Lot 22

2016   |   Amelia Island Auctions 2016

1931 Duesenberg Model J Disappearing-Top Convertible Coupe

Coachwork by Murphy

SOLD $2,640,000


$2,500,000 - $3,000,000





Car Highlights

ACD Club Level One Certified Example, Transferable to New Owner
Exceedingly Rare as One of About 500 Model Js Built
Well-Known as “Melvin’s Murphy” with Great Provenance
Driven, Enjoyed, and Maintained Throughout its Lifetime
Recent Mechanical Sorting; Highly Sporting Murphy Body

Technical Specs

420 CID DOHC Inline 8-Cylinder Engine
Single Dual-Throat Downdraft Carburetor
265 BHP at 4,200 RPM
3-Speed Manual Transmission
4-Wheel Hydraulic Drum Brakes
Solid Front Axle and Live Rear Axle with Semi-Elliptical Leaf Springs

Saleroom Addendum

Please note this Vehicle is titled 1930.

Register to Bid

Highly Original, Well Preserved ExampleDoran Hinchman, Logan, West Virginia (acquired new in 1930 via Bruce Perry Motors)Melvin Clemans, Bridgeport, West Virginia (acquired in 1946)Harry Van Iderstine, Kingwood, Virginia (acquired from the above in 1998)Private Collection, Michigan (acquired from the above in 2013)Current Owner (acquired from the above)

Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival, Auburn, Indiana (multiple appearances from the 1950s to 2010)

Soon after masterminding the turnaround of Auburn and assuming the company’s presidency, in October 1926, E.L. Cord acquired the Indianapolis 500-winning Duesenberg brothers’ company as the crown jewel of his fast-growing industrial empire. Answering Cord’s challenge to create the world’s finest automobile, Fred Duesenberg delivered with the Model J, the announcement of which temporarily halted trading at the New York Stock Exchange on December 1, 1928. While long-revered as the finest achievement of Classic Era design and engineering, the Model J remains an automotive landmark. Initially priced from $8,500 for the bare chassis, the Model J closely approached $20,000 “as-delivered” with its coachwork and accessories fitted. For the money, however, the Model J’s specifications remain impressive today, including double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, hemispherical combustion chambers, power-assisted four-wheel hydraulic brakes, automated central chassis lubrication, and commanding output of 265 bhp normally aspirated, or 320 bhp when supercharged. Capable of easily exceeding 100 mph while carrying some of the most elegant custom bodies ever created, the Model J chassis was available in 142.5” or 153.5” wheelbase lengths.

The new Duesenberg was tailor-made for the custom body industry. It had the power and stance to carry the most imposing coachwork, while the style and grace of the factory sheet metal was ideally suited for the execution of elegant custom bodywork. The Murphy body company of Pasadena, California, is generally recognized today as the most successful coachbuilder on the Duesenberg Model J chassis. Established in 1920 and associated initially with Packard and Leland-era Lincolns, Murphy-built bodies were remarkably simple yet elegant in design, with trim lines and an undeniably sporting character. Murphy seemed even more revolutionary when compared to those from its East Coast contemporaries, who built heavier and more ornate designs. A trademark of a Murphy body was the “clear vision” windshield pillar, designed to be as slim as possible and creating a sportier and more open appearance, while improving visibility for the driver. In fact, Murphy advertised that its windshield pillars were “narrower than the space between a man’s eyes,” a design it claimed eliminated blind spots. On Murphy’s particularly sporting open models, side windows were concealed beneath spring-loaded and hinged bright covers, maintaining the rakish look of an elemental roadster with the practicality of built-in weather gear.

Bearing chassis no. 2388, powered by engine J-357, and fitted from new with its highly sporting Disappearing-Top Convertible Coupe body by Murphy, this Duesenberg Model J is quite likely one of the most original and desirable examples of its rare and storied breed available today. Driven and maintained but never restored, this Duesenberg has lived its entire life as originally intended, cherished by long-term owners. It displays an irreplaceable patina that simply cannot be duplicated, and is a well-known example that has made many visits to its spiritual home at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival held over the Labor Day weekend at Auburn, Indiana.

This car was purchased new by Doran Hinchman, a highly successful lumberman from Logan, West Virginia. Priced at $13,500, it remains one of the most sporting examples of the mighty Duesenberg Model J. Finished in handsome black paintwork beautifully complemented by Duesenberg’s conservative-yet-effective bright chrome radiator shell and iconic Art Deco mascot, J-357 awed onlookers with its sheer presence and performance. While Mr. Hinchman sold the car in 1946, in 1948 he wrote a letter to Duesenberg historian J.L. Elbert in which he expressed his love for J-357. “I shall never regret having purchased the Duesenberg,” the letter states, “and I have never seen any other brand of car that I think I can compare with the great Duesey; it was simply outstanding in a class all its own.”

The next recorded owner of J-357 was Melvin Clemans, a lawyer near Clarksburg, West Virginia, who enjoyed the vehicle and initially stored it at a local garage. Leaving the bar in mid-life, Mr. Clemans relocated with the Duesenberg to a farm overlooking Bridgeport, West Virginia. This Duesenberg was his first, and he cherished it for some five decades. While Clemans would own other examples, J-357 was his favorite and his vehicle of choice, especially for his annual pilgrimages to Auburn, while a friend would drive one of his other cars. Eventually well-known to the Duesenberg faithful as “Melvin’s Murphy,” J-357 was maintained for many years by Harry Van Iderstine, an engineer from nearby Kingwood, who was given the opportunity to purchase it from Mr. Clemans in 1998.

Mr. Van Iderstine, like previous owners, maintained the highly original Duesenberg with the intention of driving and enjoying it. Accordingly, he performed a light cosmetic detailing with the majority of the original paint finish and brightwork retained, and rebuilt the Duesenberg’s mechanicals. Crucially, the original wooden body framing remains, complete with the Murphy body number stamped into the driver’s side door sill. When Mr. Van Iderstine retired to Florida during the early 2000s, J-357 accompanied him, and the pair returned to Auburn for the last time in 2010.

Prior to acquisition by the consignor in January 2014, J-357 received a general mechanical sorting performed by professionals, ensuring the Duesenberg continued its long tradition of roadworthiness. While under the care of Melvin Clemans in 1983, J-357 received Level One certification from the Auburn-Cord Duesenberg Club, confirming it retains the original frame, firewall, body, and engine. Importantly, this certification can be reissued to the new owner.

Under the current ownership, Jeff’s Resurrections of Taylor, Texas, performed a major engine service and sympathetic cosmetic freshening. This work was carried out with the guidance of Duesenberg expert Randy Ema, who inspected the car at the consignor’s facility and consulted with Jeff Snyder prior to the major service. The consignor reports that J-357 now offers outstanding performance and records are on file documenting the recent work performed.

An exceptional offering, J-357 benefits from the care of a short but esteemed list of prior owners, and it is publicly offered for only the second time in its 85 years of existence. As one of the greatest automobiles ever created, J-357 is exceedingly rare as one of approximately 500 Model Js ever built, and it remains wonderfully original and ready to enjoy as it was intended.