Duesenberg Model J Disappearing Top Torpedo Convertible Coupe by Murphy

Car producer : 

Duesenberg

Model:

Model J Disappearing Top Torpedo Convertible Coupe by Murphy

Year:

1929-1937

Type:

Cabriolet



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.

Founded by Walter M. Murphy, the business initially operated both a coach building facility and the first Lincoln distributorship on the West Coast. The combination turned out to be prophetic as the first Lincolns carried high, dark, and stodgy coachwork that was practically unmarketable in California. Murphy went to work immediately, chopping their ungainly tops and repainting the cars in brighter colors.

The company’s next major client was Packard, for whom 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.

Most Duesenberg original owners were wealthy individuals, for whom a new Duesenberg was as much about comfort as it was about performance. For that reason, closed bodies were generally both more expensive and more popular. Most of these were very conservative and highly conventional in styling and design. Murphy was nearly unique among Duesenberg coachbuilders in offering closed cars (the Beverly, the Berline, the Sport Sedan and the Clear Vision Sedan) that were stylish and sporting – a combination that seems ideally suited to the ethos of the Model J.

The trademark of Murphy body design was the “clear vision” pillar. The windshield 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 their windshield pillars were “narrower than the space between a man’s eyes,” a design they claimed eliminated blind spots.

As the twenties progressed, so did Murphy’s fortunes. A list of Murphy clients illustrates their success: film stars included Tom Mix, Gary Cooper, John Barrymore, Delores Del Rio, Buster Keaton, Mary Pickford, and Rudolph Valentino, among many others. Auto executives included Packard president Alvin Macauley, Edsel Ford, and Charles Howard. Politicians, dignitaries, directors, mobsters, and heads of state all drove Murphy bodied cars.

In total, about 125 Model J Duesenbergs carried Murphy coachwork – by far the most successful of all. Of the 481 Model Js (including all its versions) produced between 1928 and 1937, about 378 survive.

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