Lot 259

Hershey 2017

1932 Duesenberg Model J Town Car by Kirchhoff

The Thomas F. Derro Collection


$594,000 USD | Sold

United States | Hershey, Pennsylvania



Engine No.
Chassis No.
  • Offered from The Thomas F. Derro Collection
  • The famed, world-traveling “Countess Anna Ingraham” Duesenberg
  • One of the most expensive Model Js ever produced
  • Elaborately trimmed one-off coachwork by J. Gerald Kirchoff
  • Original chassis, engine, and body
  • Only six owners from new

The famed ads may have said “She Drives a Duesenberg,” but Countess Anna Ingraham, heiress to the American clock and watch fortune, did not drive herself. For that, she had J. Gerald Kirchhoff, the man who had built her automobile’s body with his own two hands, carefully crafting its unique coachwork at a cost of $25,000. Obviously he was impressed with his employer, and why shouldn’t he have been? Photographs of her depict a white-haired lady of impressive, almost intimidating bearing, with clear dark eyes appraising the world from beneath a fur toque. She would have looked at home on the sun deck of a Cunarder or strolling through the lobby of the Plaza.

Kirchhoff had been given free rein to build the Countess an automobile full of pomp and circumstance. To use a cliché, it was built with bank vault-like quality, and indeed it contained a vault’s worth of treasures, including hand-embroidered silk brocade upholstery, cabinetry of inlaid Birdseye maple as fine as any piece of antique furniture, and brass hardware plated in 24-karat gold. A color postcard of the 1960s shows the car still wearing its original finish, a bright metallic aqua! A massive trunk and rooftop luggage rack were installed to accommodate the vast quantities of luggage for planned European travels; a tank for potable water and solid disc wheels were fitted, for rough terrain and distant lands.

Yes, J. Gerald Kirchhoff was impressed with Anna Ingraham, and with the writing on the wall for custom coachbuilders, he accepted her invitation to become her chauffeur. Together they traveled the world with the Model J, which crossed the Atlantic by ocean liner and proceeded to tour Europe. A full list of its destinations is not known, though at least one photograph survives of it in the shadow of Stonehenge.

As World War II began to rage, Kirchhoff, Ingraham, and the Model J returned stateside in 1940. The car’s travels, for then, were over, and after the Countess’ passing in 1944, the Duesenberg was put into storage. It would eventually be sold in 1962 to the Powers Museum, near its original owner’s Bristol, Connecticut, home, then several years later to early collector Anthony Pascucci.

Pascucci, in turn, sold the Duesenberg in 1982 to Bernard Wajer of Maryland, who commissioned its restoration by the noted Al Pruett & Sons of Glen Rocks, Pennsylvania. Mr. Pruett displayed the car at numerous Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) meets, as well as several times in Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) and Auburn Cord Duesenberg (ACD) Club events, winning numerous awards. After 17 years of enjoyment, the car was purchased by Thomas Derro in 1999, and has now remained in his wonderful collection, with only occasional concours outings, for another 18 years.

Having been conscientiously well-maintained by its owners and never allowed to decay, the Kirchhoff town car is remarkably intact, including all of its priceless original trim hardware; even enough of the original upholstery survived to enable patterns for its recreation, in Italy. Its drivetrain is fully original and “matching,” and the body remains in its original configuration, aside from skirted fenders added later in the 1930s and a set of more elegant wire wheels. Accompanying the car are numerous original Kirchhoff delivery photographs acquired from the coachbuilder’s estate, a sample of the original interior fabric, and even a framed photograph of the Countess, as well as period luggage.

Well known to Duesenberg cognoscenti, the Kirchoff town car has appeared in such works as Don Butler’s Auburn Cord Duesenberg (p. 273), Josh B. Malks’ Illustrated Duesenberg Buyer’s Guide (p. 99), and Fred Roe’s Duesenberg: The Pursuit of Perfection (p. 138).

Whether or not it was the most expensive Duesenberg ever built is perhaps up for debate, but no other Model J packs the sheer visual force of Countess Anna Ingraham’s J-497. It is a car purpose-built for grand entrances at the end of long journeys. One imagines that Countess Anna, wherever she might be, and her coachbuilder-cum-chauffeur would like that very much.