron to Roberts and Dietrich, and moved to Paris.

Meanwhile, back at 2 Columbus Circle, LeBaron’s reputation was growing quickly, although the partners weren’t making a lot of money. As a result, in 1923, when Roberts and Dietrich were approached by Charles Seward and James Hinman, owners of the Bridgeport Body Company, they quickly made a deal to swap shares, and the new firm became simply known as LeBaron Inc. The idea was that LeBaron would give Bridgeport a design office, while Bridgeport gave the design team control over the body making process, as well as a share in the profits.

At this point, LeBaron hired Werner Gubitz and Roland Stickney as draftsmen, designers, and illustrators. Dietrich continued as chief designer, while Roberts managed the business.

Before long, another opportunity presented itself. Dietrich had formed a friendship with Edsel Ford that had lead to a very lucrative business opportunity for the firm designing bodies for Lincoln chassis. Edsel was so pleased with the relationship that he made a proposal to Dietrich to leave LeBaron to join Murray. There they formed a new company, Dietrich Inc., jointly owned by Dietrich and Murray, and in return, Murray set Dietrich up with his own body building facilities. He sold his shares to Roberts, Seward, and Hinman.

LeBaron, meanwhile, continued to prosper, even after the loss of its two founders. Ralph Roberts proved to have a good eye for design and excellent rapport with LeBaron’s clients. He and Stickney made a great team, with Stickney refining and implementing Roberts’ ideas.

In 1927, LeBaron was acquired by Briggs, one of Detroit’s largest body building firms. LeBaron was ideally positioned to take advantage of the burgeoning demand for coachbuilt bodies that developed in the late 1920s. In fact, the firm survived the onset of the Great Depression (likely as a result of the support of Briggs), and produced some of its best work in the early to mid-1930s.

LeBaron’s bodies have stood the test of time, their classic elegance and tasteful embellishment distinguishing them among the most coveted coachwork on these great chassis. In an era of great designers and coachbuilders, the Model J LeBaron dual cowl phaeton has become an icon, recognized almost anywhere. J149 is an early car, the sixth of just 25 examples built, and one of just 13 believed to survive today.

William C. (Billy) Van Horne

Billy Van Horne was Canada’s first (and only) Duesenberg dealer, although it was his grandfather, William Cornelius Van Horne, who first made his mark in Canadian history as the driving force behind the construction of the first cross-Canada rail link when he pounded in the final gold spike at the point where westbound and eastbound construction met. As President of the Canadian Pacific companies, he also established the nationwide chain of elegant luxury hotels in places such as Banff, Lake Louise, Vancouver, Victoria, and Toronto. He also established the legendary CP Express shipping line that offered regular and reliable service from Canada to the Orient.

Billy Van Horne bought J149 new in 1929. He had negotiated the Canadian distribution rights for the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Company, and opened showrooms in Toronto and Montreal. Reportedly, business was not good, and ultimately he bought just three cars for the Canadian market. (The other two were J103/2127, a Holbrook limousine whose second owner installed a LeBaron Convertible Berline, and J193/2214, a Murphy Convertible Sedan.)

Historians believe that Van Horne found sales so slow that he used each one as his personal transportation for a period of time before selling them, probably as “demonstrators”. He kept J149 for a year or so before selling it to Mrs. Jessie Dunlap, a wealthy widow.

The Dunlap Family – A Canadian Mining Fortune

David Dunlap was a lawyer in Cobalt, Ontario when a railway worker named Fred La Rose threw his axe at an approaching fox, but missed the animal, instead hitting a large rock which split open, revealing a vein of silver ore, to which he promptly staked a claim. Dunlap and two local businessmen, Henry and Noah Timmins, bought La Rose’s mine and developed it, expanding rapidly and purchasing other gold and silver claims. In 1901, they bought Hollinger mines, and before long were amongst the richest men in Canada.

