1930 DUESENBERG J CONVERTIBLE BERLINE
COACHWORK BY LEBARON
Chassis No. 2380
Engine No. J362
Maroon with black fenders and maroon leather, black cloth top
Engine: Dual overhead camshaft inline eight-cylinder, Schebler dual throat updraft carburetor, 420 cubic inches, 265hp at 4,200rpm; Gearbox: 3-speed manual; Suspension: live axles with semi-elliptical leaf springs and lever action shock absorbers. Left hand drive.
In the November 17, 1928 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, Duesenberg, Inc. published a full-page all-text advertisement.
Under the heading "E.L. Cord Announces Plans for Duesenberg" it said in part:
"This interesting announcement has been awaited for more than two years. Even now it would be delayed, if Mr. Cord and his engineers could conceive of any possible way in which to improve upon the new Duesenberg in either kind or degree."
"Suffice it to say Mr. Cord's aim is for America unquestionably to lead Europe in producing the world's finest automobile."
" this new Duesenberg is built to win, through sheer merit, world wide recognition for absolute superiority in every way over every other automobile on earth."
"Such a motor car cannot be measured by ordinary standards."
"Now, the fruition of [Fred Duesenberg's] years of concentration represent an achievement in which every American may justly take pride."
Almost seventy-nine years later those words still ring true. The Duesenberg Model J was so powerful, so fast, so magnificently designed, so finely built from the best materials by the most dedicated craftsmen that even the notoriously hyperbolic advertising of the day, even E.L. Cord's famously generous characterizations, did not overstate the attributes of the Duesenberg Model J.
The Duesenberg Model J was introduced on December 1, 1928 at the New York Auto Salon. It was the most powerful automobile in America - by a factor of two. Its short chassis wheelbase was longer than all but four other luxury marques' long wheelbase models. The long wheelbase Duesenberg J was by far the largest production chassis in the world, exceeding all but the rare Daimler N45 and Ettore Bugatti's fabulous Type 41 Royale, neither of which came close to the Duesenberg's power. Designed by one of the authentic geniuses of the automobile's early history, Fred Duesenberg, the Model J combined Fred's instinctive vision for what was right, original, refined and efficient with Errett Lobban Cord's genius for the right vehicle, aimed at the right market, offered at the right time.
The next Duesenberg advertising appeared in House & Garden in March 1929. It was headed simply:
"The World's Best Motor Car".
The text was short and to the point:
"The world's finest automobile, the new Duesenberg, has 265 horsepower. Its entire construction is proportionately strong, thereby insuring greatest safety, endurance and absolute dominion. It excels equally in every other respect. Chassis $8,500."
In early 1929, $8,500 would buy the most expensive Cadillac or Packard complete with its most luxurious, opulent, flamboyant catalog custom coachwork and leave enough change on the table for a very comfortable Buick. The Duesenberg J buyer got the chassis only for that price, and the chance to negotiate with the best coachbuilders for an appropriate - and appropriately expensive - body to complement it.
It was an automobile surrounded by superlatives, not only in size and cost but also in its design and concept. E.L. Cord determined that it should be capable of speeds in excess of 100mph with the largest, most luxurious formal coachwork. He challenged Fred Duesenberg to create an automobile that would accelerate, corner and brake not just better than its most exotic competition, but far better.
Fred Duesenberg, to whom competition was a way of life and winning was a habit, more than delivered.
Interestingly, though, with all the Duesenberg's emphasis upon refinement it made no secret of its performance. In both aggressive appearance and particularly in the elemental sound of its massive inline eight-cylinder engine, the presence of a Duesenberg was immediate, visceral and imposing.
Duesenberg sought coachwork proposals from America's leading coachbuilders starting only in June of 1928, just six months before the model's unveiling at the 1929 New York Auto Salon in December 1928. One of the two designs selected to be displayed on the first publicly-viewed Duesenberg J chassis was a lovely phaeton by LeBaron.
LeBaron Carrossiers was, despite its continental name, a wholly home-grown American firm. It would come to be identified as one of the premiere coachbuilders for the Duesenberg J.
LeBaron was formed in 1920 by Thomas L. Hibbard and Raymond H. Dietrich, two young designers who had met while both were working at Brewster. They chose the company name both for its continental flair and because it linked them with the European chassis upon which many of their first designs were built. Based in New York at 2 Columbus Circle, in the building which also housed the New York office of Fleetwood, Hibbard and Dietrich had no physical coachworks, working as a design bureau for the New York based importers, agents and distributors serving the wealthy market in the city and its environs. They also found good work "ghosting" designs for other coachbuilders including Fleetwood, Demarest and Locke.
Their stock in trade were elegant, refined, simple designs that combined good looks, pleasing proportions, tasteful details and a sporting flair, elements which they were able to incorporate even into formal, closed coachwork on the largest and most stately chassis from Rolls-Royce, Isotta-Fraschini, Lincoln, Minerva and Packard. They formed successful alliances with several of the New York-based distributors. The distributors in turn used LeBaron's ideas and its principals' ability quickly to turn clients' desires into finished renderings to close sales and even to establish a competitive advantage over distributors and agents in other cities.
