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.
|Vehicle:||1920 Duesenberg Model J Victoria|
|Original List Price:||$8,500 (chassis only)|
|Tune Up Cost:||$2,000|
|Chassis Number Location:||Plate on firewall|
|Engine Number Location:||Flywheel housing|
|Club Info:||Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club, 536 McClean Ave., Staten Island, NY 10305-3644|
|Alternatives:||Mercedes 540K, Bentley 8 Litre, Hispano-Suiza H6B|
This car sold for $770,000, including buyer’s premium, at RM’s Meadow Brook Hall auction held in Rochester, Michigan, August 3, 2002.
Thomas J. Hibbard and Howard “Dutch” Darrin were two exceptionally talented Americans with a flair for automotive design. Working out of their offices in Paris during the pinnacle of demand for fine custom coachwork, they provided distinctive and pleasing body designs to some of the most illustrious names in Europe and to Americans who lived part of the time in Europe, such as the original owner of this car.
In commissioning this body Mrs. Honore Palmer, a Chicagoan who maintained a residence in Paris, received coachwork with some unique touches such as the quarter-window treatment in the Victoria top and the sweep spear at the beginning of the car’s hood. This is also one of the Hibbard & Darrin bodies featuring their innovative “Silentlyte” construction, which virtually did away with traditional wooden framing in favor of lighter-weight aluminum castings to support the sheet metal. And while the odometer showed a little over 60,000 miles on the day it was auctioned, this Duesy appears to have led a fairly easy life in the hands of its previous owners.
Minnesota collector Andrew Darling commissioned the restoration of this car in the early ’70s and its superior, show-ready condition today is a tribute to his meticulous stewardship, along with that of Otis Chandler, who consigned the car to RM.
With a fully known provenance from the day Mrs. Palmer ordered the car to the day it was auctioned in August, the new owner could be confident that he was buying an absolutely “real” Duesenberg in all respects. This fact alone is an increasingly rare occurrence in today’s classic car milieu, where rebodied cars with swapped engines and embellished histories hardly raise an eyebrow any more.
With just the right number of shiny period accessories to complement the car’s lovely styling, this Model J Duesenberg sold at a price that really is a borderline bargain. The quality of the restoration, the attractive, one-off appearance of the body, the no-excuses history of the car and the cost of purchasing and restoring a similar car from the frame up nowadays all argue that $770,000 was not an excessive amount to pay for a Duesenberg of this caliber.-Dave Brownell