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Lot 260

1929 Duesenberg Model J Convertible Sedan by Murphy

  • Chassis no. J262

Sold for $825,000

265 bhp, 420 cu. in. inline eight-cylinder engine with hemispherical combustion chambers, four valves per cylinder and dual overhead camshafts, three-speed synchromesh manual transmission, front suspension via semi-elliptic leaf springs and beam axle, rear suspension via semi-elliptic leaf springs and live rear axle, and vacuum-assisted four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 142.5"

- An older, high-quality restoration that remains excellent today

- Unparalleled power, presence and Classic Era cachet

- Unbroken chain of ownership from new

- Retaining all major components, as delivered new

The Duesenberg Model J has long been regarded as the most outstanding example of Classic Era design and engineering. Introduced in 1929, trading was halted on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for the announcement. At $8,500 for the chassis alone, it was by far the most expensive car in America. With coachwork, the delivered price of many Duesenbergs approached $20,000, a truly staggering sum at a time when a typical new family car cost around $500.

The Mighty Model J

The story of Fred and August (Augie) 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 20th Century with the manufacture of cars bearing the Mason and Maytag names. Fred, the older brother, was the tinkerer and designer of the pair. Augie made Fred’s ingenious and creative ideas 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 all 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 reliability. Their engines were beautiful and performed on a 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 GP at Le Mans. It was also 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, E.L. Cord added the Duesenberg Motors Company to his rapidly growing Auburn Automobile Company. Cord’s vision was to create an automobile surpassing the greatest marques of Europe and America. 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 respects. Its short-wheelbase chassis was 142.5 inches, nearly 12 feet. The double overhead-camshaft straight eight engine had four valves per cylinder and displaced 420 cubic inches. It made 265 horsepower. The finest materials were used throughout, and fit and finish were to tool room standards. Each chassis was also 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 without doubt the star of both the show and the year. Duesenberg ordered enough components to build 500 Model Js, while development continued for six months after introduction to ensure its close approximation of perfection. The first customer delivery came in May 1929, barely five months before Black Tuesday. Unfortunately, Duesenberg lacked sufficient financing and support from E.L. Cord and Auburn, which were themselves struggling to remain 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 the 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, 80-plus 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 most elegant custom coachwork. The Murphy Body Company of Pasadena, California is generally recognized as the most successful coachbuilder on the Duesenberg Model J chassis.

The Walter M. Murphy Company

Associated initially with Packard, Murphy built bodies that suited the Californian tastes of the time. They were simple and elegant, with trim lines and an undeniable sporting character. Murphy bodies seemed even more revolutionary when compared to their contemporaries from the East Coast, who built heavier, more ornate designs.

The trademark of Murphy body design was its “clear vision” pillar. On the convertible sedan, the windshield pillars were designed to be as slim as possible, creating a sportier, more open appearance, while improving visibility for the driver. In fact, Murphy advertised that their windshield pillars were “narrower than the space between a man’s eyes,” a design they claimed to eliminate blind spots.

Perhaps the most popular of Murphy’s designs was the convertible sedan. Highly practical, it was ideally suited for almost any purpose. The convertible top made the car comfortable in the summer, while the four-door layout made it easy to accommodate two couples or a family. Although other companies offered convertible sedans, the genius of Murphy’s design was that it looked truly light and elegant. The Murphy convertible sedan offered here is one of the best-known examples.

Our research was unable to confirm the identity of J262/2284’s original owner, though one historian’s notes list the first owner as a man named Budd. The car’s second owner was Rev. J. A. Hawkins, who also owned J361 at one time. In any event, Ernest S. Hennessey bought J262 on May 16, 1939. Joseph Van Blerck, a successful powerboat racer and engine builder, was the next owner of J262. Van Blerck retained it until 1952 before selling it to Dr. Doug Rucker of Richmond, Virginia via Duesenberg dealer Jim Hoe in December that year. Rucker kept the car for five years before enlisting Hoe’s assistance in selling the car to Henry Amsler, a businessman in Clarion, Pennsylvania in August of 1957. When the senior Amsler passed away in 1974, J262 went to his son, E. Wilson Amsler, who kept the car until September of 1981 when it was purchased by real estate investor Paul Lapidus of Great Neck, New York.

Although the car’s original color was grey, by this point it was red. Lapidus commissioned a comprehensive restoration, though in December of 1989 he decided to sell the car – partly restored – to Cedar Grove, New Jersey collector Sonny Abagnale. Mr. Abagnale finished the restoration, changing the color to the black it now wears, and in 1991, J262 achieved AACA Senior honors.

In January 1996, RM Classic Cars acquired J262 from Mr. Abagnale, later offering it at the August 1996 Meadow Brook invitational collector car auction, where noted collector John Groendyke of Enid, Oklahoma purchased it. Two years later, Groendyke purchased J448, a Derham Tourster, from RM, trading J262. The next owner purchased the car from RM in July 1998, retaining it until 2006, when it joined a large private collection.

Although the restoration was completed during the mid-1990s, excellent storage and meticulous care have preserved the car’s high-point condition. The paintwork is nearly flawless, as is the chrome and bright trim. The black top appears as new, perhaps because it has been fitted with a clear plastic cover since it was installed. Although the leather no longer looks brand new, it remains in excellent condition nonetheless, with no cracks or marks.

The car starts easily and runs well, and a recent road test confirms that the chassis remains in excellent condition. Both underhood and underbody areas are highly detailed, showing little or no evidence of road use since restoration. It remains entirely suitable for show and display, as well as for long-distance touring for those more adventurous collectors. So many Duesenbergs have suffered from ill-advised restorations, losing engines, bodies, and even their chassis in the process. J262 represents the ultimate Murphy Convertible Sedan – a car that retains all of its major components as originally delivered by Duesenberg and one that boasts a known and continuous chain of ownership throughout its distinguished history.

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

Cameron Smyth

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Cameron Smyth joined RM Sotheby’s as a Car Specialist in 2015, working out of our corporate office and providing assistance on c... 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