PROPERTY FROM THE PATRICK S. RYAN COLLECTION
The ex-Doc Elsner and Rick Carroll
1933 DUESENBERG MODEL J TOURSTER
COACHWORK BY DERHAM
Chassis No. 2524
Engine No. J-504
'Envy green' with green leather interior
Engine: straight-eight, twin overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, 420ci., 265bhp at 4,2000rpm; Gearbox: three-speed; Suspension: beam axle to front, live axle to rear, semi-elliptic leaf springs all round; Brakes: servo-assisted hydraulically operated drums all round. Left hand drive.
The late automotive writer, Ken Purdy, once wrote, the man who had really arrived drove a Duesenberg. It cost him from 6,500 to 25,000 one-hundred-cent-dollars and it looked it. At the heart of that idea was the Model J Duesenberg's massive powerhouse of an engine, complex twin overhead camshafts that controlled four inclined valves, two inlet and two exhaust, per cylinder, displacing 420ci (6,882cc). The great five bearing crankshaft alone was reputed to weigh 150lbs. Even with the modest 5.2:1 compression ratio of the standard engine, the surge of power was awesome, thrusting a Phaeton, very completely equipped and no lightweight, from 10-80mph in top gear in 22 seconds and providing a maximum of 116mph. Matched to the engine was a very capable chassis, double dropped for a low center of gravity, provided with six sturdy cross-members. Endless care was lavished on details. The car is equipped with the 150mph speedometer, the combined clock and stop-watch altimeter, barometer and brake pressure dials, as well as the famous engine-driven timing box of planetary gears controlling lights to warn the driver to change the engine oil every 700 miles and to check the battery water every 1400 miles, along with other functions.
Under E.L. Cord's management the Duesenberg brothers, Fred and August, had created the World's Finest Motor Car which they unveiled in December 1928 with unconcealed pride evident in their announcement: It is a monumental answer to America's insistent demand for the best that modern engineering and artistic ability can provide. Equally it is a tribute to the widely recognized genius of Fred S. Duesenberg, its designer, and E.L. Cord, its sponsor. These men, in one imaginative stroke, have snatched from the far future an automobile which is years ahead and therefore incomparably superior to any car which may be bought today.
Typical of the great classic era cars, Duesenberg chassis were consigned to the established coachbuilders such as Derham, Dietrich, LeBaron, Rollston and Murphy. Initially many designs were rather conventional in style and lacking in individuality, including Derham, who produced a number of formal bodies such as town cars and limousines. Derham Body Co. was established back in 1887 in Rosemont, PA initially catering to the horseless carriage trade and in 1907 they turned to motor cars and were especially famous for catering to the needs of their wealthy Philadelphia clientele. In June of 1929 the famous body designer and stylist Gordon Buehrig was hired by Duesenberg as their chief designer. His designs were an instant success and have become renowned as some of the finest designs of the era.
Although Buehrig's designs were available to be built by a coachbuilder of choice, in fact, the Tourster design was only built by Derham and remarkably just eight of these exquisite vehicles were made. The first example made was displayed at the Chicago Salon in 1930 and shortly afterwards was purchased by the Hollywood movie star Gary Cooper, who later traded it in for his new SSJ speedster. Features that make the Tourster so appealing (indeed several replicas today exist) and one of the most desirable Duesenberg designs of all time include its excellent proportions and flowing lines that continue without interruption from the leading edge of the front fenders and radiator shell to the rounded tail and rear fenders. Buehrig achieved an extremely low profile for the entire car by placing the rear seats ahead of the axle and dropping the floor between the frame rails. A highly distinctive feature of the Tourster is the steeply angled retractable windshield for the rear passengers, a design that later became popular on Cadillac and Chrysler bodies. Fortunately, however, unlike a Dual Cowl Phaeton, on a Tourster there is no rear cowl and side vents to negotiate upon entry. The top was also neatly designed with a raked look and, along with the close coupled body mounted on a long wheelbase chassis, gives the entire car an extremely sporting look.
This original Derham Tourster was, according to the notes of the famous ACD (Auburn Cord and Duesenberg) historian Raymond Wolff, displayed at the 1933 World's Fair. Reference to this fact also appears in the E.L. Cord book on page 236 where a photo caption reads, 1933 J-504 Tourster by Derham. After appearing at the 1933 Chicago Century of Progress Exhibition [World Fair], this car, painted 'envy green', served as a demonstrator. The car was then a demonstrator in Los Angeles and on one famous occasion President Roosevelt was chauffeured to the Rose Bowl in it. The first recorded owner was a Mr. Roger Converse, but by December 1934 a new owner who purchased the car from the Los Angeles branch of Duesenberg on Wilshire Boulevard was Mr. David Gray from Santa Barbara. Mr. Gray apparently made his fortune by being one of the major original investors in the Ford Motor Company and had a large collection of vehicles including a Murphy Speedster. According to records Mr. Gray was still buying parts for the car in the 1940s and we believe early in his ownership he fitted the external exhaust pipes and smaller 17 inch wheels. During the war the car was in storage, after which Charles Hoyt of Oregon and a Mr. T.J. Denton acquired it. In 1952 Dr. Loundsbury of Mercer Island, Washington briefly owned the car before it passed to Mr. Salsbury, then Joe Henderson of Seattle and in 1954 to Charles Fifield, the owner of Denver Imported Motors. In late 1956 it passed to Doc Elsner from Crete, Nebraska. At this time the car received a meticulous restoration using where necessary New Old Stock parts. In Ray Wollf's notes he wrote it has unique green paint and was an utterly mint restoration.
On page 260 of the Fred Roe book Duesenberg The Pursuit of Perfection there is a lovely profile photograph of the car and the caption sums Dr. Elsner up as an enthusiast who believes in driving his Derham tourster, and the car is a familiar sight at meets throughout the country hundreds of miles from home. The car won both CCCA and AACA Concours awards during his ownership and he kept the car for some 27 years before selling it on to Rick Carroll. The Carroll collection in Florida became one of the most famous collections in the world with many high quality cars, including no less than eight great Duesenbergs. J-504 was however one of his most favorite cars (it was nicknamed the 'Green Hornet') and he often drove it to work and parked it in a glass showroom/garage that adjoined his office. Tragically Rick Carroll was killed in a motoring accident in 1989 and upon the strong advice of Ray Wolff, who informed Pat Ryan that this was his 'favorite Duesenberg', Pat was able to buy the car from the estate.
As befits such an illustrious car, Pat Ryan has continued to use it sparingly. When the museum was active, rides used to be given at local nursing homes and naturally they always wanted the green Duesenberg! On another occasion Pat Ryan had the pleasure of meeting Gordon Buehrig who informed him the Tourster was his favorite car he ever designed, praise indeed! Considering that J-504 has been in fairly constant use since the 1950s, it remarkably has remained in virtually show winning condition with only a mellow patina of age and use. The distinctive color scheme was nicknamed 'envy green' by Doc Elsner, and it is easy to imagine that many an admirer has been envious of this striking and rare automobile.