The model J Duesenberg has long been regarded as the most outstanding example of design and engineering of the classic era. Introduced in 1929, 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: 265 horsepower, double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, power hydraulic brakes and, eventually, an optional supercharger.
The new Duesenberg was tailor-made for the custom-body industry. It had the power and stance to carry imposing coachwork, and the style and grace of the factory sheet metal was ideally suited for the execution of elegant custom coachwork. One coachbuilder that crafted such beautiful Duesenberg bodies was the Paris-based firm of Hibbard & Darrin, founded by Americans Tom Hibbard and Howard “Dutch” Darrin in 1922.
Hibbard & Darrin was one of the few coachbuilders to modify the Duesenberg hood sheet metal, and J277 is one of a handful of cars on which they modified the body side moulding to end in a delightful sweep spear.
After a documented series of owners, noted collector Andrew Darling bought J277 in August 1970. Although complete and serviceable, the car’s age was showing. In the early 1970s, Mr. Darling commissioned the premier restorer of the day, Beaver Colver, to undertake a full body-off restoration. It is a measure of the quality of this restoration that it has received only maintenance since, and remains in high-point condition today.
The paint and chrome are still very good. The interior, while not damaged in any way, no longer looks fresh, and is perhaps the area of the car that would benefit most from attention.
J277 is an original car, including engine, chassis and body. The car is well equipped, including twin taillamps, luggage rack, chrome wire wheels, twin cowl-mounted spotlights and a Pilot Ray driving light.
In late 1996 the Darling collection was sold at auction and J277 was acquired by a dealer, who resold the car in December of 1997 to Otis Chandler for his vintage collection. A substantial collection of invoices from noted Duesenberg expert Randy Ema document the maintenance and care the car has received since joining the collection.
J277 is certainly one of the period’s most creative designs. Although it is a close-coupled convertible Victoria, its long-wheelbase chassis makes the car even more dramatic; it is simply stunning from any aspect.
One of the few foreign-bodied American classics, and one of just twelve Duesenbergs by Hibbard & Darrin, it represents an exceptional marriage of the pinnacle of American engineering with the epitome of French style.