The "Tom Mix" Duesenberg
1932 Duesenberg Model J Custom Speedster
Chassis no. 2522
Engine no. J-462
In the 1930's the Model J Duesenberg was a trophy accessible only to the wealthiest clients from the United States and Europe. Mostly sold by the factory as a bare chassis, the cars were clothed with bodies from the finest coachbuilders.
A decade after production of the mighty J ceased, they were perceived as large, heavy, gas-hungry relics of a bygone era. Many were lost to the scrap drives of World War II. Those that survived were perceived as dinosaurs which often changed hands for less than a thousand dollars.
The Model J's specifications, performance and reputation, however, made it attractive even to postwar owners given that its 265 horsepower was still a hundred more than a contemporary Cadillac or Oldsmobile V-8. It was an opportunity for early collectors to acquire examples at minimal expense. For others it was an interesting and powerful basis for modification.
The Duesenberg Model J chassis 2522, engine J-462 is an example of the creativity and imagination that the Model J provided in the days after World War II.
Although the original owner of chassis 2522 is unknown, it was tested by the Los Angeles Factory Branch on May 15, 1935 and sold as a used car to investment banking heir L. Stanley Kahn of New York City. At some point in the late 1930's or early 40's it was acquired by Navy Lt. Commander Shessley and then passed on to David Clark of Virginia and later California. Ownership of J-462 by Mr. Clark and his widow lasted fifteen years; it is strongly believed that Mr. Clark was the owner who performed or commissioned the current body, an amalgamation of Cadillac and Oldsmobile body panels. This is further supported by rumors that the original Beverly Berline body was still extant in Virginia through the 1970's.
Mr. Clark's widow sold J-462 in 1960 into the important early collection of M.L. Cohn in Los Angeles. It later was acquired by James Leake in Oklahoma, one of the earliest collectors of fine classic and antique automobiles. Leake is believed to have created the Tom Mix story, an apocryphal mix [sic] which suited its appearance but not its history. Subsequent owners of J-462 include well-known Duesenberg enthusiast Homer Fitterling from 1964 to 1989 followed by a stay in the collection of Ed Weaver until the mid 1990's. It has recently resided in a large private collection among many other significant motorcars.
Although J-462 has been historically dated to 1932, Duesenberg historian Chris Summers supports its dating more closely to 1935. While the dating of the chassis is irrelevant in terms of performance specifications, it is possible that the dating was intentionally modified to lend more credence to the Mix provenance. Mix died in a car wreck in Arizona in 1940, ironically in his 1937 Cord Phaeton. Although this car has been associated with Mix for the last half century, its history is such that it is unlikely that he ever owned or even was associated with it. An August, 1934 newspaper headline which reads "Tom Mix and his Duesenberg come to Kingsport" likely refers to a Duesenberg Model A which he is known to have owned, but which no longer surives.
In its current configuration, the Duesenberg retains some of its original Beverly fixtures including the inside door handles and cowl brace. Chrome and body panels were donated from pre-way Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs. The custom-modified body lines are reminiscent of a 1953 Buick Skylark and the cut down doors that of a Packard Darrin.
The distinctive steer horns have earned it the nickname "Big Cow" from a previous owner.
Importantly, and distinctively from many Duesenger Model Js, it has its original engine, chassis frame, firewall and correct factory transmission. The wheelbase has not been altered from the original massive 153½". Finished in Maroon and Tan with Brown top and Tan leather interior and hood and boattail covering, it has received ACD Certification number D-047, attesting to the originality of its components.
"Tom Mix" aside, this is an important Duesenberg Model J that has retained the essential identity of its major components since it emerged from the Duesenberg factory in Indianapolis. Its extravagant coachwork, let alone its longhorn steer mascot, lend it inimitable presence and it has since at least the early 1950's retained its distinctive at the very least identity. It is a significant example of the originality and imagination of an inspired Duesenberg owner faced with the challenge of adapting the matchless performance of Fred Duesenberg's tall, long twin cam straight-eight engine with postwar bodywork design trends.
- Please note that this vehicle is titled under engine number J462