2023 |Amelia Island Auctions 2023
1931 Duesenberg Model J Convertible Sedan
Coachwork by Murphy
$2,000,000 - $2,400,000
The Perfect Combination of Duesenberg Mechanicals and Refined Murphy Coachwork
Long History of Ownership by Automotive Enthusiasts
Well-Respected Example in ACD Circles; Retains Original Engine, Crankshaft, Chassis and Body per Ray Wolff Notes
Recipient of the Best Duesenberg Award in 2001 by the Auburn-Cord- Duesenberg Club
Spectacular Presentation with Multiple CCCA and Concours First Place Wins
420 CID DOHC Inline 8-Cylinder Engine
Single Schebler EE-3 Downdraft Carburetor
265 BHP at 4,200 RPM
3-Speed Manual Gearbox
4-Wheel Hydraulic Drum Brakes
Front Solid Axle with Semi-Elliptical Leaf Springs and Shock Absorbers
Rear Live Axle with Semi-Elliptical Leaf Springs and Shock Absorbers
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Orman Smith, San Francisco, California (acquired new in 1931)
W. Bryant, San Francisco, California (acquired from the above in 1935)
N. Ansley, California (acquired from the above in 1949)
W. Bryant, San Francisco, California (reacquired from the above in 1950)
Harry Bragg, Tiburon, California (acquired from the above in the early 1950s)
Sylvester V. Rugg, Newark, Ohio (acquired circa 1958)
Lorin Tryon, San Francisco, California (acquired circa 1965)
Ray Pierce, Akron, Ohio (acquired from the above in 1966)
Courtland Cross, New London, New Hampshire (acquired from the above in 1967)
Thomas Derro, Carlisle, Massachusetts (acquired from the above in 1982)
David Lindsay, Manawa, Wisconsin (acquired via Blackhawk Classics in 1997)
Current Owner (acquired from the above in 2017)
CCCA Grand Classic, Michigan, 1958 (First Place)
CCCA Grand Classic, Michigan, 1959 (First Place)
CCCA Grand Classic, Florida, 1990 (First Place, 100 Points)
CCCA Grand Classic, New Jersey, 1990 (First Place)
AACA Eastern Meet, Pennsylvania, 1991 (Chocolate Town Trophy)
CCCA Grand Classic, Massachusetts, 1993 (Premier First Place)
Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club Annual Reunion, Indiana, 2001 (Best Duesenberg Award)
CCCA Annual Meeting, Missouri, 2005 (First Place)
CCCA Grand Classic, Michigan, 2005 (First Place, 99.5 Points)
Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club Annual Reunion, Indiana, 2010 (First Place)
Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, Florida, 2019 (Best in Class)
For more than a century the Duesenberg name has commanded the utmost reverence in automotive circles, and justifiably so. The marque’s engineering prowess was validated on the track and the 1921 French Grand Prix victory at Le Mans crowned Duesenberg as the first American car to win a European Grand Prix. In its own backyard of Indianapolis, Duesenberg won the Indy 500 in 1924, 1925, and 1927 – a period during which it also manufactured passenger cars. Recognizing the potential of translating racing success to passenger car sales, entrepreneur Errett Lobban (E.L.) Cord brought Duesenberg into his growing automotive empire, determined to create the mightiest motor car the world had ever seen.
The result was the Model J, introduced to a startled world at the New York International Auto Show in December 1928. No other car came close to its 265 hp rating or the resultant breathtaking acceleration. An owner’s whim could be indulged by crafting custom coachwork for the Model J chassis, and most preferred among Duesenberg owners were the West Coast designs emanating from Walter M. Murphy coachworks of Pasadena, California. Murphy bodies were favored for their innate proportional balance and graceful elegance. For those desirous of a Convertible model offering the fully engineered option of both open and closed motoring, Murphy built 32 attractive Convertible Sedans, including the example offered here, J-131. The sequential listing of Model Js in Fred Roe’s Duesenberg: The Pursuit of Perfection includes engine no. J-131 and chassis 2153 among the relatively early production cars employing the short wheelbase chassis of 142.5”. According to that listing, among that group, it was the sixth car to receive coachwork by Murphy, incorporating signature styling elements including the delicate chromed-windshield frame and window surrounds, center-hinged doors, and a windshield angle echoed in reverse fashion for the rear roofline.
J-131’s history begins on the West Coast, delivered through John Blalock Motor Sales of San Francisco to its first owner, attorney Orman Smith. Ray Wolff, who served as Duesenberg historian for the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club, maintained records suggesting the car remained in California into the 1950s, before acquisition by Sylvester Rugg of Newark, Ohio. Mr. Rugg also owned J-288, a second Murphy Convertible Sedan, and as a hands-on owner was known for reproducing much-needed Duesenberg parts which he advertised in the ACD Club Newsletter.
