Few names in motoring are as redolent of wealth and power as 'Duesenberg.' The company's advertising for its Model J said it allsoft charcoal drawings of a man in evening dress, seated in front of the fire in a great hall with a minstrels' gallery dominated by a huge pipe organ, or the silver-haired skipper of an America's Cup-type yacht, above a single line of script: "He drives a Duesenberg."
The company's catalog was more eloquent:
"The superlatively fine has no need to be boastful. Always there is devotion to an ideal with only one thought in mind; to produce the best, forgetful of cost or expediency or any other consideration. When this is finally accomplished, the work is acclaimed as a masterpiece by those who are in a position to know; it is recognized as a standard by which all other things of its kind are judged...this is true weather the creation be a Taj Mahal, a Grecian vase, Cellini's metal craft, a Rembrandt paintingor a Duesenberg car..."
America took the new model to its heart and a new superlative was added to the language: to this day the phrase "It's a Duesy" is a universal term of ultimate approval, just as the Model J has become the ultimate collectors' automobile.
Duesenberg unveiled its Model Jthe embodiment of company owner E.L. Cord and chief engineer Fred Duesenberg's vision of "The World's Finest Motor Car" at the New York Auto Salon in December 1928. Among its remarkable features was a twin-cam straight-eight engine whose massive crankshaft was balanced both dynamically and statically, with sealed cartridges containing mercury to damp out vibrations.
A 'timing box' on the side of the engine contained trains of precision gearing that automatically triggered lights on the comprehensively-equipped instrument panel to warn the driver when it was time to change the oil and service the battery.
Moreover, every 75 miles the timing box opened a spring loaded valve to force oil to all the chassis lubrication points. More indicator lights showed the driver that the system was in operation and that the lubricator still contained oil.
The press ran out of superlatives describing this wonderful new luxury automobile which combined advanced technology with glorious styling. The society magazine Country Life was typically ecstatic: "The Duesenberg 265hp sports model...has a body that looks like a little boy's dream. The engine is old Fred Duesenberg at his best. It has double-acting cam, and everything that the old Duesenberg race car that De Palma won the championship in, had to make it go. It does goone hundred and twenty miles an hourall the models look as though they'd do two hundred and forty."
The Duesenberg's race-bred engine was certainly out of the ordinarya purpose-built 32-valve Lycoming 6876cc straight-eight said to develop 265bhp. There might have been a touch of exaggeration in the claim, but the actual output was certainly more than double the output of the previous claimant to the title of 'America's most powerful car,' the 112bhp Chrysler Imperial 80.
Moreover, this remarkable power unit endowed the Duesy with breathtaking performance; it was possible to achieve 90mph in second gear, with a maximum speed in the region of 110mph in high gear. Ride and handling were exceptional for the period, matched by 15 inch hydraulic brakes all around.
Fred Duesenberg had tempered his engine-designing skills in the crucible of competition, designing racecars that had garnered some of the greatest laurels in motor sport. The young marque had achieved international fame in 1921 when a Duesenberg racer driven by Jimmy Murphy had won the French Grand Prix against stiff opposition, giving the company a proud slogan "Built to outclass, outrun and outlast any car on the road."
Duesenberg has also won America's premier race, the Indianapolis 500, three times before the arrival of the Model J announced its claim to supremacy in the luxury car field.
To underline the Model J's competition-based credentials, every chassis built was tested for 500 miles on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before being handed over to a leading coachbuilder for the construction of custom bodywork.
Duesenberg was more than usually mindful of the quality of the coachwork erected on its chassis, for in June 1929 the company opened an in-house body-design department whose mission was to create new body styles for individual clients and to liaise between the factory and the various coachworks. Between 1929 and 1933 this department was headed by Gordon Buehrig, who subsequently achieved fame as the designer of the 'coffin-nose' Cord 810/812.
Though they were built during the Great Depression and cost more than a Rolls-Royce or a Hispano-Suiza, the Model J Duesenbergs had no problems attracting customers. Among the rich and famous who drove Duesenbergs were film stars Greta Garbo, Mae West, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, and Dolores del Rio, whose husband Cedric Gibbons, famed film art director and creator of the 'Oscar' statuette, was also a keen Duesy owner.
