15-16 August 2008
1930 Duesenberg Model J Dual Cowl Phaeton
- Chassis no. J243
Sold for $1,760,000
Late in World War I, Duesenberg Motors tooled up to build the Bugatti U-16 aero engine. Then the company turned its attention to the Duesenberg Model A, a 183 cubic inch single overhead cam inline eight. It would be built by a new corporation, Duesenberg Automobiles and Motors, which soon moved from Elizabeth, New Jersey, to Indianapolis. After the Model A’s design was complete, Fred and Augie began development of a 122 cubic inch supercharged straight eight for the cham¬pionship series and Indianapolis.
Fred Duesenberg was an intuitive and creative designer, to whom new ideas came easily. In a quarter-century he and Augie conceived and built more different, distinctive automobiles and engines – even a racing two-stroke for Indianapolis – than any other designers of the era.
Duesenberg Automobiles and Motors was plucked from the post-World War I recession by Errett Lobban Cord. Cord, the savior of Auburn, had lifted the foundering Indiana automaker out of the doldrums by sprucing up unsold cars with bright paint jobs and selling them with creative marketing. In 1926, looking for the means to build a more prestigious car, he bought the struggling but very inventive Duesenberg company. Added to Cord's growing industrial empire, which also included Lycoming engines and the Limousine Body Company, Duesenberg provided a luxury nameplate with advanced engineering. The Model A became, in a sense, the wealthy sportsman’s Pierce-Arrow. For the price of a Pierce Model 36 with T-head six and mechanical brakes, one could get a sophisticated overhead cam eight and four-wheel hydraulics in a Duesenberg – and appear trendier besides.
Cord, however, wanted more than a bought-in luxury car. He had also been attracted by the brothers’ engineering prowess. To realize Cord’s dream, Fred was given an assignment – build the best car in the world. More than a competitor for Cadillac or Packard, it was intended from the outset to be better than Rolls-Royce, Hispano-Suiza, Isotta Fraschini and Bugatti. The Duesenberg Model J lived up to Cord's expectations.
It was superlative in all respects. Its short wheelbase chassis was 142.5 inches, the long one nearly 13 feet. The 420 cubic inch dual overhead camshaft straight eight had four valves per cylinder and made 265 horsepower. The finest materials were used throughout, and fit and finish were to precision standards. Each chassis was driven 100 miles at high speed at Indianapolis without a body. The chassis were then clothed by the finest coachbuilders in the world.
The Model J was introduced at the New York Auto Salon on December 1, 1928. It made headlines. The com¬bination of the Duesenberg reputation with the Model J’s grandeur and elegance made it the star of the show. Duesenberg ordered sufficient components to build 500 Model Js, while continuing development to ensure its perfection. The first delivery came in May 1929, barely five months before Black Tuesday.
After the Model J’s introduction, Fred Duesenberg worked to make it even more powerful, applying his pet centrifugal supercharger to the Model J’s giant eight, just as he had done so successfully to his small racing engines. Fred died after a road accident in a Model J in 1932. Augie, until then independently and successfully building Duesenberg racing cars, was retained to put the final touches on the supercharged Model J. The result, the 320 horsepower “SJ,” was the holy grail of American luxury performance automobiles.
The effect of the Duesenberg J on America cannot be overstated. Even in the depths of the Depression, this paragon of power was a portent of prosperity. Duesenberg’s advertising became a benchmark, featuring the wealthy and privileged in opulent sur¬roundings with only a single line of copy: “He drives a Duesenberg” or “She drives a Duesenberg.” The external exhaust pipes of the supercharged models inspired generations of auto designers and remain – nearly four score years later – a symbol of power and performance.
LeBaron Carrossiers, Inc., was formed in New York City in 1920 by Raymond Dietrich and Thomas Hibbard. Former Brewster designers, they chose the name for its French connotations and rented an office at Columbus Circle, in the same building with Fleetwood’s sales office. Their intention was not to build custom bodies but to design them for clients and to have them constructed by independent coachbuilders. Their first customer was the New York branch manager for Packard, who commissioned them to draw up a seven-passenger limousine. Fleetwood built the body, and the customer was so satisfied that referrals began to roll in. The New York agency for Lincoln ordered a short run of three body styles, a roadster, berline and dual-cowl phaeton, and LeBaron was off and running.
Dietrich and Hibbard took in Ralph Roberts, a recent Dartmouth graduate, as a partner. Wealthy New Yorkers were enamored of upscale imported makes, which typically came into the country in chassis form. The local dealers for those cars realized that having a ready source for coachbuilt bodies would help sell cars. Soon LeBaron was supplying bodies for chassis supplied by New York dealers for Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz, Minerva, Fiat, Hispano-Suiza, Isotta Fraschini and Renault. The New York dealers for Packard, Lincoln, Locomobile, Pierce-Arrow and Cadillac also brought them much business. The first two assignments direct from automobile manufacturers came in 1922 and 1923: eight body styles for Crane-Simplex and seven for Locomobile. Hibbard left for Europe in 1923, where he associated with Howard “Dutch” Darrin; their firm called Hibbard & Darrin.
