1937/40 Duesenberg Model SJ Rollson Cabriolet

This Duesenberg might be Rudolf Bauer’s best-known work; it’s certainly
the most valuable

Faced with the surreal scale of the Duesenberg’s chassis, some designers attempted to reduce the scale of the car. Not artist Rudolf Bauer. His intent was to create the longest, most distinctive Duesenberg ever built. And he did.

Bauer emphasized the dominant theme of the chassis-its sheer size-rather than hide it. Accordingly, his sketches depict a narrow, elongated hood extending well beyond the Model J radiator shell and reaching all the way back to the low vee windshield. A canted, streamlined grille conceals the standard grille, recessed behind, and reveals the influence of the Art Deco and Streamlining movements.

Bauer created a long, low, and provocative example of automotive art, more magnificent and decadent than any of his paintings-and significantly more valuable. Parallel rows of 27 hood louvers further accentuated the car’s great length. Dual rear mounted spares bring the overall length to 20′ 6″-the longest Duesenberg ever built.

Bauer took delivery from Rollson in April 1940. The original Rollson invoice accompanies the car. (The Smithsonian Archive of American Art has a file on Bauer’s Duesenberg). Bauer recorded just 9,884 miles on his Duesenberg before parking it at his mansion in Deal, NJ. He died of lung cancer in November 1953 at 64, and his widow soon advertised the SJ Rollson Cabriolet. Bill Pettit purchased it and stored it at his Museum of Motoring Memories in Virginia for 45 years, preserving it in pristine, untouched condition. Pettit drove it 1,000 miles, and of his six Duesenbergs, he said this one drove like a new car. Its black lacquer is original, evidenced by the stone chips on the cycle fenders. The car also retains its original violet leather interior, deep purple carpets, silk top, and even its original six Vogue double-sided whitewalls.

John Apen

John Apen - SCM Contributor

John holds degrees in engineering and operations research from the University of California-Berkeley, New York University, and Johns Hopkins. He vintage raced a Ferrari TdF for 13 years and has been restoring old cars for nearly 50 years. He owned the Atlanta Ferrari-Maserati dealership, FAF, for 17 years. He’s always had an affinity for obscure American cars, and in high school, he drove a 1936 Packard convertible coupe, followed by a 1949 Olds Holiday hardtop that got him through college. Today his garage includes 11 cars, including a Top Flight 1960 Corvette he’s owned since day one, a 1957 T-Bird, and several vintage Ferraris. His automotive library contains over 5,000 magazines and books and 1,800 auction catalogs. He has contributed to SCM since 1996.

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