Duesenberg Model J Convertible Berline T2 by LeBaron

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Model J Convertible Berline T2 by LeBaron





E.L. Cord, the owner of Auburn Automobile, and other transportation firms, bought the company on October 26, 1926. Cord wanted the biggest, fastest, and most expensive car ever made. He also ordered a large chassis to be able to compete with the biggest, most powerful, and most luxurious European cars of the era, such as Hispano-Suiza, Isotta-Fraschini, Mercedes-Benz, or Rolls-Royce, to name a few.

After Cord's takeover, the new company was renamed "Duesenberg, Inc."

The newly revived Duesenberg company set about to produce the Model J, which debuted December 1 at the New York Car Show of 1928. In Europe, it was launched at the "Salon de l'automobile de Paris" of 1929. The first and — at the time of the New York presentation — only example made of the series, the J-101, was a sweep-panel, dual-cowl phaeton, with coachwork by LeBaron, finished in silver and black.

The straight eight model J motor was based on the company's successful racing engines of the 1920s and though designed by Duesenberg they were manufactured by Lycoming, another company owned by Cord. In unsupercharged form, it produced an impressive (for the period) 265 horsepower (198 kW) from dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. It was capable of a top speed of 119 mph (192 km/h), and 94 mph (151 km/h) in 2nd gear. Other cars featured a bigger engine but none of them surpassed its power. It was also both the fastest and most expensive American automobile in the market.

The bodyworks for the Duesenberg’s came from both the US and Europe, and the finished cars were some of the largest, grandest, most beautiful, and most elegant cars ever created. About half the model Js built by Duesenberg had coachworks devised by the company's chief body designer, Gordon Buehrig, the rest were designed and made by independent coachbuilders from the US such as Derham, Holbrook, Judkins, Le Baron, Murphy, Rollston (later renamed Rollson), Walker, Weymann, and Willoughby, to name a few; and from Europe: Fernandez et Darrin, Franay, Gurney Nutting, Saoutchik, etc. However, other coachworks were made by Duesenberg branches in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Florida and Denver, as well as by smaller dealers. For the in-house bodies Duesenberg used the name of La Grande.

The J was available in two versions of chassis with a different wheelbase; a long one (153.54 in (3.90 m)) and a short one (about 141.73 in (3.60 m)). There were also other special sizes; like the only two SSJs with a wheelbase shortened to 125 in (3.18 m) and a couple of cars with the wheelbase extended to 4 m (160 in) and over.

The dash included lights that reminded the driver the oil needed changing and the battery should be inspected.

A series of minor modifications were carried out during the production life, but most of the design remained the same up until the factory closed in 1937. First to go was the four-speed gearbox, which proved unable to handle the engine's power. It was replaced by an unsynchronized three-speed gearbox, which was fitted to all subsequent Duesenberg’s. Unlike almost all American manufacturers, Duesenberg did not switch to a fully synchronized gearbox in the mid-1930s, which made the Model J difficult to drive and outdated. By 1937 the chassis and gearbox were ancient compared to the competition.

The Model J quickly became one of the most popular luxury cars as well as a status symbol in the United States and Europe, driven by the nobility; the rich and famous, among them Al Capone, Evelyn Walsh McLean, Greta Garbo, Howard Hughes, Mae West, Marion Davies, Tyrone Power, Clark Gable, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, William Randolph Hearst, the families Mars, Whitney, and Wrigley; members of European royalty such as the Duke of Windsor, Prince Nicholas of Romania, Queen Maria of Yugoslavia, and the Kings Victor Emmanuel III of Italy and Alfonso XIII of Spain. The latter was very keen on motoring and chose his now missing Duesenberg J, among his cars, to go to exile after the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic. Father Divine had the last Duesenberg chassis built with an extra-long 178-inch wheelbase. It weighed 7,800 lb (3,500 kg) and accommodated ten passengers. J. Herbert Newport was the designer. Built by Bohman and Schwartz and delivered in October 1937, it was 22 ft (6.7 m) long and 7 ft (2.1 m) wide. It was known as Father Divine's Throne Car because it had a removable rear top section that exposed two raised rear seats.

