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Lot 55 1929 Duesenberg Model J Berline
Selling on Wednesday
Coachwork by Derham and Bohman & Schwartz
CHASSIS NO: 2143
• Striking example of one of the world’s most significant motorcars • Twice Certified by the ACD Club; Exceptional integrity with original engine, chassis and body • Former owners include Fred Buess, Homer Fitterling, Ed Weaver and Richard Burdick • One of the first Duesenberg Model Js delivered when new • 1997 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Best in Class winner • Best in Show winner at Cincinnati and Dayton Concours d'Elegances 2021
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 for 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 custom sedan coachwork. Interestingly, 2143 is quite possibly the first Model J fitted with Derham-built coachwork. 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 Coca-Cola President M.K. Barbee, who had the mechanicals rebuilt and updated the body, a common practice in the period. He enlisted noted coachbuilders Bohman & Schwartz to carry out the changes. 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. Of note, a copy of renowned collector/restorer Fred Buess 1949 California Registration is included in the document file. Additional known owners are Art Austria, Homer Fitterling, Gerri Brown (wife of Fitterling’s mechanic/restorer), Ed Weaver and California’s famous Blackhawk Collection. Under the watchful eye of noted purveyor, Don Willimas, J-118 would be fantastically restored with plans to display it at the 1997 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance where it would go on to earn Best in Class honors. Soon after, it was acquired by Richard Burdick, who displayed it at his two Texas museums. More recently, it passed to the current owner who has recently had the car professionally freshened at noted shops with expert attention to the mechanicals, interior, and impressive paint. Receipts for recent work are present in the document file. The results speak for themselves with the ACD Club certifying the car for a second time. A long list of accolades have followed including; Best use of Color at the 2019 Concours d'Elegance of America; Most Elegant Closed Car at the Greenbriar Concours d'Elegance 2021; Best in Show winner, Cincinnati Concours d'Elegance 2021; Best in Show winner, Dayton Concours d'Elegance 2021; Lion Award winner and 100 Point Classic at the 2021 Concours d'Elegance of America. Many more Concours fields await the incredible presence and impact of this beautiful Duesenberg.
The mighty Model J Duesenberg is touted as the most impressive automobile of its time. There is no other Duesenberg quite like the distinctive custom bodied Berline offered here. J-118 offers a singular opportunity for the new caretaker to acquire a one-of-a-kind automotive icon with a well known history, still retaining its original engine, body and chassis that will be instantly admired by enthusiasts everywhere. It will afford the new steward admittance into a circle as exclusive now as it was nearly nine decades ago and will certainly take pride of place within the stable of an astute and fortunate new owner.