Auctions and Brokerage
Coachwork by LeBaron
Please note this vehicle is titled J1292151.
Formerly the Property of John Duval Dodge
The LeBaron and the Model J
LeBaron was created in 1920 by Ralph Roberts, Thomas L. Hibbard, and Raymond H. Dietrich. Hibbard and Dietrich had previously worked as draftsmen for one of the most prestigious American coachbuilders, Brewster of Long Island. The name LeBaron was chosen to invoke the prestige and grandeur of French design and the initial vision for their new operation was not a coachbuilding company, but rather a design-consulting firm, where they would create fresh designs and engineering plans from which a number of coachbuilders could work. After merging with the Bridgeport Body Company in 1923, LeBaron had the ability to construct the very designs it created. Although by 1927 Hibbard and Dietrich left the firm they created, their influence remained and LeBaron continued on as one of the country’s premier custom coachbuilders.
Among the most successful coachbuilders for the new Duesenberg was LeBaron, constructing some 38 bodies on the Model J chassis. Some of the most recognizable, significant, and attractive bodies ever to be fitted to the great Duesenbergs were built by the firm. Of all the coachbuilders of the time, only LeBaron, Murphy, and Holbrook were selected to build bodies for the first Model Js, which were displayed at the model’s 1929 debut in New York. LeBaron’s specialty was the Ralph Roberts-designed Dual Cowl Phaeton, and this configuration proved to be their most popular style for the Model J chassis. These phaetons are divided into two main types: the sweep-panel and the barrelside. The sweep-panel is arguably the more iconic and bears an initial resemblance to the phaetons later produced by LaGrande, though with softer curves. It is a most impressive body of the highest quality, with outstanding proportions, beautiful details, and its presence immediately evokes luxury, prestige, and power. Today, just as in 1929, a LeBaron sweep-panel phaeton is among the most significant and successful designs ever to be mounted on a Model J.
Retaining its original engine, chassis, and body to this day, this magnificent Model J LeBaron Dual Cowl Phaeton is especially fascinating due to the family name of its first owner, John Duval Dodge. His father, John F. Dodge was one of the founders of the Dodge Brothers Company. As one can imagine, the purchase of a nearly $20,000 Indiana-built automobile by a member of a “big-three” family was scandalous to say the least. Sold through Duesenberg’s Chicago dealership in black with a yellow sweep panel, J-129 is strongly believed to be the only Model J Duesenberg ever to be delivered new in the city of Detroit.
It is well known that John Duval Dodge had his share of high-speed brushes with the law and received prominent, though less than favorable, coverage of his many raucous exploits in local newspapers. He finally broke with his family by marrying Marie O’Connor in 1918 and the senior Dodge, who disapproved of the relationship, turned his back on his son, allowing him only a $150 per month stipend from the estimated $50,000,000 family fortune. It is entirely possible that this Dual Cowl Phaeton had to be sold to help fund John’s well-publicized 1932 divorce from Marie.
J-129 was acquired, in approximately 1932, by Bert Schmidt of Chicago who passed away soon after his purchase, and the Duesenberg was then stored for all of 1934 in a workshop on Michigan Avenue. After being held in Chicago dealer Joe Neidlinger’s inventory, J-129 was purchased in 1939 by fellow Chicagoans Ken and Genelle Gibbs. The Gibbs kept the Model J until 1948, when it was acquired by B. Goldberg of nearby Libertyville. Under Mr. Goldberg’s ownership, the rear end of the body was modified with a subtle forward slant, incorporating a lower top line. Dr. N.R. Joffee was an interim owner in 1952, selling it in 1953 to Bernard Berger, who changed the sweep panel cove to red and sold J-129 the following year to E.A. Wente of Ohio.
In 1971, collector Leo Gephart purchased the matching-numbers Dual Cowl Phaeton and reversed the Goldberg’s body modification and sold the Duesenberg to George Wallace in 1972. Mr. Wallace added the SJ-style external exhaust pipes and updated the radiator with chrome shutters before selling it to noted collector Ray Lutgert, who maintained the Model J in his stable until 1977. That year, J-129 joined the distinguished collection of Richard Kughn where it was shown and enjoyed for the next 30 years before being sold to a Grand Rapids, Michigan, area collector.
Near the end of 2008, J-129 was acquired by the consignor who immediately embarked on a 4,600 hour, full restoration that was conducted by Fran Roxas’ Vintage Motor Group. During the process, Mr. Roxas took special care to ensure that the rear of the coachwork was dimensionally perfect, just as designed by LeBaron. Dozens of photographs that were taken throughout the restoration process accompany the car. The impeccable restoration was finished in time for J-129 to debut, fittingly, on the grounds of the Dodge mansion at the 2010 Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance, where it was awarded Best in Show, American. At Pebble Beach that same year, J-129 achieved a very respectable Second in Class behind the Best in Show nominee Graber-bodied Model J Duesenberg. In 2011, the Dual Cowl Phaeton was shown at the Art of the Car Concours at the Kansas City Art Institute, where it won the People’s Choice Award, and it received the Hagerty Children’s Award at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.
The consignor, a well-known collector of American classics and past owner of several Duesenbergs, describes the driving experience of J-129 as the finest of any Duesenberg he has ever piloted and states that he would not hesitate to take it on a long journey. The DOHC straight eight exhibits prodigious power and all systems function as intended.
Finished in a brighter shade of navy blue, and perfectly accented by a crimson sweep panel, J-129 is a stunner in the finest Duesenberg tradition. The red leather is expertly trimmed by Dan Kirkpatrick interiors, and the engine bay simply sparkles with the correct green enamel paint, polished aluminum components, and innumerable chrome fittings. It sits upon 19" 78-spoke, snap-ring chrome wire wheels; and upon view, J-129 has a regal presence that goes beyond that of most classics and, indeed, many Duesenbergs.
The LeBaron Dual Cowl Phaeton has been among the most coveted of all Model Js since the earliest days of car collecting, and J-129 presents as well as any Duesenberg ever has. It stands among the ultimate American classic cars of all time, among the very finest of its type, and it is deserving of a place of honor in any collection.