Duesenberg Model J Convertible Coupe Disappearing Top Roadster LWB by Bohman & Schwartz

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Model J Convertible Coupe Disappearing Top Roadster LWB by Bohman & Schwartz





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 38 bodies that coachbuilder LeBaron constructed for the Model J chassis include some of the most recognizable, significant, and attractive examples of all Duesenbergs. Only LeBaron, Murphy, and Holbrook were selected to build bodies for the first Model Js, which were displayed at the model’s 1929 debut in New York. LeBaron’s specialty was the Ralph Roberts-designed Dual Cowl Phaeton, and this configuration proved to be a very popular style, with 28 built. These phaetons are divided into two main types: the sweep-panel and the barrelside. The sweep-panel is arguably the more iconic of the two as it allows a natural inset panel for two-tone coachwork. It is a most impressive body of the highest quality, with outstanding proportions, beautiful details, and a presence that immediately evokes luxury, prestige, and power. Today, just as in 1929, a LeBaron sweep-panel phaeton is among the most significant and successful designs ever to be mounted on a Model J.

Indeed, Murphy was one of the very few coachbuilders west of the Mississippi. So, with an all-star team of design talent that included Herb Newport, Phil Wright and Franklin Hershey, it is difficult to conceive that Murphy Co. would fail in 1932. Yet, it did, an early casualty of the Great Depression. Up from the ashes, Murphy veterans Chris Bohman and Maurice Schwartz created a leaner boutique firm of their own name. Though still located in Pasadena, this time much of their business was focused on modernizing coachwork on existing motorcars. Some of these Bohman & Schwartz redesigns involved little more than adding a few embellishments. However, with others, the designer started with a completely fresh canvas. Many in Hollywood sought their restyling magic, including Mae West (Bohman & Schwartz J-370) and Clark Gable (Bohman & Schwartz J-560). Indeed, of the 14 total Bohman & Schwartz-bodied Duesenbergs, 10 began as creations of other coachbuilders, later improved by Bohman & Schwartz.

At the time of their demise, Murphy was the most prolific creator of the Duesenberg convertible coupe, creating 60 of the 76 examples. Indeed, many Murphy design cues could be found on the more stylish Bohman & Schwartz interpretations. Only six convertible coupes were placed atop the supremely commanding 153.5-inch long wheelbase.

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.

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