21-22 January 2010
1932 Duesenberg Model J Tourster
Sold for $550,000
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 the highest possible build quality. The first customer delivery came in May 1929, barely five months before the notorious stock market crash on Black Tuesday.
The effect of the Model J Duesenberg on America can’t be minimized. Even in the misery of the Depression, this paragon of power and luxury was a metaphor for prosperity and success. 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.
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. One of the better known firms of the era was Rosemount, Pennsylvania based Derham Body Company.
Like many coachbuilders, Derham earned its reputation catering to the carriage trade – those wealthy Philadelphia customers who could afford to commission a specially designed carriage in which to travel and be seen in the fashionable areas of town. With the advent of the automobile, Derham’s clientele naturally looked to them to provide the same elegant and luxurious bodies for their motorcars.
Known for their formal bodies – town cars and limousines, primarily – Derham built relatively few open cars. Among them, however, was the body that many consider to be the firm’s pièce de résistance, the Derham Tourster. Starting with a close-coupled body, Derham added a very rakish top, a wind up tonneau windshield, and very smart, although not flamboyant, bodyside moldings and trim. The result was one of those rare instances where the overall effect was truly striking.
The long wheelbase Duesenberg Model J offered here carries a Derham Tourster replica body, believed to have been one of several constructed by Ted Billings. Done to a high standard, these bodies are nearly indistinguishable from an original, and with a first rate restoration, they are often mistaken for one.
By the latter part of the 20th century, a number of genuine Duesenberg components survived – most a result of cars that were parted out in order to restore an important original car. Nonetheless, by this time it became possible to assemble a complete Duesenberg chassis using such original parts.
The example offered here was carefully assembled using an original frame which was originally numbered 2332 (from a Willoughby Berline) but was later stamped with number 2534 (also a Willoughby Berline). The car is also fitted with the bellhousing from J356 (which was originally fitted to a Murphy Convertible Sedan). The firewall fitted to the car (which would originally have been numbered to match the chassis frame) is 2571, which was originally delivered as part of a Rollston Cabriolet (J543).
The ownership history of J356/2534 is difficult to specify prior to its assembly in its current configuration as each component naturally originated with a different car. Nonetheless, it appears that by the mid to late 1990s the car was restored and looked much as it does today.
In 1991 it was acquired by Ken Behring for his Behring Auto Museum. Several years later, probably in 1996, he sold the car to Jarry J. Moore, the well known Texas real estate developer. Moore kept the handsome Tourster for several years before selling it in the late 1990s to banker Charles Cawley of MBNA. Cawley and MBNA donated the car to the ACD museum in 2001.
Late in 2002 or early in 2003, Texas businessman Sterling McCall acquired J356 from the ACD museum before consigning it to RM’s Houston sale in March of 2003 where it became one of the first collector cars acquired by the late trial attorney John O’Quinn. O’Quinn kept the car for several years before its acquisition by the vendor. As presented, it comes with dual Pilot Ray lights, dual sidemounts with hardcovers, 19-inch chrome wire wheels, wind wings, a leather covered trunk and dual rear taillights.
Few Duesenbergs offer the striking lines of the example offered here – the Derham Tourster body style, a favorite of America’s elite and Hollywood celebrities alike. With original Duesenberg components and superb Billings coachwork, it offers the Duesenberg enthusiast the true Model J experience but at a comparatively more reasonable price point.
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