• This Month's Issue

    We Take Stock of Two Record-Setting '75 Lambo LP400's

    Stephen Serio Recommends Five Under-$50k Cars

    Chasing the Testa Rossa: 1954 Ferrari 375 Plus Competizione

    $3.8m Hemi 'Cuda: Comer Rates the Sale, Cumberford Rates the Design

    Read More
  • SCM Platinum

    Over 200 cars that sold at auction covered in every issue of SCM. Our market reports include detailed information about the vehicle, including VIN, condition, options, and expert analysis from SCM's auction reporters.

    SCM Platinum is the largest database of collector cars sold at auction. Over 150,000 vehicles, including over 59,000 with detailed write-ups from our auction reporters.

    Now optimized for your mobile devices!

    Read More
  • Sports Car Market Magazine

    SCM is renowned for its unbiased coverage of the most prominent auctions around the world. Every issue of Sports Car Market is packed full of information you can't get anywhere else at any price. Find out the pro's secrets — what to look for and how much to pay for the classic of your dreams.

    Read More
  • Glovebox Notes

    SCM doesn't just cover collector cars. Every week, SCM reviews a brand new car online and in our newsletters, and there are new reviews every month in the magazine. Thinking of buying a new car? Check out our reviews!

    Read More
  • Insider’s Guide to Concours d’Elegance

    The 2014 guide includes a calendar of events and detailed descriptions of 21 featured concours.

    Read More

Recent Profiles

load more / hold SHIFT key to load all load all
AmericanDuesey-004

The Model J Duesenberg has long been regarded as the most outstanding example of design and engineering of the Classic Era. It was introduced in 1929, and 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, a staggering sum at a time when a typical new family car cost around $500.

Few would argue that the car’s features did not support its price. Indeed, the Model J’s specifications sound current today: double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, power hydraulic brakes, and 265 horsepower in naturally aspirated form—or 325 brake horsepower when supercharged.
The Murphy Body Company of Pasadena, CA, is generally recognized as the most successful coachbuilder for the Duesenberg Model J chassis.

This example, J194, was sold new by Duesenberg’s New York City factory branch in August 1929 to William Durant Campbell, at which time it was finished in black with 19-inch chrome wire-spoke wheels. Within a year, on May 23, 1930, the car was resold to a banker named E.C. Converse, also of New York City, who commissioned Murphy to repaint the car in sage green with a red undercarriage.

Later, the car belonged to early Duesenberg enthusiast Bob Roberts, of Los Angeles, CA, who apparently had the hood louvers replaced with side screens. According to noted marque historian Ray Wolff, it was probably during Roberts’ ownership that the car’s firewall was replaced with the one from chassis 2462 (ex-J449). After a fully documented ownership chain, the car became a part of the O’Quinn Collection in 2005.

J194 is exceptionally well equipped, having been fitted with external exhaust, twin taillights, twin cowl-mounted spotlights, and twin Pilot Ray driving lights. Certainly, J194’s wonderful overall condition will provide its new owner with a thoroughly rewarding driving experience, while the car’s continuous history and well-known provenance will also ensure that it is a rewarding automotive investment.

{analysis}{auto}2980{/auto}This car, Lot 529, sold for $748,000 at RM’s Hershey auction on Friday, October 8, 2010.

Before we take a close look at this handsome Duesenberg, a little background is in order.

Duesenberg Model J cars came at the high-water mark for massive classic cars. The Great Depression struck during the same year as this car was built. This very car was sold two months before the U.S. economy shattered and remained in the doldrums for more than a decade.

Yet, even in these times, about 50 Murphy Convertible Coupes were sold.

This era of stately, powerful cars of Titanic proportions would end by 1939, ten years after this car was built. Why did this happen?

These cars are not easy to drive. At low speeds and while driving in town, they handle like a Kenworth truck without power steering and power brakes. Driving a Duesenberg in a city is not a lot of fun; parallel parking one of these big, heavy cars can make a strong man sweat through his shirt, which is not an ideal situation for someone on their way to an important business meeting. And their massiveness made them difficult for women to drive.

But these Duesenbergs, with their huge engines and heavy drivetrains, shine on the open road, where the car’s power and stability create the feeling of piloting an unstoppable freight train. You feel safe and secure at speed, and there is a huge sense of power. You let the machine take you where it wants to go.

It’s easy to imagine a 30-year-old, strong-as-an-ox movie star cruising around in this car in 1931. The drive in the big, brutish car is exhilarating. This Duesenberg is not a Porsche 356 or a Mercedes-Benz 300SL; it’s simply impossible to finesse these cars. The transmission and clutch assembly alone weighs nearly as much as a Ford Model A. A Duesenberg is a big, massive chunk of machinery.

In a sense, the cars were well on their way to becoming exquisite dinosaurs by the late 1930s.  More and more women were driving. Roads improved, which helped improve the ride and handling of smaller, lighter cars. Finally, the population boomed, cities became more crowded, and driving the big classics in town became even more of a chore.

Pros and convertibles

Now, let’s look at what this car brought to the new owner. The car has great bones. It was never allowed to deteriorate, its chassis and engine never did duty as a tow truck and the body was never switched around with another car. There was one engine switch, but that is common in these cars.

The car’s restoration was well done, and the mechanicals are sound.

