Auburn Fall | Lot 3161
1929 Duesenberg Model J Sedan by Derham/Bohman & Schwartz
The Richard L. Burdick Collection
$737,000 USD | Sold
| Auburn, Indiana
1 September 2018
- Offered from the Richard L. Burdick Collection
- Original chassis, engine, and body; one of the earliest Model Js delivered
- Incredible period restyling by famed coachbuilders Bohman & Schwartz
- Formerly of the famous Art Austria, Homer Fitterling, and Ed Weaver collections
- 265-bhp, 420-cu. in. DOHC inline eight-cylinder and three-speed manual transmission
- Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) Full Classic
- Eligible for all Auburn Cord Duesenberg (ACD) Club activities and meets
- A streamlined Duesenberg sedan of unusual and striking beauty
Early ACD Club Duesenberg Historian Ray Wolff recorded his contemporary Marshall Merkes as describing chassis no. 2143, engine no. J-118 as receiving the very first body built for Duesenberg by the Derham Body Company of Pennsylvania, ordered in 1927 and delivered in February 1928. One of the earliest Model Js delivered, its first owner is believed to have been Art Kiel of Santa Barbara, California, who maintained the car until the mid-1930s.
As the story is told, the car was involved in a mishap in which it fell into the Santa Barbra Channel on a return trip from Santa Catalina Island. The water was fortunately not deep and the Duesenberg was retrieved and sold to a new owner, M.K. Barbee, of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Los Angeles. As the Model J had to be rebuilt anyway, Barbee took the opportunity to significantly freshen its design with the renowned Pasadena coachbuilders, Bohman & Schwartz.
Bohman & Schwartz graced the sedan with a subtly lowered and redesigned greenhouse, beautifully streamlined modern fenders with full rear “skirts” and no side-mounted spares, single bar front and rear bumpers, and their favorite touches of a “waterfall” grille (purportedly adapted from a Buick) and torpedo headlamps. The car was finished in all-over black with blackwall tires, a memorable and striking appearance that deserves to be resurrected today.
In 1947 the Duesenberg was sold by the renowned early collector Art Austria, of the Simplex Garage in Venice Beach, to Fred Buess Jr. Mr. Buess maintained the Model J for many years before selling it in 1963 to Homer Fitterling of South Bend, Indiana, the gentleman farmer who was just beginning to build what would become one of the first and most renowned collections of Duesenbergs. Fitterling did not easily part with his automobiles, and the Bohman & Schwartz sedan remained in his collection for two full decades.
In 1983 the Model J was sold to Gerri Brown of Fort Wayne, wife of Fitterling’s longtime mechanic, restorer, and fellow Duesenberg owner and authority, Keith Brown. Mrs. Brown enjoyed driving the Duesenberg, which during her care was maintained in very original condition, used regularly, and often shown at the ACD Festival. Only in 1993 was she convinced to sell the car by Ed Weaver, the Georgia carpet magnate who, two years prior, had bought the rest of Mr. Fitterling’s Duesenbergs, and now wished to have “the one that got away.” When he inquired as to the possible price, Mrs. Brown told him, “a new Rolls-Royce.” Not one to dicker, Mr. Weaver promptly dispatched a Flying Lady to her home, and the Duesenberg was soon on its way to Georgia.
Unfortunately Mr. Weaver’s untimely passing ensured that J-118’s time in his collection would be short. In 1995 it was sold at his now-legendary estate auction to Bob Dean of Louisiana, who passed it later to the Blackhawk Collection, which commissioned the late Mike Fennel to refinish it in its present color scheme. Afterward the car was shown at the 1997 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, winning Best in Class.
The Duesenberg has now been part of Mr. Burdick’s collection for over a decade, and during that time has seldom appeared outside of his museum, its existence virtually forgotten to all but devout Duesenberg aficionados. Today marks its emergence back into the spotlight and a wonderful chance for a new owner to take over the care and enjoyment of this superb Model J, a Duesenberg sedan of unusual streamlined elegance and rich history.