David Dunlap died in 1924, leaving his considerable fortune to his widow, Jessie Dunlap. In 1930, she bought the car as a wedding present for her son Moffat, for the princely sum of $18,000.

Moffat, a student at the time, kept the car for another two years before trading it to Van Horne’s Toronto Auburn Cord dealership, O’Donnell Mackie, on a brand new Cord. When Billy Van Horne learned that the car had been traded back, he bought it himself. He kept the car until his death in 1946, at which point it was sold by Van Horne’s widow to Louis Dagenais of Montreal, who immediately resold it to Dr. Raymond Boyer.

Professor Raymond Boyer: The Canadian Spy Scandal

In the immediate postwar era, a scandal of unprecedented proportions was brewing in Canada. The largest network of spies in the history of the country was about to be arrested – and the ringleader was no less than Fred Rose, the only sitting Member of Parliament representing the Communist Party of Canada. Arrested in the middle of the night by RCMP agents, he was arraigned on grave charges that he “did unlawfully, for purposes prejudicial to the safety . . . of Canada, obtain, collect, record, publish and communicate to other persons, sketches, plans, models, articles, notes and other documents and information . . . intended to be useful to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.”

One of Rose’s key collaborators was Dr. Raymond Boyer, a professor of chemistry at McGill University who had worked on a super-explosive known as “R.D.X.”. Later convicted and jailed for espionage, he gave the Duesenberg to his son, Major Guy Boyer. Boyer kept J149 for six years before he sold it to Captain John Dart.

Captain John Dart, Pioneer Aviator

John Dart was born and raised in Indianapolis, and lived not far from the Duesenberg factory. He and his friends would stop by after school, peering through windows, and dreaming of the day when they could afford their own Duesenberg – John resolved that he would one day do so.

In the meantime, John earned his pilot’s license in 1939, followed by his commercial rating and engineer’s ratings for both airframes and engines. In 1943, he became one of the first pilots hired by what would become one of Canada’s two major airlines. Dart remained with CP Air almost from its inception in 1942 until he retired in 1973.

Meanwhile, Dart purchased J149 for $1,000 in 1951. At some point, the rear of the car was the victim of an ill-advised attempt at modernization; in addition, the Duesenberg had suffered an accident that damaged the right side of the car. As a result, when Captain Dart bought the car, he knew he was undertaking a significant restoration, although he had no idea it would be more than fifty years before it would be completed!

Over the next 17 years, Captain Dart remained with CP Air, relocating from Montreal to Vancouver and back (twice!), then to Woodstock, Ontario, where he met Harry Sherry, a noted restorer based in Warsaw, Ontario. In 1982, Harry began the restoration of the car, but progress was slow as his shop was busy with other work, and Dart sent him money periodically to continue the work. Finally, by 2001, Dart’s sons John Jr. and Peter, got involved in the project and helped underwrite the cost of completion. The completed car was delivered to Captain Dart and his two sons in November, 2003.


Today, J149 stands as an exceptional example of the marque. It has a known and continuous history since new, and has been cared for by a handful of owners during its 78 year history. Not counting dealers and brokers, J149 has had just five owners since new, all fascinating men: Gold miner, Billy Van Horne; Moffatt Dunlap, the newlywed mining heir; Canadian spy, Professor Boyer, and his son Major Guy Boyer; and finally, one of Canada’s pioneering airline captains, John Dart.

It has only had one high quality restoration – completed to the highest standards just four years ago. J149/2174 is also one of the most original surviving Duesenbergs – not only does it retain its original body, but no major components have ever been changed. It is virtually an unknown car, having never been shown at Pebble Beach, Amelia Island or Meadow Brook, nor for that matter, has it been seen outside of Canada since new.

Any collector car of this era can be regarded as a piece of automotive history. Very few can boast a roster of owners who were, without exception, fascinating characters – each in his own time and place. There may be twelve other LeBaron dual cowl phaetons, but could there be any more fascinating than J149?

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more