234: 1929 Duesenberg J Convertible Coupe by Murphy
265bhp, 420 cu. in. four valves per cylinder twin overhead camshaft inline eight-cylinder engine, three-speed synchromesh transmission, four-wheel semi-elliptical leaf springs with front beam axle, live rear axle and vacuum-assisted four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Wheelbase: 142.5"
The Model J Duesenberg has long been regarded as the most outstanding example of design and engineering of the classic era. Introduced in 1929, trading was halted on the New York Stock exchange for the announcement. At $8,500 for the chassis alone, it was by far the most expensive car in America. With coachwork, the delivered price of many Duesenbergs approached $20,000 (or more), a staggering sum at a time when a typical new family car cost around $500.
The Mighty Model J
The story of Fred and August Duesenberg and E.L. Cord is among the most fascinating in automotive history. The Duesenbergs were self-taught mechanics and car builders whose careers started in the Midwest at the beginning of the twentieth century with the manufacture of cars bearing the Mason and Maytag names. Fred, the older brother by five years, was the tinkerer and designer of the pair. Augie made Fred's ingenious and creative things work.
The Duesenbergs' skill and creativity affected many other early American auto manufacturers. Their four-cylinder engine produced by Rochester powered half a dozen marques. Eddie Rickenbacker, Rex Mays, Peter DePaolo, Tommy Milton, Albert Guyot, Ralph DePalma, Fred Frame, Deacon Litz, Joe Russo, Stubby Stubblefield, Jimmy Murphy, Ralph Mulford and Ab Jenkins drove their racing cars.
In 15 consecutive Indianapolis 500s, starting with their first appearance in 1913, 70 Duesenbergs competed. Thirty-two -- an amazing 46 percent of them -- finished in the top 10. Fred and Augie became masters of supercharging and of reliability. Their engines, because engines were Fred's specialty, were beautiful and performed on a par with the best of Miller, Peugeot and Ballot.
In 1921, Jimmy Murphy's Duesenberg won the most important race on the international calendar, the French GP at Le Mans. It was the first car with hydraulic brakes to start a Grand Prix. Duesenberg backed up this performance at Indianapolis in 1922 -- eight of the top 10 cars were Duesenberg-powered, including Jimmy Murphy's winner.
In 1925, Errett Lobban Cord added the Duesenberg Motors Company to his rapidly growing enterprise, the Auburn Automobile Company. Cord's vision was to create an automobile that would surpass the great marques of Europe and America. Cadillac, Isotta Fraschini, Bugatti, Rolls-Royce, and Hispano-Suiza were his targets and Duesenberg was his chosen instrument. He presented Fred Duesenberg with the opportunity to create the greatest car in the world, and Fred obliged with the Duesenberg Model J.
The Duesenberg Model J was conceived and executed to be superlative in all aspects. Its short wheelbase chassis was 142.5 inches, nearly 12 feet. The double overhead camshaft straight eight-cylinder engine had four valves per cylinder and displaced 420 cubic inches. It made 265 horsepower. The finest materials were used throughout and fit and finish were to toolroom standards. Each chassis was driven at speed for 100 miles at Indianapolis.
The Duesenberg Model J's introduction on December 1, 1928 at the New York Auto Salon was front-page news. The combination of the Duesenberg reputation with the Model J's grand concept and execution made it the star of the show and the year. Duesenberg ordered enough components to build 500 Model Js while development continued for six months after the Model J's introduction to ensure its close approximation of perfection. The first customer delivery came in May 1929, barely five months before Black Tuesday. Unfortunately, the Model J Duesenberg lacked financing and support from E.L. Cord and Auburn Corporation, which were both struggling to stay afloat in the decimated middle market.
The effect of the Duesenberg J on America cannot be minimized. Even in the misery of the Depression this paragon of power illustrated the continued existence of wealth and upper class. Duesenberg's advertising became a benchmark, featuring the wealthy and privileged in opulent surroundings with only a single line of copy: "He drives a Duesenberg".The outside exhaust pipes inspired generations of auto designers and remain, 60 years later, a symbol of power and performance. "She's a real Duesy", still means a slick, quick, smooth and desirable possession of the highest quality.