The car’s running gear, including the transmission, is correct. Many Duesenbergs suffered broken transmissions over the years, and parts were hard to find. Many of those cars got a White Truck transmission installed to stay on the road. Not this car.

The steering box is good, so the new buyer can hop into the car and drive it as a Duesenberg should be driven.

The Duesenberg Murphy roadster outsold all body styles, and these cars remain very popular. This car has a good future.

But this car isn’t perfect, and that hurt the sale price.

About half of the Murphy convertibles have disappearing tops, which means the canvas  folds into a cavity in the body and vanishes. Disappearing tops add $200k to $400k to the value of a Duesenberg convertible.

Our subject car keeps its folded canvas out where everyone can see it. A lot of Duesenberg collectors don’t like seeing that big stack of canvas on the car.    
Entry-level Duesenbergs are often non-disappearing top cars and open convertible sedans, so this car may have gone to a first-time buyer. A disappearing top car in similar condition to this one might have brought another $250,000.

A firewall mystery

Other problems with the car may have turned off more sophisticated Duesenberg buyers. The firewall replacement put a small cloud on the car, as we don’t know why it was replaced.

The dashboard of a 1929 Duesenberg Model J should have drum gauges, except for the chronograph. However, this car has a mixture of drum and sweep gauges. At some point in this car’s life, some of the drum gauges were replaced with sweep gauges. This ding hurt the value of the car as well—for the advanced collector of Duesies.

The car also had 22 documented owners, and some of them didn’t hold onto the car for very long. Cars that have had fewer owners generally have a better maintenance and care history.

Finally, the paint job—in terms of the green-and-silver combination—didn’t help the car. The lines of this car show great flow and integrity, but the two-tone paint interrupts the eye-catching flow of the body. It was possible to get a two-tone factory paint job, but you’ll rarely see two-tone cars on any Duesenberg sales literature.

However, all in all, the factors that hurt the car’s price are not huge. The new owner can play with colors and gauges and make a significant visual difference in the presentation of the car.

The right price

In the end, this car did well at auction. The price wasn’t cheap, but it didn’t break the bank. The new owner paid what the car was worth. A disappearing top car would have sold for about $1m, so $748,000 for our car is right on target. Well sold and well bought.{/analysis}

Recent Blog Posts

  • "Paddy Power" (With Simon Kidston Cameo) +

    Paddy Power from Kidston.TV on Vimeo.   Read More
  • This Week's Classic Mystery Photo +

    The monthly Mystery Photo has been an SCM tradition for 25 years. Each week, we’ll share one of our “greatest hits” photos from the past and give you a chance to provide a new witty and provocative caption. Each week’s winner will be announced in the Newsletter. Share your caption Read More
  • Alex, the Viper and Timberline Lodge +

    My 23-year-old daughter Alexandra has had a summer of milestones. First, she graduated from Oregon State University, with a B.S. in Business Administration with a focus on Entrepreneurship and a minor in Writing. (Two years ago, following a year studying in France, she earned a diploma in International Business from Read More
  • October 2014 Cover Poll +

    Our Art Director, David Tomaro, has created three possible cover concepts, and we'd like to know which one is your favorite. Click here to cast your vote! In addition, please take a few moments and answer some questions about collector cars. It should all take less than a minute, and Read More
  • 600 Miles in an Air-Conditioned Amazon +

    Sometimes I just feel contrarian. A few weeks ago I drove our 1967 Duetto on the Porsche club-sponsored Northwest Passage. This past weekend, the Alfa Romeo Owners Club of Oregon had its annual summer tour. As I have five Alfas, naturally I decided to drive our 1967 Volvo 122S, a.k.a. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4

Collector Car News

  • 1956 Ferrari 250 GT TdF and 1964 Shelby 289 Competition Cobra Headline RM London +

      Two significant competition cars headline RM's annual London sale, taking place September 8 at Battersea Evolution: a 1956 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta Competizione ‘Tour de France’ and a 1964 Shelby 289 Competition Cobra. These two competition greats lead a roster of more than 70 blue-chip automobiles at the exclusive Read More
  • Corrected Dates For Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival +

      The Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d’Elegance will take place October 24 – November 2. Jaguar Is the Honored Marque for the 2014 Festival. With nearly 80 years since the SS Jaguar name first appeared, the marque has far-reaching appeal and a wide breadth of history. Both Motoring Festival venues Read More
  • Final Results From Monterey: $428m +

    The six auctions of Monterey Car Week have released their official sales totals, and the numbers are the biggest we've ever seen: $428m for 828 cars sold, which averages out to $517k per car. That's a 39% increase beyond the $308m of Monterey Car Week 2013 and a 28% higher Read More
  • First Look: Preliminary Monterey Sales Total $400m, and a Post-War Ferrari Wins Pebble Beach Best of Show +

    Preliminary reports put the cumulative sales of Monterey Car Week 2014 at a whopping $400m, with 745 cars sold out of 1,235 offered -- growth of 30% over last year's cumulative $308m, and a bump in average sold price to $536k from $405k. The overall totals are sure to increase, once Read More
  • Bonhams Sells Ferrari 250 GTO for $38m! +

    A Ferrari 250 GTO hammered sold for $34,650,000 at day one of Bonhams' Quail Lodge sale. Including the 10% buyer's premium, the GTO was $38,115,000. Today's sale consisted of the 10-lot Maranello Rosso Collection. The Collection sold for a combined $65,945,000. About 100 more cars will cross the block on Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4