Classic Duesenbergs: 5 of the World's Most Valuable



2015-08-03 12:21:39

From 1913 until 1937, U.S car manufacturer Duesenberg produced some of the most remarkable and luxurious automobiles American had ever seen. Limited numbers, impeccable period styling and superb quality make these pre-war classics highly sough-after by modern-day colelctors. Here are 5 of the most expensive ever sold at auction...


1931 Duesenberg Model J 'Disappearing Top' Convertible Coupe by Murphy

(Image: RM Auctions)

The Walter M. Murphy Company, of Pasadena, California built approximately 100 bodies for Duesenberg, including around 60 two-passenger convertible coupes with rumble seats. Of these, 25 were built with 'disappearing top', where the top folded down into a hidden well behind the seat, giving the cars the sporting appearance of a true roadster.

Amongst this car's early owners was George Schweiger Sr., a dentist who was also a part owner Pacific Auto Rentals. The company specialized in renting automobiles to film productions, and during its history the car appeared onscreen in films such as the classic Bette Davis and Joan Crawford thriller What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, along with the 1970s TV show Bring ‘Em Back Alive.

The car was later owned by Philadelphia collector Oscar Davis, spent time in the renowned Blackhawk Collection, and was fully restored by Chris and Kathleen Koch who then won a Best in Class Award at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
With impeccable provenance and its original chassis, engine and body, the car sold at RM Auctions in May 2015 for $3,520,000.

1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Town Cabriolet

(Image: RM Auctions)

Built in 1935, this car was originally ordered by Hollywood star Mae West and features unique coachwork by Christian Bohman and Maurice Schwartz. However, the actress apparently grew impatient to receive her custom-built car and never took delivery - instead buying another Duesenberg, a J370 convertible coupe.

The remarkable car, regarded as the most beautiful formal town car of the period, was then purchased by Mars Candy Company heiress Ethel Mars, who inherited a fortune and then established herself as one of America's most successful race horse trainers. Having passed through several important Chicago collections, it was acquired in 1966 by the famous Reno collector Bill Harrah.

The car is one of the few examples to retain its original coachwork, drivetrain and chassis, and has been described as "a superlative example of the art of custom coachbuilding in America". This "ultimate statement" of luxury and Art Deco design sold at RM Auctions' 2007 Pebble Beach sale for $4,400,000.

1935 Duesenberg SJ Mormon Meteor

(Image: Gooding & Company)

Based on a supercharged Duesenberg Model J rolling chassis, the Mormon Meteor was built by Ab Jenkins in 1935 to do one thing – break speed records. He delivered on his promise to investors by setting two new records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in October 1935: a one hour record of 153.97 mph, and a 24-hour record of 3,253 miles in 24 hours, averaging a speed of 135.57 mph.

Now chasing faster speeds, Jenkins removed the original Duesenberg engine and replaced it with a Curtiss Conqueror aircraft engine, tuned by August Duesenberg himself. He then used the car to set further records, including a 500 kilometres (310 miles) record of 164.47 mph, before building a brand new chassis to house the powerful engine and modifying the Duesenberg for road use.

He then used it as his own everyday car until 1943, and after passing through several collections the Meteor was acquired by a family who kept it from 1959 until 2004. It was then sold during a Gooding & Company auction at Pebble Beach for $4,455,000, to a new owner who later restored it to its original racing condition and won awards at the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Convertible

(Image: RM Auctions)

This 1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Convertible was designed by J. Herbert Newport, and features bodywork by the A.H. Walker Body Company of Indianapolis, built under the pseudonym of 'LaGrande'. Described as "arguably the most beautiful convertible coupe on the Duesenberg chassis", this car is one of just three known examples and the only one with a factory-fitted centrifugal supercharger.

During its 80-year history the car has been part of major collections on both US coasts, including those of Raymond Lutgert and General William Lyon. The car was later awarded First in Class at the 1998 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, along with the Gwenn Graham Award for Most Elegant Convertible. It was sold during the RM Auctions Amelia Island auction in 2013 for $4,510,000.

1931 Duesenberg Model J Long-Wheelbase Coupe

(Image: Gooding & Company)

This 1931 Duesenberg Model J Long-Wheelbase Coupe has been described as "the most elegant custom-bodied American Classic ever created and among the finest automobiles built prior to World War II".

Originally designed by Murphy Coach Builders, the car was custom-built for Captain George Whittell Jr., owner of six Duesenberg Model Js and the definition of a roaring 20s playboy. Whittell was heir to an impressive California Gold Rush and real estate fortune, and famously liquidated his entire stock portfolio just two weeks before the crash of 1929. He was also known to compete in reckless street races, and often visited his local tavern accompanied by his pet lion.

The Whittell Coupe was co-designed by automotive stylist, Franklin Q. Hershey, who added nautical styling to the ocean-loving Captain's car. The unique and important automobile sold at Gooding & Company's 2011 Pebble Beach auction for $10,340,000, making the most valuable Duesenberg ever auctioned.

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