Arizona | Lot 152
1931 Duesenberg Model J Tourster by Derham
$2,750,000 - $3,250,000 USD
€2,400,000 - €2,850,000 EUR
£2,050,000 - £2,400,000 GBP
| Phoenix, Arizona
27 January 2022
- 12% of the hammer price up to and including $250,000
- 10% of the hammer price in excess of $250,000
- One of the eight authentic Derham Toursters
- Original chassis, firewall, engine, and coachwork
- Fascinating known history, including ownership by Dr. Irwin Ginsberg and Andy Granatelli; now offered from an esteemed private collection
- Meticulous restoration by RM Auto Restoration
- Best in Class, Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, among other laurels
- Auburn Cord Duesenberg (ACD) Club Certified Category 1
THE DERHAM TOURSTER
The Tourster was Gordon Buehrig’s favorite Duesenberg. There is a lot to say about this handsome automobile, but the fact is that out of all of the creations that the master designer drew up for the mighty Model J, he preferred the Tourster, which speaks loudest of all.
The design was for a five-passenger touring car on the long 153.5-inch wheelbase Model J chassis, which in his 1972 autobiography, Rolling Sculpture, Buehrig described it as being “severely plain in ornamentation and [having] the unusual virtue of being equally handsome with the top in the raised position or when it is lowered.” The length of the chassis exaggerated the car’s lowered proportions, created by moving the rear seat ahead of the rear axle and the foot wells within the frame rails, which increased room for passengers while also allowing the top and sides of the body to be lower than on a standard phaeton.
With the Tourster, Buehrig also sought to solve a common problem of dual-cowl phaetons of the time. They were often equipped with second windshields to give weather protection to rear seat passengers, but these windshields were mounted on a hinged metal tonneau that had to be clumsily swung up out of the way each time a passenger entered or exited the automobile. The Tourster’s solution was a rear windshield that slid up and down out of the back of the front seat with the turn of a crank handle, providing a windbreak that also looked appropriately dashing—and it stayed out of the way.
The exclusive builder of the Tourster design was the Derham Body Company of Rosemont, Pennsylvania, the favored coachbuilder of the Philadelphia aristocracy. Eight original examples were built in-period; perhaps because of the great beauty of their design, all eight survive, have been restored, and remain well-cared-for in some of the world’s most prominent private collections.
CAR NUMBER J-448
Car number J-448 bears body number 2324, making it the fourth of the eight original, authentic Toursters built by Derham. The car was originally the sole example supplied new with a unique factory-designed hood featuring an arrangement of eighteen vertical louvers, rather than the curved louvers seen on nearly all other Model J Duesenbergs.
The car was delivered by the Philadelphia Factory Branch on 19 September 1931, to “Wm. S. Odom” of New York and Paris. This was likely actually William M. Odom, president of the Parsons School of Design and a noted interior decorator, known as a specialist in French and Italian furniture. A part-time resident of the French capital, in 1928 he was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, in recognition of his critical and research work in fine art. The records of Duesenberg historian Ray Wolff indicate that Mr. Odom at one point offered the Model J for sale through J.S. Inskip, but took it back. Mr. Odom died in Manhattan in 1942, and the car was sold from his estate the following year to Lester M. Bonham of Buffalo, New York, who kept it for a week before selling it to William A. Lester.
Lester subsequently moved with J-448 to Southern California, where it enjoyed several other short-term caretakers, including Dana Bullock. In 1960, J-448 was sold by its owner of a decade, Art A. Flanders, to Dan Lang of Racine, Wisconsin, a prominent early Duesenberg enthusiast who corresponded with Mr. Wolff and other notable historians. Finished completely in black, the Tourster remained with Mr. Lang for the rest of his life.
In 1973, the Model J was purchased from the Lang Estate by the prominent collector, Dr. Irwin Ginsberg of Buffalo, New York—who reportedly lived literally blocks away from J-448’s former home. Dr. Ginsberg was a noted connoisseur of fine automobiles, best remembered for his Best of Show victory at Pebble Beach in 1983 with an Isotta Fraschini. He commissioned the well-known specialist Joe Kaufmann, “Dr. Duesenberg,” to restore J-448 mechanically, with the cosmetic restoration done by his own people in New York, including fitment of the striking side exhaust as used on supercharged Model Js. Dr. Ginsberg kept and enjoyed showing J-448 for over a decade, before selling it to the respected collector John Mozart. It eventually passed to yet another colorful figure, Andy Granatelli, of STP and Indianapolis racing fame. “Mr. 500” retained the car and a second Duesenberg in his small private collection until 1996.
The car was soon acquired by the respected Duesenberg enthusiast, John Groendyke of Enid, Oklahoma, then in 2001 by its current owners. Renowned collectors who have twice won Best of Show at Pebble Beach, among many other honors, J-448’s current caretakers have enjoyed showing and driving the Duesenberg with its original restoration for a decade, including driving it on the first Pebble Beach Motoring Classic in 2005. They then decided to have a complete restoration performed by RM Auto Restoration, during which the car was refinished in its present, striking livery of soft yellow with green leather upholstery. RM’s technicians noted that all of the original body wood and aluminum coachwork remained in excellent condition and were able to be preserved during the restoration.
Since completion of that restoration, J-448 has been among the most successful Model Js in modern concours competition, led by Best Duesenberg and Best of Show at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club National Reunion in 2011, and the following year Best in Class at Amelia Island and both Best in Class and a nomination for Best of Show at Pebble Beach. It was judged American Best of Show at the Concours d’Elegance of America in 2013, and the following year Best of Show at the Stan Hywet Concours. More recently, it received a substantial freshening that included a mechanical sorting, a replating of the chrome trim, and a new top and carpeting. It then returned to Amelia, winning an Amelia Award, and then to the Concours d’Elegance of America. Significantly, its showing at Pebble is now a decade past, and so it is once again eligible to take part in that storied event.
Simply put, this is a Duesenberg that has been “the car to beat” for over a decade. It remains in excellent, show-ready condition throughout, and bears ACD Club Category 1 Certification; further, recent inspection has shown that it retains its original numbered crankshaft, 448, and thus indeed remains pure as to its original delivery to Mr. Odom.
That combination of assets puts J-448, one of the finest examples of the famed Derham Tourster, truly in the first rank of Model Js.