Lot 5098

Auburn Fall 2017

1929 Duesenberg Model J


$990,000 USD | Sold

United States Flag | Auburn, Indiana



Identification No.
  • Formerly the centerpiece of the Dr. Barbara Atwood collection
  • The only Model J originally fitted with Fleetwood coachwork
  • Well-maintained, Pebble Beach award-winning Steve Babinsky restoration
  • Known history since new, including 30 years with its first owner
  • Ideal for Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) and Auburn Cord Duesenberg (ACD) Club events

At the New York Salon of 1929, two men came together. One was Fred Duesenberg, and the other was Alfred North, a prominent Philadelphia jurist seeking a new automobile. As Judge North later recounted, he was sufficiently impressed by the new Model J Duesenberg that he placed an order for a new chassis, directly from the man who had designed it.

Most Duesenberg owners had very particular ideas about how they wanted their automobile to look, few more so than Judge North. Having purchased his chassis, he commissioned its roadster body from the Fleetwood Metal Body Company, located in the Pennsylvania town of the same name. No photographs of the car with this body are known to have survived, as within just a few years a second body had been installed for the Judge, the current Fleetwood convertible coupe, which is believed to have been removed from a 1931 Cadillac V-8 chassis.

The Duesenberg continued to evolve almost continously through the 1940s, with new styling features added at Judge North’s behest, including a more rakish angled windshield. All the while, it was being driven and enjoyed; by 1940 it had accumulated nearly 200,000 miles. It is believed that no other Model J was driven more miles by its first owner.

In the fashion of the type, it was easier to simply buy another Duesenberg engine and install it than to rebuild the one that it was in the car, and Judge North went through three engines – the last, J-417, is still installed today, with its correct late-production exhaust manifolding still intact. Despite so many miles, the Model J was not worn out; it was fastidiously maintained, as evidenced by Judge North’s correspondence with Duesenberg historian, J.L. Elbert, in the late 1940s.

The Judge wrote of his car that, following a comprehensive mechanical rebuild, it was still in daily use, and ”has strength, ruggedness, durability – far beyond anything that can be purchased today – and is exceptionally sure-footed...My present car has now all the worth-while modern features, will out-perform any modern car, and possesses many virtues which are unavailable today.” His comments – that, after twenty years, his Duesenberg was still the best automobile in the world – were echoed by other respondents to Elbert’s survey.

Following his passing in the late 1950s, Judge North’s wife sold the single-owner Duesenberg to Victor Hendricks of Tenafly, New Jersey. It next passed in 1961 to Max Kessel of Bergenfield, New Jersey, in whose ownership it remained for a decade before being sold to the early automobile collector, Lew Lazarus. Lazarus, in turn, sold the car to L.J. Ruppert of California, who installed traditional Duesenberg headlights, radiator shell, and bumpers, replacing Cadillac components fitted in the Judge’s later years.

The Model J was later purchased by Delbrook Lichtenberg, becoming the only Duesenberg in the state of Montana, a status which it retained for eight years. It was then purchased by Dr. Barbara Atwood of Rockford, Illinois, on January 30, 1985.

Dr. Atwood was a fascinating individual, who had been a fashion model in her youth, with appearances in Vogue, before achieving her doctorate and great personal success as a psychologist. Having loved cars her entire life, she invested her wealth in a fabulous collection of great American Full Classic automobiles, many of which were fully restored in her stewardship to the highest standards by future CCCA chief judge Steve Babinsky of Automotive Restorations in Lebanon, New Jersey. She was fastidious and demanding, endeavoring to make each car the best that it could be, and the results – trophies from virtually every major American concours – spoke for themselves.

Mr. Babinsky restored the Duesenberg to this standard, finishing the body in a rich two-tone green and black with a complentary velvet green leather interior. Afterwards, car was taken to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, winning a class award, and then to the AACA national meets, achieving a National First Prize. As was the very private Dr. Atwood’s habit, the car was then placed in her museum in Rockford, where it was fastidiously maintained in the best of surroundings, but seldom shown again before her passing in 2008. It was then sold to the current owner, who exhibited it at the Meadowbrook Concours d’Elegance in 2009.

Today, some thirty years after completion of the restoration, it remains immaculate, a testament both to the lasting quality of Mr. Babinsky’s work and to the care given it since. Dr. Atwood made the decision to reverse some of the Judge North modifications, including refitting traditional Duesenberg fenders and hood. The car retains its Fleetwood convertible coupe body, mounted for the original owner in 1933. Its frame and firewall are both original and bear the correct chassis number, 2157, while the dashboard carries the correct, original drum-style gauges used on early Model Js.

Having been seldom shown over the last three decades, the Model J is now ready for a further spate of concours d’elegance appearances. Alternatively, its mechanical condition would make it a handsome and unique candidate for various Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club and Classic Car Club of America events, including the CCCA’s famous CARavans.

Judge North’s Model J is today in its ultimate form – a Duesenberg convertible coupe of distinction, rarity, and quality.