12 March 2005
1933 Duesenberg SJ Brunn Riviera Phaeton
- Chassis no. 2551
Sold for $1,320,000
320bhp 420 cu. in. four valves per cylinder twin overhead camshaft inline eight-cylinder engine with Schwitzer-Cummins centrifugal supercharger, three-speed transmission, beam front axle, live rear axle and vacuum-assisted four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Wheelbase: 142.5"
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 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 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, 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 horsepower. 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. Other rolling chassis were clothed by the best coachbuilders in the US and Europe, but Duesenberg offered its own designs by Gordon Buehrig, Al Leamy and Herb Newport which were executed on commission by others and sold under the LaGrande name.
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 Auburn Corporation, which were both struggling to stay afloat in the decimated middle market.
After the Model J’s introduction Fred Duesenberg worked on making it even more powerful, applying his favourite centrifugal supercharger to the Model J’s giant eight, just as he
had done so successfully to his 122 cubic inch racing eights a decade earlier. He died in a Model J accident in 1932 and Augie, until then independently and very successfully building
racing cars, was retained to put the final touches on the supercharged Duesenberg. The result, christened “SJ,” was the pinnacle of American luxury performance automobiles. It has
never been equalled, or even realistically approached, in concept or execution.
The Duesenberg SJ delivered 320 horsepower at speed while retaining the outstanding naturally aspirated performance of the J at lower rpm. Alone among the Duesenberg Js, only the SJ represented the collaboration of both Duesenberg brothers. Duesenberg built a mere 36 SJs at the Duesenberg factory, and properly converting a standard J to SJ specification was no small job, the engine requiring complete disassembly to fit stronger valve springs, high-performance tubular connecting rods and numerous other components. The SJ required external exhaust manifolding to fit the supercharger under its hood. The giant chromed flexible tubes became its signature.
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 existance of wealth and an
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.
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 modern
observers believe it was Brunn & Company who best combined exceptional design with outstanding build quality.
Brunn & Company had been established in 1908 when Hermann A. Brunn left his uncle’s carriage works to concentrate on automobile bodies. His son, Hermann C. Brunn, who had apprenticed at Kellner in Paris, later joined him at the firm’s Buffalo, New York workshops. The firm continued in business until the beginning of World War II when Hermann C. Brunn would begin a successful career in Ford’s design department. Among Brunn’s most recognized designs for Lincoln was the “Sunshine Special” created for President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 and used by the White House until 1951.
One of the most remarkable designs of the classic era, Brunn’s Riviera Phaeton was both beautiful and practical. Although a convertible sedan by function, it was cleverly engineered and brilliantly styled. Most experts agree that the Riviera was the best looking four door convertible offered on the Duesenberg chassis.
While most convertible sedans had large and complicated top mechanisms, Brunn’s Riviera Phaeton top was compact and simple to operate. It is one of the few open designs that
managed to look as good with the top up as it did with the top down. This remarkable achievement was a result of an ingenious body design that allowed the entire rear body to
open, hinged at the bumper, revealing a spacious compartment into which the top lowered completely. With the top down and hidden, the car takes on a very sporting appearance, with compact lines that emphasize the muscular appearance of the high performance chassis below.
Just three of these Riviera Phaetons are known to have been built. SJ528 is one of the five percent of Duesenbergs delivered new in supercharged form, and one of two fitted with this
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 size sedan sells for $25,000 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
S.J. 528’s first owner was just such a man. Lt. Col. Jacob Schick is best known today for two inventions: the cartridgestyle Schick razor, and the first electric “dry razor”.
Born in Ottumwa, Iowa in 1878, Schick enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1898. After two tours of duty in the Philippines, he was commissioned a First Lieutenant when he was posted
to Alaska. Drawn by the gold rush, Schick retired from the Army in 1910 to seek his fortune. During one particularly arduous trip, he was laid up by a broken ankle. A restless
genius, he used the opportunity to focus his energies on designing a prototype electric razor. Unfortunately he was unable to interest a manufacturer in production before
World War I intervened and Schick returned to active duty. A decorated officer, he resumed his career serving in London first in logistics and later in intelligence. Promoted
to Lieutenant Colonel, in 1919 he returned to America with a new idea.
Inspired by cartridge fed automatic weapons, he decided that there was a market for a cartridge-loading shaver that would eliminate the risk of handling sharp blades. The
“Magazine Repeating Razor” was introduced in 1926, and was an immediate success.
Schick, however, remained convinced that his future lay with the electric razor, and as a result he sold his cartridge razor company to capitalize Schick Dry Shaver, Inc. The dry
shaver was introduced in 1929, and although times were difficult at first, the company turned the corner quickly and came to dominate the new electric razor market.
