It was a real doozy for the online auction company.
For a brief period in automotive history, the pinnacle of high-performance luxury motoring was a company in Indiana called Duesenberg. Founded in 1913, its cars became so coveted among the world’s elite that it’s credited with establishing the phrase it’s a doozy into modern language. When one comes up for sale it usually brings over $1 million, just as this 1935 Model JN Convertible did on June 25 through online auction company Bring A Trailer.
Yes, the same online auction company that regularly features cars selling for less than $100,000 (and some that even bring under $10,000) sold this Duesenberg for $1.34 million. Bring A Trailer certainly has come a long way from its beginnings in 2014, but this isn’t the only high-dollar machine to cross their virtual auction block. The previous Bring A Trailer record was held by a 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing, which sold for a curious $1,234,567 in June 2019. BaT bidders certainly aren’t without a sense of humor.
When J-586 took the stage at the 1937 New York Auto Show, nearly everybody involved in getting it there knew the end for Duesenberg grew near. However, few people could tell at the time whether this particular Duesenberg Model J would sound the death knell for the company or whether, more than 80 years later, collectors would even agree whether this or some other ultra-luxe J would become the last production car to carry that fabled name.
Apart from the grille and the sheer size, J-586 didn’t look much like its Model J predecessors. Gone were the curved louvers in the hood sides, the massive headlamps, and enough chrome to blind sunny-day onlookers. Instead, it sported a modern look with skirted fenders, bullet headlamps, smaller wheels, and a wider and lower body, all changes that coachbuilding firm Rollston implemented on the last 10 complete Duesenberg production vehicles as part of a plan to modernize the nearly decade-old Model J.Known among marque enthusiasts as the Model JN, these final 10 cars were “E.L. Cord’s 11th-hour effort” to update the Model J, according to Dennis Adler’s Duesenberg book.
They were also meant to appeal to the richest of the rich, and as the standard-bearer of the Model JN line, J-586 had to look like only something millionaires could afford, the Depression be damned. It sat on the longest production Duesenberg wheelbase of 153.5 inches. Its hood stretched all the way to the base of the windshield, the height of fashion at the time. Its front fenders curled over the wheels and tires, pontoon style, and both sets of fenders tapered to points in a nod to the streamlining futurists.
Described by coachbuilder Rollston as a Convertible Berline, it featured both a fully convertible roof and a disappearing glass partition, making it suitable as an owner-driven or chauffeur-driven car. And, naturally, it boasted a price tag of $17,000, or 20 times the selling price of a new Ford, making it the highest-priced motor car at that year’s New York Auto Show.
The Duesenberg is an American classic, and nobody knows the cars better than Randy Ema. His lifelong love for them shines through each time he coaxes one back to mint condition with his … : Restorative Powers
2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the Duesenberg Automobile and Motor Company, Inc. The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum is celebrating this once-in-a-lifetime occasion with an unbelievable gift of the very first customer-purchased production passenger vehicle built by the Duesenberg brothers, which has been in the same family’s ownership for 100 years.
Donated by CyrAnn and James C. Castle, Jr. of California, the 1921 Duesenberg Model A Coupe features a body built by the Bender Body Company of Cleveland, Ohio and was produced to the order of the car’s original owner, Samuel Northrup Castle, including space for his seven-foot-tall stature. Mr. Castle was from a family of Hawaiian missionaries and was a founder of Castle & Cooke Co., a Hawaiian sugar cooperative, when he ordered the car and received it in 1921 due to delayed production. It was the first production Model A to be built after the prototypes were completed and tested and the first one to be sold to the public.
The Castle Duesenberg would remain in his possession until his death in 1959 when ownership was transferred to his nephew, James Christian Castle, and was transported to San Francisco and placed into storage. Upon his death in 1994, ownership then transferred to his son, James C. Castle, Jr. and his wife CyrAnn. The 1921 Duesenberg Model A Coupe has remained in the Castle family until the decision was made to entrust the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum with the care and preservation of the vehicle and to be its future steward.
“This gift to the museum is one of the most significant donations to the collection in the 45-year history of the museum,” states Brandon J. Anderson, Executive Director & CEO of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum. “The Castle’s generosity will allow for future generations to appreciate the history of Duesenberg, automotive design and engineering, the evolution of the automobile, and the legacy of the Castle family in perpetuity.”
This Duesenberg Model A was the first in American passenger vehicles to be equipped with four-wheel hydraulic brakes and an overhead-cam in-line straight-eight engine producing a top speed well over 100mph. In 2010, the Castles commissioned a 10,000-hour, three-year restoration to bring the vehicle back to its original appearance and specifications. In 2013, the Castle Duesenberg would go on to win the Classic Cars of America Trophy at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Best of Show at the Niello Concours at Serrano, and the Automotive Heritage Award at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.
With all the talk about revivals we’ve had here lately (Duesenberg, Packard, more on the Packard), I thought I’d look back through the SIA back issues for any mentions of the earlier revivals. It turns out we had at least three – a driveReport on the Mercer-Cobra in SIA #39, a brief article on the proposed Duesenberg II in SIA #71 and this extensive 12-page driveReport by Ken Gross on the 1966 Duesenberg prototype from SIA #73 (February 1983), which, as it turns out, was actually the third attempt to revive the Duesenberg marque
The stars all appeared to align for Duesenberg’s return in the mid-Sixties: a Duesenberg family member at the helm, an Exner-designed and Ghia-built prototype, confirmed orders for production models, even a factory taking shape. Yet the dream of a de-extinct Duesenberg never came to be, and now that prototype has come up for sale on the open market for the first time in more than 50 years.
Coachbuilder LeBaron originated the “Sweep Panel” styling used on early Duesenberg Model Js, building roughly 18 examples with dual-cowl phaeton bodies between 1928 and 1930. Of these, RM Sotheby’s states that just one, a 1930 Duesenberg Model J with chassis number 2336, was built atop a 153.5-inch long-wheelbase chassis. Next month, this car — recently restored by the now-retired Fran Roxas — heads to auction at the company’s Amelia Island sale.
Read the rest of Kurt’s article on this beautiful car here
Roughly 20 Duesenbergs spanning the company’s 16 years of production will be on display (on a rotation basis) at the Gilmore Car Museum through Fall 2019. All images courtesy of the Gilmore Car Museum.
For more than a decade, the Duesenberg has been professed to be the most elegant automobile every made. Certainly the most powerful, and the most expensive car on the market at the time, the Duesenberg’s performance prowess was bolstered by timeless, elegant styling from the most reputable coachbuilders of the era. Today, they are among the most desirable cars from the pinnacle of the Full Classic era, and the famed automaker will be honored in the newest exhibit, “Duesenberg—Celebrating an American Classic,” at the Gilmore Car Museum, in Hickory Corners, Michigan, through Fall 2019.
This is an excellent interview with Gordon Buehrig from back in 1989 carried out as part of the Automotive Oral History Project.
Some of the cars designed by Gordon Buehrig were the Stutz Black Hawk, Auburn 851 Boattail Speedster, Duesenberg J, Duesenberg J, 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II, and, perhaps the car he’s most known for, the Cord 810/812. He also invented the removable T-top, patented in 1951