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Lot 136

1932 Duesenberg J Brunn Torpedo Phaeton

  • Chassis no. 2276

Sold for $500,500

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

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.

Unfortunately, Duesenberg lacked financing and E.L. Cord and his Auburn Corporation, which were both struggling to stay afloat, could not provide it.

The effect of the Model J Duesenberg on America cannot 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. At the turn of the 21st century the Duesenberg J remains the ultimate symbol of high performance luxury.

The example offered here has a remarkable history, with two distinct phases. In a sense, it has lived two lives – one as a movie star and the other as a beauty queen – and offers the best of both today.

Duesenberg delivered J255 to renowned coachbuilder Judkins for the installation of elegant formal limousine coachwork. It appears that this was a “spec job” for the factory as the company’s records show the car in the Los Angeles factory branch stock in February of 1930.

It appears that shortly afterwards, the car was delivered to its first owner, Mr. William Sandow, a resident of California and Missouri. We can only assume that the latter led to the second owner in 1933, Mr. E. B. Wheeler of Missouri and Brooklyn, NY.

Wheeler probably traded J255 back to the factory because by 1935 the car was Mrs. E. L. Cord’s daily transportation – as attested to by several surviving photographs.

Meanwhile, the same year, John DeNario founded a company called Pacific Auto Rentals, with the intent of providing cars to the film industry. Shortly afterwards, he acquired J255. Some credit ownership in the late 1930s to George F. Schweiger, but it is more likely that as DeNario’s partner, he simply had access to the car as part of Pacific’s fleet. Duesenbergs were in strong demand in Hollywood, and J255 became one of the most famous examples of the marque. During the car’s 50 year tenure with Pacific Auto Rentals, it was used in dozens films, commercials, and photo shoots. The following is just a few of J255’s film credits:

• 1940 – The Great McGinty, starring Brian Dunlevy

• 1951 – A Pocket Full of Miracles,

starring Betty Davis & Glenn Ford

• 1961 – Photo shoot with Glenn Ford in

Esquire magazine.

• 1977 – Howard Hughes – starring Tommie Lee Jones

and Ed Flanders

• 1981 – The Gangster Chronicles,

starring Michael Noury and Joe Penny

• 1984 – City Heat, starring Clint Eastwood

and Burt Reynolds

After a long and rewarding career in Hollywood, J255 was finally sold along with the rest of Pacific’s fleet in a legendary auction held in August, 1985. The selling price was $180,000.

Purchased by Fred Weber of St. Louis, MO, J255’s second life as a beauty queen was about to begin. After surveying the condition of the coachwork, Weber concluded that the years of use had taken their toll and new coachwork was in order.

Weber consigned the car to noted restorer Fran Roxas, and commissioned the construction and installation of new Torpedo Phaeton coachwork in the style of Weymann, along with a full restoration of the drivetrain, chassis, etc. Since he began with such a good car, today J255 is one of those rare Duesenbergs that retains all its major original chassis components, including engine, chassis, and firewall.

The results were stunning. The lines of the coachwork combined with the quality of the restoration to create a thing of beauty. From any angle, it is difficult to find fault with the car.

As a result, in 1988, legendary collector Sam Vaughan persuaded Weber to sell him the car – for a very healthy $950,000. Unfortunately, Vaughan died tragically not long afterwards, and the sale of his collection created another legendary auction sale in Uncertain, TX in 1990 – where J255 went to a new home in the world’s largest Duesenberg collection at the Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, NV.

The car remained one of the highlights of the Imperial Palace collection for many years, before it was acquired by Don Williams’ Blackhawk Collection – from whom the vendor purchased the car.

Today, the quality of the restoration remains excellent, reflecting very little mileage since completion. A recent 20 mile test drive by RM revealed that the car starts easily, runs well, and handles and steers as expected. A minor brake squeal was noted, something that will likely resolve itself with use.

Today, J255 offers a unique combination of one of the best looking bodies ever installed on the Duesenberg chassis, with an unbroken provenance and a history as one of the most filmed and admired examples of the marque.


Please note that the serial number for this car is 2276.

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

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

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