Significantly, this Duesenberg’s judging history dates back to the late 1950s during Mr. Rugg’s ownership, with CCCA First Place wins awarded at the 1958 and 1959 Midwest Grand Classics, both staged at the Greenfield Village Ford Estate in Dearborn, Michigan. Since that time, it has carried the very low sequence CCCA senior car no. 62. Another enthusiast, Courtland Cross of New Hampshire, acquired the convertible sedan in 1967, where it joined the Cross family’s 1929 Packard and 16-cylinder Cadillac. Mr. Wolff tracked the car to its next owner with this notation in his “Duesie News Notes” column in the ACD Club Newsletter: “J-131 Murphy Convertible Sedan from C. Cross of N.H. to Tom Derro of Mass.” It was during Thomas Derro’s ownership that J-131 received a comprehensive and authentic restoration by Byard Libbey of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. While Mr. Derro’s collection of classic cars spanned Cadillac, Chrysler, Packard, and Pierce-Arrow, Duesenberg was his favorite marque, with J-131 preceding two other Model Js he owned: J-497, a Kirchhoff Town Car, and J-519, a one-off Convertible Victoria by Belgian coachbuilder D’Ieteren Frères.
Libbey’s restoration of J-131 spanned six years and the car emerged finished in a stunning two-tone shade of rose, the darker tone used for the fenders and trim. Its first post-restoration win was a well-deserved 100-point score received at the April 1990 CCCA Grand Classic in Boca Raton, Florida, when judged in the senior division. The following year it received the Chocolate Town Trophy at the AACA Eastern Meet in Pennsylvania. A CCA Premier First Place award followed in 1993.
When David Lindsay of Manawa, Wisconsin, acquired the car in 1997, it joined a diverse collection of cars that included Auburn, Cord, Cadillac, Chrysler, Gardner, and Packard. Mr. Lindsay turned to the ACD Club for marque-specific judging, and perhaps its most significant win was its selection as the recipient of the Fred and August Duesenberg Award, recognizing the best Duesenberg at the 2001 ACD Club Annual Reunion in Auburn, Indiana. This win is more impressive in light of the fact that the 2001 feature was “The Year of the Duesenberg” with 15 other Duesenbergs participating in this event. J-131 continued to score well in subsequent years, judged at 99.5 points at the 2005 CCCA Grand Classic in Hickory Corners, Michigan. It returned to Auburn, Indiana, in 2010 for the ACD Club Annual Reunion where it earned a senior emeritus First Place win.
In 2017, Mr. Lindsay parted with J-131, and it has since resided in a noteworthy collection where it has been well cared-for, exhibited, and used for occasional touring. In 2019, it garnered the Best in Class award among Duesenbergs at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Its next triumph was on the road, successfully completing the eight-day, 750-mile CCCA New York Legends CARavan in the Hudson Valley region of New York.
J-131 benefited from extensive mechanical work by Cross Action Classics of Fenton, Michigan, in 2020, including an engine rebuild utilizing Carrillo connecting rods and Arias pistons. In 2021, the car was cosmetically refreshed with a new top and upholstery completed by Swann’s Upholstering of New Oxford, Pennsylvania. A deep red tone of blackberry was selected for the leather upholstery and burgundy canvas was used for the convertible top, the top boot, and the trunk cover. The Model J is now handsomely fitted with blackwall tires, coupled with new drop-center chromed wire wheels, giving it a decidedly sporting appearance. In addition to the trunk, the Duesenberg is well accessorized with chromed side-mount covers fitted with rearview mirrors and dual cowl lights, and accompanied by dual spotlights.
More than 90 years have passed since J-131 emerged from the Indianapolis factory and it still presents as a showstopper – a prime example of Duesenberg’s superior mechanicals paired with sublime Murphy coachwork. Its character has been validated through rigorous judging on numerous occasions, its historical significance and elegance have been recognized at multiple concours events, and its roadworthiness has been demonstrated by its owner on tour.
A hypercar before the term existed, any Duesenberg Model J still commands attention on the show field, as well as the open road. According to the notes compiled by Duesenberg historian Ray Wolff, J-131 retains its original engine and crankshaft, chassis, and superbly designed Murphy coachwork and boasts an impressive pedigree, providing its next owner with the opportunity to join the rarified ranks of Duesenberg owners. As true today as when the Model J first debuted – in the annals of the greatest automobiles of all time – E.L. Cord’s realized vision is absolutely without equal.