Motor City

26 July 2014

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Lot 147

1924 Duesenberg Model A Speedster by Brandfon

  • Chassis no. 783
  • Engine no. 1216

Sold for $225,500

88 bhp, 260 cu. in. SOHC inline eight-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission, tubular front axle, live rear axle, longitudinal semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Wheelbase: 105 in.

  • Built by Benny Brandfon for the 1931 Indianapolis 500
  • Restyled into a road car later in the 1930s
  • Fascinating design with Duesenberg power

During the “junk formula” years of the Indianapolis 500, when rules were skewed towards cars built with modified production engines, some surprising privateers jumped into the fray. Among these figures was a successful auto garage and parking lot owner from New York, Benjamin “Benny” Brandfon. Brandfon’s early racing adventures included ownership of a 1913 Peugeot, which survived to become a treasured part of the D. Cameron Peck, Briggs Cunningham, and, finally, Miles Collier collections, as well as the construction of a homebuilt special, which employed a Sunbeam engine and Mercedes chassis.

In the late 1920s Brandfon acquired an original Duesenberg Model A touring car, chassis number 783, with the goal of building out of it a racing car to run at Indy. The frame was cut at the front and reshaped, the engine was fitted with a single large Zenith carburetor (soon replaced with two downdraft Winfield carburetors) and a magneto ignition, and a new racing body was built. The car was taken to Indianapolis for the 1931 running of the 500, and in practice, with its creator at the wheel, it ran at 101 mph, which was very competitive among that year’s field. It did not qualify, however, and while he did run it at more minor East Coast races during the 1930s, he never made another attempt at entering the 500. The idea of what might have been is absolutely tantalizing.

Brandfon’s Duesenberg Indy Car languished through the early post-war years, until, in the early 1950s, its now-retired owner took on the project of converting his onetime Brickyard competitor into a street machine. The original “boattail” of the racing body was retained, but the sleekly curved fenders were borrowed from an early Jaguar, along with the radiator from a Cord L-29 and the windshield from an MG. The hood was made from scratch out of sheet aluminum, while the original Model A Touring’s cowl remained. The engine was converted back to standard coil and distributor ignition, but otherwise, the car’s mechanical components remained unchanged from how they had run at Indy.

In this form, the Brandfon Duesenberg continued to be tinkered with for the remainder of its owner’s life. In 1966 he was interviewed by noted historian Karl Ludvigsen for the ACD Club Newsletter, where he discussed his continued mechanical work on the car, as well as his desire never to sell it, but rather to pass it on to his son, stating that “this old car keeps me alive.”

The car did, indeed, pass into the care of Sasha Brandfon, who continued the family business in New Haven, Connecticut. It was offered for sale in 1967, passing out of the Brandfon family and beginning its life as a collector’s item, which has continued through the ownership of several noted enthusiasts in the American South and West.

As presented today, the car has been slightly modified from its final Brandfon configuration: a stock Duesenberg Model A radiator shell and Warner-Patterson headlamps have been installed, the bulky convertible top once fitted has been removed, and a more appropriately dashing Auburn Speedster windshield has been fitted. The body wears a striking two-tone burgundy, which serves to set off its design quite nicely, with black fenders and black leather upholstery in the suitably spartan interior. Other accessories include a Motometer, a European-style leaf-spring-spoked steering wheel, 20-inch chrome wire wheels with knock-off hubs, wide whitewall tires, biplane-style tubular chrome bumpers, and dual taillights. The car, wearing a restoration believed to date back some 30 years, displays appropriate cracking to the lacquer finish, which adds to this fascinating special’s aura of having been regularly enjoyed.

Of the numerous Duesenberg “race cars” in existence, this dual-personality runabout has to be among the most engaging. It combines the legendary engineering of the Model A Duesenberg with the skills of a man whose mechanical abilities went far beyond “shade tree.” It once ran competitively against the best the world had to offer, and in its retirement years it became a sophisticated art project, the results of which rival the most flamboyant custom coachwork of the Classic Era.

Benny Brandfon’s beloved car might not have kept him alive forever, but it’s safe to say that he had a lot of fun while it lasted.

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

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

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Jake Auerbach

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

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Kurt Forry

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

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Matt Malamut

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

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+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

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+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

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+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

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+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

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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