Late in 1923, the owners of the Bridgeport Body Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, proposed to Dietrich and Roberts that they become design partners, in exchange for stock. This had the win-win effect of providing Bridgeport Body with designers on tap, and giving LeBaron better access to coachbuilders. Now called LeBaron, Inc., the company hired Roland Stickney and Werner Gubitz from Locomobile as delineators and illustrators, for while Dietrich had design responsibility, he was often traveling and coordinating. The shop staff numbered about 50.
In 1923, Dietrich had met Edsel Ford at the New York Auto Show. The two hit it off, and a big order from Lincoln resulted; within a short time Lincoln became LeBaron’s best customer. Edsel was so pleased that he tried to get Dietrich and Roberts to move to Detroit. Both men were invited to the Motor City, ostensibly for technical discussions but the agenda really concerned a buyout. Dietrich went alone because Roberts was ill, and, overwhelmed by a generous offer, sold out his share of LeBaron and moved to Michigan.
Roberts and Stickney then soldiered on productively at Bridgeport. In 1927, however, Walter Briggs of Briggs Body Company in Detroit approached Roberts with a buyout offer. Finding it too good to pass up, Roberts and the Bridgeport principals accepted, but Stickney refused to move and left for Judkins. Roberts departed for Detroit, where he and LeBaron became an in-house design studio for Briggs, analogous to the arrangement Dietrich had with rival Murray Corporation of America. The move to Detroit, however, was not complete until late in 1930, bodies until then being built in the Bridgeport plant.
LeBaron built many open bodies on the Duesenberg J chassis. Most of these were of a plain style (if any Duesenberg can be said to be “plain”) on the short wheelbase chassis. In fact, the basic dual-cowl LeBaron was the most prolific of all the open four-door Duesenberg Js, and, with the later similar LaGrande phaeton, comprised a large portion of all phaetons. Far more unusual was the “barrel-side” body, so-called because the upper edge of the body rolls inward in pronounced fashion. The rear doors open at the “B” pillar, and the beltline has a distinctive parallelogram molding that gives the car uncommon grace. Barrel-sides were built on both the long and short chassis, but no more than five are believed to have been constructed.
Model J Duesenbergs are generally referred to by their engine numbers, which causes some confusion when engines and chassis migrate. Engine J243 and chassis 2270, however, along with the LeBaron barrel-side Dual Cowl Phaeton body, have been mated for life. Originally a factory demonstrator, J243 was sold to a Mr. A.E. Archbold by the Duesenberg New York City branch in the autumn of 1930. It changed hands a few times during the following decade. Then, just before World War II, it was purchased by Jim Hoe, who was to become perhaps the most renowned Duesenberg mechanic of all time.
Hoe and his wife used it as their main transportation during the war. In 1942, when Jim was stationed in Denver, she drove out from Chicago to meet him, only to find he had been transferred the day before. After the war, Jim set up a shop in Weston, Connecticut, to minister to the marque, calling it The Hoe Sportscar Garage. For three decades it served as the Mecca of the Duesenberg faith. Jim kept J243 until the late 1940s.
In the late 1940s, J243 was fully restored to a level that was far beyond the quality of other restorations at the time. As a result, it was featured in many calendars, club publications, and the like. It became so well known that it was regarded as the most valuable Duesenberg in the world, and by extension, the most significant of all collectable American cars.
By the 1950s, the car was in the hands of a well-known attorney living in Greenwich, Connecticut. In 1960 it was acquired by Anthony Pascucci, considered one of the pioneer collectors of important American cars. At one point, after he purchased and repatriated a Derham Tourster that had been sold to Italy, he was the subject of a major newspaper article that claimed that he was the only man in America to own three Duesenberg phaetons (at the time, the four door open cars were the most highly sought body styles in any collector car).
Pascucci kept the car for several years, before selling it to Dan Williams of Dallas. The car became a prominent personality in Dallas during the following 27 years, appearing in parades and ferrying many local dignitaries. Williams, who had a deep affection for the car, sold it to collector Rick Carroll, with whom he shared similar feelings for the Model J.
The car was sold at auction during the dispersal of Rick Carroll’s estate in 1990 for the unimaginable price (at the time) of $1,320,000. Since then, it has been sympathetically and incrementally upgraded. The two-tone green paint remains very presentable, a testimonial to the quality of the restoration completed nearly 60 years ago. The interior has recently been redone in green leather, and the car is furnished with a tan Haartz cloth top. The vendor, a prominent California collector, has kept meticulous records of all service and repairs during his ownership, including each time the car was driven. The car starts, runs and stops well, and will give pleasure to a new owner whether on the road or at a concours event. Any Model J Duesenberg is uncommon. An original body short wheelbase LeBaron barrel-side is a rare find indeed.
AddendumPlease note that this vehicle is titled by the engine number.
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