Millionaires like William Randolph Hearst and Howard Hughes, and royalty like King Alfonso XIII of Spain, Queen Marie of Yugoslavia, the King Vittorio Emmanuel III of Italy and Prince Nicholas of Romania (who bought three and raced one at Le Mans) were all members of the exclusive Duesenberg set: fewer than 500 Model J's were built.J-255
J-255/2276 is a matched numbers car which was delivered new to William Sandow. A long chassis Model J it wore Judkins Limousine coachwork. Duesenberg historian Randy Ema confirms that by 1935 the commodious limousine was used by the Duesenberg Company owner E.L. Cord's wife, unquestionably a luxurious way for someone of her importance to have traveled.
During 1937 it joined John W. de Noira's Pacific Auto Rental in Hollywood. De Noira had arrived in California, some eleven years earlier from Portland, Oregon with the intent of setting up a car rental company. He quickly discovered that in California there was more of a market rental of rare and classic automobiles than there was for the more sedate and mundane, and it wasn't long before the movie studios began to tap him for the sort of automobiles that they needed for their films. Like any sensible business man de Noira set about making sure he had plenty to choose from. To put the size of the operation in perspective, when George Finnerman of Popular Mechanics magazine visited for an article he wrote in February 1951, there were 167 automobiles at Pacific Auto Rental. Some of the cars fluctuated in their popularity with studios, some it was said were featured too frequently in movies and were sold on to make way for others, all the same visiting the business must have been quite a trip! J-255, the Judkins Duesenberg seems to have been perennially popular, and over the course of its 48 year tenure it had numerous movie features, known credits are:
1940 The Great McGinty starring Brian Dunlevy
1951 A Pocketful of Miracles starring Bette Davis and Glenn Ford
1955 Al Capone
1958 Party Girl
1977 Howard Hughes starring Tommy Lee Jones and Ed Flanders
1981 The Gangster Chronicles starring Michael Noury and Joe Penny
1984 City Heat starring Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds
All of which probably makes it the most filmed Duesenberg ever! In addition to these the car was also featured in an Esquire
photo shoot with Glenn Ford in 1961.
Pacific Auto Rental remained in business until 1985 when a huge liquidation sale of the collectors cars was held at which point J-255 passed to Fred and Dave Weber of St. Louis. Although not necessarily in keeping with traits of the hobby even by the mid-1980s, the Weber's elected to remove the coachwork and to replace it with a more racy design. The design they chose was the legendary Walker LaGrande Torpedo Phaeton, a versatile body noted for the way in which it is able to fully enclose the rear passenger compartment when the top and side windows are put up.
Arguably there is no finer restorer for such a project as Fran Roxas of Chicago, who has gained a fine reputation for his high quality copies of some of the most beautiful coachwork ever to equip Packards, Duesenbergs and the like. Importantly, as a result of exacting rebuilt the car retained its complete rolling chassis, running gear and numbered firewall a feature so often lost. As can be seen from the car today, the quality of the workmanship by Roxas was exceptional, the level of detail is exquisite from the disappearing wind down side windows, to the instrument set in the passenger compartment all exactly as the handful of original cars were.
The Webers would sell this car and then the Judkins body separately, the latter today resting on car 2128. J -255 has resided in a series of noted collections since that time. In 2007, the car passed from Don Williams' esteemed Blackhawk Collection into one of the North East's premier auto collections where it received detail work including having the top replaced completely in black cloth and the fit of the rear windows improved. Over the course of the last decade, the Duesie has continued to be shown at a number of events, garnering praise wherever it goes. It was voted 'Most Outstanding Open Car, 1921-1930' at the 2008 Greenwich Concours d'Elegance and was subsequently sold at this same venue by Bonhams to the current owner in 2010.
A fine tour or show car, with a fascinating movie history under its belt, J-255 will always be a show-stopper, or great tour car!Refer to department