By 1934, the company was on a roll, and in June of that year, Col. Schick rewarded himself with the purchase of SJ528. He drove the car for a little more than two years before trading
it in on a new car. Duesenberg sold the car a second time in October of 1936 to C.H. Oshei of Detroit Michigan, owner of the Anderson Windshield Wiper Company. Oshei traded
J107, a well-known LaGrande dual cowl phaeton.
Later, likely in 1937, Virginia Schmidt of Chicago, Illinois purchased the car. Then, in 1938, SJ528 was registered to the Eddie Glatt Finance Company of Chicago, Illinois. Although dates are not known, subsequent owners included Charles A Marshall of Madison, Wisconsin; Dominic Banich of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Krause Oldsmobile, also in
In 1941 SJ528 was purchased by noted Chicago area Duesenberg dealer John Troka, who resold the car to A. E. Sullivan of Rockford, Illinois. Sullivan sold the car to M.P.
Margarite Feuer, of Rockford, Illinois, who kept the car just a short while before it was purchased by a musician named Vaughn.
Vaughan sold the car back to Troka in the late 1940s, who removed the supercharger for another project before reselling the car to Art Grossman of Chicago, Illinois. Grossman intended to undertake a restoration, but instead sold the car in April of 1950 to Harry Schultzinger of Cincinnati, Ohio who immediately began restoring the car.
For reasons unknown, Schultzinger decided to replace the frame with one from J551 (frame #2577), although the rest of SJ528 (including engine, body, firewall, and drivetrain components) remained with the car.
Harry was an inveterate tinkerer, known for his performance improvements, and was said to have only two speeds – fast and faster! During his ownership, SJ528 benefited from a number of “improvements”, including the installation of a five-speed transmission from a truck, a set of 17 inch wheels, and an engine rebuild using components from J467.
Schultzinger became SJ528’s longest-term owner, but finally, in 1975, the car was purchased by Dr. Don Vesley of Louisiana and Florida. In 1983 he sold the car to noted Florida collector Rick Carroll, who undertook a second restoration, this time in red, and in the process reinstalled an original supercharger, transmission and 19 inch wheels.
After Rick Carroll’s restoration, Bob Bahre of Oxford, Maine purchased SJ528, sometime in 1986. Later, in 1988, Phoenix, Arizona based dealer Leo Gephardt advertised the car for $1.2 million. The result was a sale to the late Noel Thompson, a prominent New Jersey collector.
Thompson sold the car to the Imperial Palace where it was prominently featured in the Duesenberg Room for many years before Dean Kruse of Auburn, Indiana acquired it as part of a multiple car purchase acquired it in 1999.
The vendor purchased SJ528 from Kruse in 2001, and shortly afterwards, decided to commission the car’s third – and most comprehensive – restoration. Renowned multiple Best of Show winning restorer Fran Roxas was chosen to undertake the project. A complete nut-and-bolt restoration ensued, including a bare metal strip and repaint that revealed a remarkably solid and original body. All chassis components were stripped, rebuilt as required, and given show quality finishes. Every mechanical component on the Duesenberg was completely rebuilt or refurbished as necessary.
The body was block sanded to perfection before multiple flawless coats of deep, rich black paint were applied, wetsanded and buffed to mirror-like perfection. The interior was trimmed in rich dark tobacco brown leather, and an immaculately tailored dark tobacco brown Haartz cloth top was fitted. Accented by perfect show chrome, the result is truly breathtaking.
The author was privileged to have the opportunity to drive SJ528, and the road test revealed the car to be one of the best running and most powerful Duesenbergs he has ever driven.
The engine started readily, warmed quickly, and accelerated with the kind of authority that only 320 supercharged horsepower can provide. One can feel the additional power of
the Supercharger, especially given the engine’s desirable twin carbureted configuration. Even more remarkably, the car’s steering was the lightest and smoothest in this writer’s
experience, indicating a low mileage chassis, an exceptional restoration, or perhaps, both.
Today, Lt. Col. Jacob Schick’s magnificent SJ528 is one of a handful of original-bodied supercharged Model J Duesenbergs remaining today. It is one of three Brunn Riviera Phaetons built, and amazingly, one of two factory supercharged cars (SJ525 is the other supercharged car, and J521, now fitted with the engine from J440 is the third.)
Today’s Duesenberg market is characterized by long-term ownership, and consequently it is an exceedingly rare event when a car with the specification, pedigree and provenance of
SJ528 comes to market.
In more than 25 years of service to the collector car hobby, SJ528 is only the second original bodied factory supercharged Duesenberg RM has ever had the pleasure of offering at auction.
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