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Collector Car News

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1929 duesenberg model j sports sedan


It is difficult to imagine the excitement with which the Model J Duesenberg was received in 1929. Here was a chassis with an engine that-at 265 hp-beat its nearest competitor by more than 100 hp. The famed Packard 734 speedster produced 145 hp and the Cadillac V16, 175 hp. Coming from a company whose racing successes were legendary, it was the perfect marketing move. Priced at $8,500 for just the chassis, the Model J was by far the most expensive car in America. The timing could have not been better: with the economic success of the 1920s, America's wealthy were ready to indulge themselves. The new Model J gave them the perfect opportunity.

The Murphy body company of Pasadena, California, is generally recognized as the most successful coachbuilder on the Model J chassis. Initially associated with Packard, Murphy built bodies that suited the California tastes of the time. They were simple and elegant, with trim lines and an undeniable sporting character. They appeared even more revolutionary when compared to their East Coast contemporaries which built heavier, more ornate designs.

This Murphy sport sedan features a special instrument panel with a dark blue fascia and early-style gauges. The doors are center mounted using piano-style hinges and open opposite to each other. The gray leather seats are accented by gray upholstery on the door panels and headliner, as well as plush gray carpet.

The car presented is the first of at least two Model J Sport Sedans that were bodied by Murphy in 1929. Currently in pristine condition, J151 was one of the cars featured by Duesenberg in the San Francisco Salon in 1929. It was purchased by the Norris family which owned the famed Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs where the vehicle was kept. It remained in the Norris family until the 1980s when it was sold to noted collector John Mozart. It was subsequently acquired by Houston collector Jerry J. Moore. The current owner obtained J151 from Mr. Moore.

The Murphy Duesenberg has benefited from a professional restoration that was completed to meticulous standards and remains in show-worthy condition. This high quality, combined with the rarity and striking beauty of the design, make this one of the most outstanding Duesenbergs offered for public sale.


{analysis}{auto}390{/auto} The J151 1929 Murphy Duesenberg Model J Sports Sedan sold at RM Classic Cars' Amelia Island, Florida auction on March 11, 2000 for an aggressive $522,500, including buyer's premium.

The prestige and allure of the Duesenberg name can be best exemplified by their advertising campaign. Ladies and gentlemen of obvious means were depicted in activities suitable to their moneyed position with the simple statement "He (or She) drives a Duesenberg." Paying $15,000 to $18,000 for a vehicle, as the Great Depression was tightening its hold, was an expenditure that only the upper crust could justify-and many of those had no desire to display their wealth with such conspicuous transportation. Because of the Great Depression, luxury car sales were slow all around and it forced Duesenberg to limit its production from the planned 500 cars to 481.

The Duesenberg market can be sliced a number of different ways: early and late, open and closed and one or two-off custom bodies as compared to the cataloged "custom" bodies. As far as desirability-and value-late takes preference over early, open over closed and the true custom bodies over the others.

The early cars displayed a plainer look and were lacking appearance and trim items such as shutters that concealed the radiator core, external horns, chrome tire covers, chrome strips on the rear fenders, radiator emblem and even a hood ornament. These were all features that appeared after 1929, although a few of these have been added to J151. However on J151, were these a factory retrofit with appropriate documentation, as was often done on the earlier cars, or was the car "enhanced" during a later restoration? If the latter were the case, it could preclude a podium award, assuming that knowledgeable judges were reviewing the vehicle at a national-level Concours d'Elegance.

The market for one-off custom-bodied Duesenbergs would have to be characterized as strong, with a few sales pushing the seven-figure mark, but to say that "A rising tide lifts all boats"-or in this case Duesenbergs-is not an applicable statement. "Catalog-bodied" Murphy roadsters have been consistently changing hands in the $700,000 to $800,000 range, convertible sedans in the high $500,000s and sedans like this one around $450,000 to $475,000.

A factor that's having a negative effect on the overall Duesenberg market is the median age of the owners. Most are at the stage of their lives where estate planning is now a priority. New, young money that is entering the car hobby does not aspire to touring the back roads in a Duesenberg - they seem to be looking for more exotic machines for vintage racing.

The plausible explanation for this early, closed sedan selling for the price of a more desirable convertible sedan is that of a persistent auctioneer working two determined bidders. Perhaps positive comments from fellow collectors and the pride of owning a Duesenberg will offset leaving an extra $100,000 or so at Amelia Island. - Carl Bomstead{/analysis}

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