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Lot 56 1929 Duesenberg Model J Berline
Coachwork by Derham and Bohman & Schwartz
CHASSIS NO: 2143
• Handsome example of one of the world’s most significant motorcars • Former owners include Homer Fitterling, Ed Weaver and Richard Burdick • Exceptional integrity with original engine, chassis and body • One of the first Duesenberg Model Js delivered when new • Best in Class winner, 1997 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
420 cid DOHC, 32-valve inline eight-cylinder engine, 265 HP, three-speed manual transmission, solid front and live rear axles with semi-elliptic leaf springs, four-wheel vacuum-assisted hydraulic drum brakes; wheelbase 142.5"
From its landmark debut, the Duesenberg Model J remains a high-water mark of Classic Era design and engineering excellence. Famously, when news first broke of its upcoming launch in 1928, even trading was halted on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The Model J was priced from $8,500 for the bare chassis alone and when fitted with bodywork and ready for delivery to the customer, it was America’s grandest and most expensive car by far. The Model J was publicly unveiled at the 1929 New York Auto Show with seven examples on display. Available to individual order with a multitude of stunning available bodies from the world’s most respected custom coachbuilders of the era, the delivered price of many Duesenberg Model Js approached $20,000, a truly staggering sum at a time when the typical new mass-produced family car cost only about $500. Famously, its magnificent specifications, luxury and regal proportions inspired the popular-culture expression, “It’s a Duesy,” which remains in wide use today.
Few could argue the car's features did not support its lofty price. In fact, the Model J's specifications sound current even today: the 265 horsepower engine was an engineering marvel with double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, hemispherical combustion chambers and eventually, an optional supercharger with power-assisted hydraulic brakes for stopping power. With two available wheelbase lengths measuring 142.5 and 153.5 inches respectively, the Model J carried some of the most opulent custom coachwork of the time, while providing remarkably strong performance and excellent driving dynamics that remain impressive even by today’s standards. Speaking of performance, including a top speed of 112-116 mph, Duesenberg historian J.L. Elbert wrote “The owner of a Duesenberg, whether his was a 5,250-pound sport phaeton or a stately limousine tipping the scales at 6,750-pounds, was passed only when he was willing to be passed.”
This handsome 1929 Duesenberg Model J, Chassis 2143, is a particularly fascinating example retaining its original engine (J-118), chassis and body. Provenance is fascinating and well-known among the Duesenberg faithful. Following completion of the chassis, it was shipped to the Derham coachworks in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to receive its original Sedan bodywork. Interestingly, 2143 is quite possibly the first Model J fitted with Derham-built bodywork. The first owner was Santa Barbara, California resident Art Keil, who retained ownership of the Duesenberg until the mid-1930s following a return passage from Catalina Island when it fell overboard into the Santa Barbara Channel. Recovery was possible due to the shallow water but rather than rebuild the car, Kiel sold 2143 to M.K. Barbee, who had the mechanicals rebuilt and enlisted noted coachbuilders Bohman & Schwartz to update the body. Among the modifications were a lowered roof, skirted rear fenders, “waterfall” grille and streamlined, bullet-shaped headlights. Additionally, Barbee specified a repaint in black with matching blackwall tires.
The Duesenberg eventually passed from Barbee through a succession of noted Duesenberg enthusiasts, including Art Austria, Homer Fitterling, Gerri Brown (wife of Fitterling’s mechanic/restorer), Ed Weaver and California’s famous Blackhawk Collection, which had the car restored and then displayed at the 1997 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance where it earned Best in Class honors. Soon after, it was acquired by Richard Burdick, who displayed it at his two museums. Featuring exceptional integrity and carrying excellent and well-known history, this early-production 1929 Duesenberg Model J offers the uncommon opportunity to acquire a wonderful example of a true automotive icon – regardless of era – that will certainly take pride of place within the stable of an astute and fortunate new owner.