While most Duesenbergs were coach built to clients’ orders, often with intimate client involvement during design, construction and trimming, Duesenberg also developed an in-house line of bodies from the A-C-D design department. As has been proven repeatedly, there was no shortage of talent within the A-C-D Body & Art Studio, including Gordon Buehrig and Al Leamy. Styled La Grande, Duesenberg’s proprietary designs were built by several coachbuilders and supplied to the Duesenberg factory in Indianapolis where they were mounted and trimmed either to clients’ order or for stock. Although most were built by the Union City Body Company, a few were built by other houses, including Brunn, Weymann, and A.H. Walker (formed by its eponymous founder to succeed the Weymann American Co. in 1934.)

Duesenberg’s La Grande bodies have stood the test of time, their classic elegance and tasteful embellishment distinguishing them among the most coveted coachwork on these great chassis. In an era of great designers and coachbuilders, this is an exceptional recognition.

LeBaron Carrossiers Inc. was founded in 1920 by two of the most respected names from the era of the great coachbuilders: Thomas L. Hibbard, and Raymond Dietrich. Both young men worked at Brewster, probably the leading coachbuilder of the day. Since the carriage era, America’s leading families had patronized Brewster.

Hibbard wanted very much to work in France, and in 1923, he left for Paris to look into establishing an office there for LeBaron Carrossiers. While in Paris he met another American designer, Howard “Dutch” Darrin. The two hit it off, and decided to start their own company, Hibbard & Darrin. Hibbard sold his shares in LeBaron to Roberts and Dietrich, and moved to Paris.

Meanwhile, back at 2 Columbus Circle, LeBaron’s reputation was growing quickly, but the partners weren’t making a lot of money. Part of the problem was that overseeing the construction of bodies at many different facilities resulted in a great deal of travel time. Secondly, without the profits from coachbuilding, design work alone was proving less lucrative than the partners had hoped.

As a result, in 1923, when Roberts and Dietrich were approached by the Charles Seward and James Hinman, owners of the Bridgeport Body Company, they quickly made a deal to swap shares, and the new firm became known simply as LeBaron Inc. The idea was that LeBaron would give Bridgeport a design office, while Bridgeport gave the design team control over the body making process as well as a share in the profits.

At this point, LeBaron hired Werner Gubitz and Roland Stickney as draftsmen, designers, and illustrators. Dietrich continued as chief designer, while Roberts managed the business.

In 1927, LeBaron was acquired by Briggs, one of Detroit’s largest body building firms. Briggs’ clients included Chrysler, Ford, Overland, and Hudson. LeBaron continued to operate within Briggs, whose strong Detroit connections soon lead to prestigious custom work for Lincoln, Cadillac, and Pierce Arrow. In effect, LeBaron became Briggs’ in house design label, as Dietrich had become Murray’s.

Shortly afterwards, Briggs hired designer John Tjaarda, and he and Roberts assumed joint responsibility for running LeBaron. Together with their in house design staff, the two were responsible for LeBaron’s designs for the next several years.

Factory design work included the legendary Model J Duesenberg, for which LeBaron bodies were among the most prolific. In fact, LeBaron became one of the top four coachbuilders to clothe the Model J, with 33 different cars built.

Although LeBaron crafted a number of bodies for the inimitable Duesenberg chassis, the Convertible Berline was both one of the most striking – and one of the rarest. Most agree that it is one of the most elegant convertible sedans ever built: the long wheelbase chassis visually lengthens and lowers the body. Dual side mounts, a rear mounted LeBaron trunk, and external Landau bars provide a formal influence, while the external exhaust with cutout adds a sporting appeal. 

Sold for: 1210000 USD
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