The Ex-Bill Harrah
1933 DUESENBERG MODEL SJ BOATTAIL SPEEDSTER
COACHWORK BY SCHWARTZ
Chassis No. 2536
Engine No. J507
Black with tan leather interior
Engine: Straight eight, twin overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, centrifugal supercharger, 420ci., c.320bhp at 4,750rpm; Gearbox: three-speed manual; Suspension: beam axle to front, live axle to rear, half-elliptic leaf springs all round; Brakes: servo-assisted, hydraulically operated drums on all wheels. Left hand drive.
Frederick Samuel Duesenberg was a visionary engineer and an outstanding craftsman who earned his reputation as a racing car designer, making history when one of his cars won the 1921 French Grand Prix. His eight-cylinder racers went on to win at Indianapolis in 1924, 1925 and 1927 and set records at tracks across the US. In 1921 he introduced the road-going Model A Duesenberg, built without compromise - the first production car made in the US to have a straight eight engine and hydraulic brakes. Despite its undoubted merits, sales were sluggish and in 1926 the company passed into the control of E.L. Cord. He decreed that a new Duesenberg should be created - more powerful, faster and more glamorous than any competitor. The result was the breathtaking Model J that was unveiled late in 1928 at the New York Salon, the aristocrat of motor shows. With 265bhp available and a claimed 116mph maximum, it was engineered to the highest standards and was clad with coachwork of lavish ostentation. The new Duesenberg was, and still is, to many observers the crowning achievement of a brilliant era in automotive design. But it was not well timed. Within twelve months, Wall Street crashed and the market for costly automobiles dwindled. Determined to survive, the great motor car manufacturers launched ever more splendid designs. In 1931 Fred Duesenberg's response was the SJ, a supercharged version of the Model J that produced a remarkable 320bhp at 4,750rpm from its great-hearted engine. It was installed in a massive chassis that offered superb handling, stability and braking power. Upon demonstration, a factory production SJ four-passenger phaeton could reach 104mph in second gear, and an astonishing 129mph in top! Unfortunately, by August 1937 Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg were unable to survive the depths of the Great Depression.
Car 2536, engine number J507 is a well known car as it was one of the original 36 cars to leave the factory in supercharged SJ form. The original owner, Mr. H.G. Liebhardt of Denver, Colorado had the car's original Convertible Sedan coachwork by Derham modified and updated to suit his taste. This included converting the Derham body into a Fixed Head Sedan. Additionally, a separate open Speedster body was built by the Walton body shop of Denver as an alternate body for Summer usage.
The SJ passed into the ownership of Mr. Liebhardt's son in December of 1948, and in 1951 it was sold to collector Ray Brule of San Diego. The Duesenberg had a few subsequent owners until it was discovered and purchased by Bill Harrah in October, 1958.
By the late 1950's Harrah was rapidly assembling what would become the world's largest and finest collection of cars. For many years, Harrah had attempted to purchase the famous Weymann Speedster Duesenberg (car no. 2537) from George Whittell. Harrah was smitten by this spectacular boattail Duesenberg, but was unable to negotiate the purchase of the car. Consequently, when he bought this car, he consulted Maurice Schwartz, famously of Bohmann and Schwartz, and commissioned him to build a Speedster 'in the style of' the Weymann Boattail. Noted historian Everett Miller helped with the design and chassis 2536 was sent to Schwartz for the fitting of the spectacular coachwork it wears today. The final fitment work and restoration was completed to the highest standards in about 1962 at Harrah's shop. Ironically, not long after 2536 was completed, George Whittell did sell 2537, the Weymann Speedster, to Harrah. He was so happy with both SJ Duesenberg Speedsters that they were displayed together until the Collection was dispersed when Harrah passed away.
The SJ was sold at the famous Harrah Auction in 1985 for $600,000 to collector Jerry J. Moore who had the SJ repainted from red to the highly attractive black with tan color scheme it wears today. There are conflicting reports as to whether the original factory-fitted supercharger may have replaced a later unit. Regardless, there is no doubt that 2536 left the factory as one of the original 36 supercharged cars. Today, it resides in a prominent collection in the Northeast and is in very presentable condition throughout. Great care has been taken to maintain the car to the highest standards and presentation. This is one of the most spectacular Duesenbergs in existence and, while it did not originally carry this coachwork, the body was built by one of the pre-eminent coachbuilders of the classic era.