Duesenbergs were expensive cars, and only men or women of means could afford them. Such extravagance was born of an era of unbridled capitalism -- a time when a man with vision and ability could make -- and keep -- a fortune of staggering size. These were the men who could afford the very best, and there was absolutely no doubt that when it came to automobiles, E. L. Cord's magnificent Duesenberg was the best that money could buy.
The new Duesenberg was tailor-made for the custom body industry. It had the power and stance to carry imposing coachwork, and the style and grace of the factory sheet metal was ideally suited for the execution of elegant custom coachwork.
The Murphy body company of Pasadena, California is generally recognized as the most successful coachbuilder on the Duesenberg Model J chassis. Associated initially with Packards, Murphy built bodies that suited the California tastes of the time. They were simple and elegant, with trim lines and an undeniable sporting character. Murphy bodies seemed all the more revolutionary when compared to their contemporaries from the east coast, who built heavier, more ornate designs.
The trademark of Murphy body design was the "clear vision" pillar. Both A and B pillars were designed to be as slim as possible, creating a sportier, more open appearance, while improving visibility for the driver. In fact, Murphy advertised that the width of their windshield pillars were "narrower than the space between a man's eyes", a design they claimed eliminated blind spots. The convertible coupe is generally considered to be the best looking of Murphy's designs, and indeed, it became one of the most popular bodies for the Model J. Most, like J132, were short wheelbase designs.
J132 began life as a Derham sedan, sold new to William E. Schmidt, an undertaker from Chicago. Schmidt later sold the car to Mr. H. S. Kehn, also of Chicago who in turn sold it to Paul S. Johnson, a Chicago-area plumber who removed the rear portion of the body, planning to build a truck. He never completed the conversion, however, and eventually sold the car to Keith Brown of LaPorte, Indiana in October of 1957.
The Murphy Convertible Coupe offered here - now mounted on J132 - was originally installed on J144. J144 was purchased new in 1929 by Frank Gill of New York, from the New York Factory Branch of Duesenberg. Duesenberg re-acquired the car and on April 30, 1932, the car was purchased by David Joyce of Chicago, apparently as a new car (again). Joyce was married to Peggy Hopkins-Joyce, a well-known actress and dancer at the time. It is interesting to note that he was one of just a handful of multiple new Duesenberg buyers, as he later bought J151, a Derham Tourster.
In 1937 the car was bought by Chicago dealer John Troka, who sold the car to Dr. J. Mishler of Mount Morris, Illinois. Mishler owned the car for several years. As a result of an accident, the car ended up in a Kansas City salvage yard, where in 1943 it was purchased by C.W. (Buck) Daugherty of Kansas City. Daugherty dismantled the car, selling the body to Keith Brown in 1957.
Brown mounted the J144 Murphy Convertible Coupe body on the J132 chassis and between 1957 and 1959, he restored the car to its current configuration. In September of 1959, he sold the car to Homer Fitterling, in whose collection the car remained until his entire collection was purchased by carpet king Ed Weaver of Dalton, Georgia in 1989. Weaver owned the car until his death in 1994, when it was acquired by RM Classic Cars of Chatham, Ontario, Canada. RM sold the car to Berkeley, Massachusetts collector Jim King, who kept the car for several years before trading it back to RM on another car. The vendor acquired the car from RM in 2006.
It has been well cared for ever since and, as presented, is a lovely, solid and largely original example of what many collectors consider the ultimate Duesenberg, the Murphy Convertible Coupe, here elegantly finished in white with such notable features as dual side-mounted spare tires with tire-mounted side-view mirrors, a trunk rack, dual spotlights, and wide whitewall tires, to name a few. While it benefits from an older restoration, it is an ACD-certified car and remains a very drivable example well-suited for touring events and continued enjoyment.