Offered for sale at Mecum Auctions’ Phoenix sale (March 14–17) this 1932 Duesenberg Model J, chassis 2574 and engine J546, is unique to the breed with its one-of-a-kind Torpedo Berline coachwork built by Rollston of New York City—a firm known for executing some of its most beautiful work for its Duesenberg customers.
More than 80 years after the last example was completed and the company closed its doors forever, the Duesenberg Model J is still considered one of the most fabulous automobiles ever built. It eclipsed every single one of its European contemporaries, including Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz, Hispano-Suiza, Delehaye and Isotta-Fraschini, and it far outclassed its American competition.
Conceived by Errett Lobban Cord, who purchased Duesenberg, Inc., in 1925 and challenged Fred Duesenberg to build “the world’s finest motor car,” the Model J offered literally the ultimate in engineering sophistication, luxury, power, performance and road manners, and it was dressed in an astonishing variety of body styles by the exceptional coachbuilders of the day, from sporty two-seat roadsters to lavish town cars and majestic limousines.
The Model J debuted at the New York Auto Salon on December 1, 1928, in bare rolling chassis form, a startling sight that roused public interest with its obvious sophistication and artful finishing. Its centerpiece was the gleaming inline-8 engine designed by Fred Duesenberg, its block painted Duesenberg’s traditional apple green and affixed with a glittering array of polished aluminum and chromed steel ancillaries, above which sat the giant aluminum cylinder head with twin chain-driven cams actuating four valves per cylinder. A full 4 feet in length, this grand behemoth incorporated most of the features of the Duesenberg brothers’ incredibly successful racing engines. It displaced 420 CI, and in naturally aspirated form produced a reputed 265 HP, unmatched output that forced Duesenberg to abandon its synchromesh 4-speed manual transmission for the sturdier non-synchro 3-speed.
The chassis itself was equally sophisticated and of gargantuan proportions. The frame rails reached a depth of 8 inches and were almost a quarter-inch thick; the Duesenberg-designed 4-wheel hydraulic brakes—the first on a production car—were 15 inches in diameter and 3 inches wide, and a Bijur lubrication system automatically sent oil to the chassis lubrication points every 80 miles, a green dash light telling the driver the system was performing its duty. Other warning lights alerted the driver to scheduled oil, coolant and battery maintenance.
J546 is the only Model J completed by Rollston Coachworks with its unique Style 342 Torpedo Sedan or Berline body, an elegantly imposing design defined by its steeply raked windshield, low roofline and integrated trunk—nicely capturing the Model J’s heroic scale and grandeur.
New York City-resident Shirley M. Burden—a great-great grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt whose maternal grandparents were Florence Adele Vanderbilt Twombly and Hamilton McKown Twombly—purchased the car new, beginning its well-documented ownership history. It was next acquired by a New York Cadillac salesman, who in 1940 sold it to George F. Hutchens III. Hutchens retained it until April 1, 1949, when he sold it to Dr. T.B. Shaw. In 1953, Shaw sold J-546 to his nephew, Don F. Leake, who in turn sold it in April 1955 to Raymond Doud for a mere $650. Doud refinished the car in ivory with rose-painted trim and kept it for 11 years until 1966, when he sold it to Lawrence Witten for $13,250. In 1968, Witten traded J-546 to George Arents in exchange for another Duesenberg J-378. Arents in 1969, sold J-546 to Don Williams of Old Time Cars in Los Angeles. In 1971, Williams sold J-546 to Robert Gottlieb of Beverly Hills. In 1988, Williams sold the car for Gottlieb to the Imperial Palace Collection, who commissioned Scott Veasie of Hollywood, California to restore and was finished in 1990.
In 1998, the Imperial Palace Collection sold J-546 to Gen. William Lyon and later sold to the Dean V. Kruse Foundation, which kept it until 2007. In 2007, the John O’Quinn Collection purchased J-546 at the Hershey Auction in Hershey, PA. In 2010, it was added to the fabulous Academy of Art University Collection, where it has remained since. One of the most magnificent and unique automobiles of the 20th century, this 1932 Duesenberg Model J Torpedo Berline by Rollston is a treasured expression of the automotive magic conjured by the legend-making partnership of E.L. Cord and Fred Duesenberg.
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