1929 Duesenberg Model J Sport Sedan
Lot No. 5170
Auctioned on Saturday, August 31, 2013
Coachwork by Murphy, J-139
Sold for $962,500
- From the Collection of Ross McEachran
- One of only two built
- Original engine, chassis, and body from new
- Long-term ownership by noted enthusiasts
- One of the most beautiful of all closed Duesenbergs
Coachwork by Murphy
Chassis no. 2163
Engine no. J-139
265-hp, 420-cid. DOHC inline eight-cylinder, three-speed manual transmission, beam type front and live rear axles with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and vacuum-assisted four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 142.5-inches
Some of the most exquisite bodies on Model J Duesenberg chassis were supplied by the Walter M. Murphy Company of Pasadena, California. Murphy’s bodies suited the California tastes of its time: They were simple and elegant, with trim lines and an undeniably sporting character. The bodies seemed all the more revolutionary when compared to contemporaries from the East Coast, which built heavier bodies that were more formal and ornate.
In fact, bold departures from the conventional design were a hallmark of Murphy’s chief stylist, the brilliant Franklin Q. Hershey. Hershey put the Silver Streaks on Pontiac and drew up the original 1955 Thunderbird for Ford, but before he created icons, he created art in Pasadena. Hershey’s design for the Model J Sport Sedan featured center-mounted, piano-style door hinges, which allowed the doors to open opposite each other and come together nearly handle to handle. The raked vee’d windshield, similar to that of racing boats of the era, boasted Murphy’s trademark Clear Vision windshield pillars, which were designed to be narrower than the space between the driver’s eyes – eliminating blind spots. Overall, the design had a distinctively aggressive appearance, balancing out the formal four-window roofline.
This particular car, chassis 2163, has notably remained an intact automobile for its entire life; it retains the original engine, no. J-139, and Murphy body no. 809. Interestingly, according to the recollections of Duesenberg test driver Karl Killoren, the car was “stolen by gangsters” when new. Presumably it was rapidly recovered from its adventure, and was delivered new to J. Warren Reid of Kansas City, Missouri, who took it to Florida and sold it to his mechanic there a few years later. Reid’s grandson recalled years later, in a letter to the ACD Club Newsletter, that the car was capable of achieving 75-mph in second gear and 105-mph in third gear.
The car spent the war years with Lawrence H. or Rayburn Waters of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and would pass through a succession of Quaker State resident owners for nearly two decades. In May of 1965 it was acquired by Eugene Zimmerman of Harrisburg. Mr. Zimmerman was the proprietor of Holiday East, a successful motor hotel, alongside which he built the Automobilorama. This museum was for a decade considered the East Coast equivalent to Harrah’s Automobile Collection, and was known for its outstanding assemblage of quality automobiles, many of which are today standouts in modern major collections. At this time, the Duesenberg was painted cream with a black top. An active member of many clubs, Mr. Zimmerman employed the handsome automobile in at least one long tour, the CCCA’s 16th Colonial Heritage CARavan in 1968, as documented in the Winter 1968 issue of The Classic Car.
The Murphy Sport Sedan came into the ownership of a noted East Coast collector in 1979, and remained in his loving ownership for many years. While in his care it was thoroughly restored between 1982 and 1983; the engine was fully rebuilt, and a new clutch installed, as well as a 3.56:1 high-speed rear axle. The owner proudly stated that the car, as-restored, was capable of 60-mph while running at only 2,100-rpm! The body was finished in Smoke Grey Metallic, contrasting with black fenders with red pinstriping and a black leather top. The body is adorned with the expected Twilite headlamps with accessory Pilot Ray lights, chrome wire wheels shod in whitewall tires, dual side-mounted spares with pedestal mirrors, and a rear-mounted trunk bearing Duesenberg script.
The interior is a light blue cloth with grey-blue carpet and is remarkably unworn and accented by elegant, delicate wood garnish moldings. Set in the beautiful engine-turned dash is an altimeter, which, although seemingly superfluous, was quite necessary when long distance tours involved traveling through different elevations, like the Rocky Mountains, which would necessitate tuning adjustments. The engine bay has all of the correct polished aluminum and green painted finishes, and various fine original features are found, such as the Murphy door sill plates.
References to this car appear in almost all of the well-known reference books, including Fred Roe’s Duesenberg: The Pursuit of Perfection, Don Butler’s Auburn Cord Duesenberg, Richard Carson’s The Olympian Cars, Dennis Adler’s Duesenberg, and Josh B. Malks’s Illustrated Duesenberg Buyer’s Guide.
The car was awarded AACA National Senior honors at Hershey in 1984, and carries both a badge for that award as well as CCCA badge 1169 from the Ohio Grand Classic of 1985. Another badge records the car’s participation in the Challenge of the Canadian Rockies CARavan run by the CCCA in 1991. Befitting a car which was restored to not only look, but operate, as good as new, the Duesenberg has been equipped with subtle auxiliary turn signals, which allow for safe touring while not distracting from its appearance on a show field.
Simply put, ownership of a Duesenberg represents the ultimate pinnacle of collecting cars, an achievement that marks one’s position among the world’s foremost enthusiasts. The offering of this car, which received a quality restoration and has been lovingly maintained ever since, represents a singular opportunity to join those ranks and reintroduce a Frank Hershey masterpiece to concours attendees and the CARavan circuit with equal pleasure.