In 1920 a free lance artist, Roland L. Stickney, came to LeBaron's attention and he became a valued member of the LeBaron team, frequently completing full color renderings of Hibbard's or Dietrich's ideas before they could get back to Columbus Circle from a client meeting downtown. In 1921 Ralph Roberts joined LeBaron as office manager. In 1923 Tom Hibbard formed Hibbard & Darrin in Paris and in 1925 Ray Dietrich formed Dietrich, Inc. in Detroit in partnership with Murray Corp. of America, leaving Ralph Roberts to run LeBaron.
That wouldn't last for long, however, as the pull of Detroit was too strong even for Ralph Roberts to resist. In early 1928 he sold LeBaron to Walter Briggs' Briggs Manufacturing while continuing to operate LeBaron's coachworks, the former Bridgeport Body Company which had been acquired in 1924, and a New York office. Briggs made an entire Detroit plant available to LeBaron which accordingly increased its scope from one-off and very low production bodies to the semi-custom and catalog custom designs that fitted with the higher volumes of Detroit-built luxury chassis from Packard, Lincoln and particularly Chrysler.
LeBaron's contribution to Duesenberg was not high in numbers but it was unusually significant in the image which it conveyed. As noted, the first Duesenberg, J101, displayed at the New York Auto Salon and subsequently used for years as the company's Chicago office demonstrator, was a LeBaron phaeton. The demonstrators in Duesenberg's Los Angeles branch and two others also were LeBaron phaetons. The effect of these demonstrators may be seen in the number of LeBaron phaetons which over the years graced Model J chassis, something like 22 of them during the Model J's life.
Phaetons were far and away the most numerous LeBaron-bodied Duesenbergs but one of the most attractive and practical LeBaron contributions to Duesenberg coachwork was the Convertible Berline. Only three were built and only two are known to survive. One of them is the outstanding example offered here.
Delivered in July of 1930, its first owner was Mrs. Augusta Lehmann or one of her children. Mrs. Lehmann was the widow of Ernst Lehmann who had built The Fair department store at State and Adams Streets in Chicago into an immensely successful and profitable store offering low priced merchandise to low- and middle-income clientele. The Lehmann family had sold The Fair to S.S. Kresge in 1925.
Coincidentally, The Fair's building, constructed in 1891, was designed by an architect named William Le Baron Jenney.
The Lehmanns kept their Duesenberg J until the late 1930s after which it passed through a succession of owners starting with the well-known John Troka. Later owners included Dr. Leo Fry, Irwin Sachs, Charles Jelinek, John Kniecik, William Tollagsen, Bill Snyder and Jim DeBickero. In 1981 Jerry J. Moore added it to his legendary collection of Duesenbergs. It was acquired from him in 1997 by RM Classic Cars of Chatham, Ontario, then sold to Rick Walter in 1998 who returned it to RM Auto Restoration for a complete restoration but traded it back to RM (for a Duesenberg J Murphy convertible coupe) before the restoration was finished. It was acquired by the present owner in 2000 fresh from its RM restoration.
Resplendent in maroon with black fenders and a black top, Mrs. Lehmann's Duesenberg J LeBaron Convertible Berline is one of only two of this particularly attractive and practical body style known to survive. Equipped with a pair of Pilot-Ray lamps, chrome wire wheels with wide whitewall tires and a pair of chrome-wrapped sidemounted spares, the interior is graced with maroon leather upholstery, a rollup divider window and rollup side windows. A folding trunk rack for additional luggage at the rear provides for the occupants' possessions. The LeBaron coachwork, in addition to being luxurious, comfortable and practical, is attractively appointed leaving no doubt this is an elegant, exclusive automobile. The gently raked flat windshield is particularly attractive and conveys the sporting note for which LeBaron bodies were noted, even in this semi-formal body style.
The present owner, a nationally-known collector with a stable of fine, meticulously restored automobiles, has chosen this LeBaron-bodied Duesenberg J Convertible Berline as his most frequently used tour car. In seven years of ownership and thousands of miles on the highway and around town it has never let anyone down and is accordingly known in the collection as "Old Trusty", a strong endorsement of the quality and attention to both cosmetic and mechanical detail paid by Classic & Exotic Service, the leading Duesenberg restoration facility in Troy, Michigan who has looked after the car since its purchase in 2000. Those who have driven it report it has a "great" smooth-shifting transmission and steers with precision. Even in summer trips around town, in several trips to the annual ACD meet and on processions through Auburn it has never overheated. The Fred Duesenberg-designed hydraulic brakes are terrific and fully able to take the measure of the J's 265hp inline eight which even today easily exceeds 80mph.
Importantly, this is one of only a select few Duesenberg Js which unquestionably still retain their original engine, chassis and body, with a continuous documented history from new to substantiate its quality. Its ACD Club certification has recently been completed and it has earned CCCA Senior Premier status.
With its rare, handsome, sporting and attractive but also practical body from one of America's premier coachbuilders, a restoration which still looks sharp but has proven itself again and again on road trips, tours, parades and around town, impeccable provenance and in its completely accurate and original configuration, this is one of the most desirable, attractive and practical Duesenberg Js available to collectors. The adaptability of the LeBaron Convertible Berline body, from fully enclosed inside rollup windows and a snug tight-fitting top to a sportive fully open car for a beautiful summer day's run with the top down, makes this Duesenberg especially appropriate to collectors who want to experience the power, style and performance of "The World's Best Motor Car."