1930 Duesenberg Model J Imperial Cabriolet by Hibbard & Darrin
RM | Sotheby's - AMELIA ISLAND 2018 - Offered from the James F. Scott Collection - Offered on: Saturday, March 10, 2018
- Offered from the James F. Scott Collection
- Originally delivered to William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies
- Exceptional, beautifully appointed French coachwork
- Retains its original body, chassis, and engine
- Formerly owned by legendary restorer Joe "The Duesenberg Doctor" Kaufmann
- Featured in all of the major Duesenberg texts
- A world-famous Model J of fine quality and superb provenance
Marion Davies wanted to be a famous actress. The fact that she was not notably talented did nothing to persuade her otherwise, nor did it move William Randolph Hearst, the legendary newspaper baron and one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world at the time. Best-remembered today for his remarkable mansion at San Simeon, California, and for serving as the basis for the classic 1941 film, Citizen Kane, Hearst met Davies in 1917; they would remain together, traveling the world as major society figures, until his passing in 1951.
A besmitten Hearst lavishly promoted Davies's acting career (to little critical avail), and bought her quite literally anything her heart desired, whether or not she knew it at the time. That included this Duesenberg Model J, bodied by the Parisian coachbuilders Hibbard & Darrin as an imposing Imperial Cabriolet, using their patented all-aluminum Silentlyte construction method. Hearst reportedly saw it on display at the 1930 Paris Auto Salon, and decided that Marion had to have it; a few months later it was being uncrated in Los Angeles.
Upon the car's arrival in California, Hearst and Davies did what all new owners do - they went for a (chauffeured) test drive. California coachbuilder J. Gerald Kirchhoff later recounted that when the car was driven around a corner, the body flexed and a rear door sprang open, nearly dumping Hearst out of the car. Hearst sent the car to Kirchhoff's shop, where the doors were rebuilt and their latches strengthened. At the same time, the body was modified slightly to suit its new owner's tastes, with the top and center door posts fixed into place, a removable "flap" installed in the rear quarters (to improve passenger vision), and an enormous trunk added for travel.
Indeed, this was a Duesenberg built for the open road; in fact, journalist Dennis Adler postulated decades later that J-254 may well be the most well-traveled Model J. It accompanied Hearst and Davies all over the world, following them on their journeys to Europe and Africa, in the holds of ocean liners and in railroad boxcars. In its heyday, the car was seen at all of the most fashionable haunts, in the company of one of the world's most powerful men and the woman for whom he tried to move the world.
THE DUESENBERG DOCTOR
The Model J's first known owner following Hearst and Davies was a sailor who drove it back and forth across the country, before selling it in 1949 to W.D. Lehman of San Diego. Lehman sold it a year later to Robert E. Diller of San Francisco, who in 1954 passed it for $500 to Ray Wolff, the Auburn Cord Duesenberg (ACD) Club's longtime Duesenberg historian.
Wolff's friend Joe Kaufmann was already becoming known as one of the finest Model J specialists in the Midwest. By the time of his passing in 2010 after a remarkable 60-year career, "The Duesenberg Doctor" had personally maintained or restored over 75 of the automobiles, and had mentored many of today's Duesenberg historians and restorers. His contributions to the Duesenberg world are legend and well-remembered by his many friends and family.
Kaufmann owned several Model Js over the years, all in the early enthusiast era. None he kept longer than J-254, photographs of which still decorate the "Presidential Suite" he annually occupied at the Hotel Auburn during the ACD Club's National Reunion. Expertly fully restored in his talented hands, it was driven extensively, occasionally being put into use towing a Duesenberg-powered race car.
In the early 1980s, Kaufmann finally sold J-254 to his fellow Wisconsin enthusiast, Gene Grengs of Eau Claire. Mr. Grengs enjoyed the car for several years before selling it to the legendary Duesenberg collector, Jerry J. Moore. It remained a centerpiece of the vast Moore collection until 1995, when it was purchased by Bob Dean of Louisiana. It later joined a collection in the Midwest, from which it was acquired in 2003 by Mr. Scott, several years after it had been cosmetically refinished in its present, wonderfully subtle black and pewter livery, with a complementary interior.
Not shown in the last 15 years, J-254 now emerges to be enjoyed by a new generation. It carries with it its superb and fascinating history, courtesy of having been well maintained by so many great enthusiasts over its long life - not least among them Joe Kaufmann. Even today it is easy to imagine it being hoisted aboard an ocean liner or loaded onto a train for the next step in its fascinating journey, trailed by Hearst, Davies, and a cloud of Classic Era paparazzi.
Marion may not have been a star, but her Model J certainly is.