1932 Duesenberg Model J Stationary Victoria by Rollston
$1,200,000 - $1,400,000
RM | Sotheby's - AMELIA ISLAND 6 - 7 MARCH 2020 - Offered on Saturday
- A one-off, bespoke, and highly sporting Duesenberg
- Original chassis, firewall, engine, and coachwork
- Formerly of the Atwell Family Collection for over five decades
- Well-known and documented history, with Rollston build records and delivery photographs
- Extensive recent sorting including full engine rebuild by Classic & Exotic Service
- Available publicly for the first time in 70 years
Rollston was relatively short-lived, as American coachbuilders go—it was established in 1921 and under new ownership by 1938. In seventeen years, the Queens, New York, firm made a major impression, producing a wide range of bodies on all the great chassis of the Classic Era. They were notable for the consistently well-proportioned and attractive beauty of their work in a wide variety of styles, from convertibles to formal town cars, and for exceptionally high quality. The doors of Rollston bodies close, to this day, with an especially satisfying, solid click, and the hardware throughout is of robust strength down to the door hinges. Simply put, Rollston built some of the very finest American coachwork ever produced, and their work was seldom better than when executed on the mighty Duesenberg chassis.
Representing a true one-off commission, chassis number 2505, with engine number J-490, was the only Duesenberg Model J delivered with this body style, a fixed-roof or “stationary” version of Rollston’s famous convertible Victoria. Surviving letters and build sheets from Rollston’s Rudy Creteur note that the design, number 401, was unique to this automobile, equipped with special rear-seat cabinetry and cloisonné interior hardware, as well as upholstery in whipcord bound in suede leather. The trunk was “notched” around the Model J’s standard fuel filler, an eccentric Rollston touch also seen on the convertible Victorias of similar line. Remarkably, original photographs of the car as-new survive, attesting to its finish and trim.
The Rollston records note the original owner of J-490 as a Mr. Norris, identified further by Duesenberg historian Ray Wolff as Richard Norris of Chicago; Rollston serviced the completed car for Mr. Norris in 1934. Shortly thereafter, the car passed to its second owner, Lewis McComb Herzog, a New York stockbroker, then to Richard Weil, a member of the Straus family, owners of Macy’s and Bamberger’s. Later it was sold through the well-known New York dealer in used Duesenbergs, Louis Hodich, to Gerald W. Sutcliffe of New York in 1945. Following brief ownership by an Ed Wordling, the car was purchased by Edward R. Kersh, who had saved up his army pay from World War II service and spent all of it on the car he dubbed “my Dusie.”
In 1950, J-490 was acquired from Mr. Kersh by Rodgers Wheeler of Nyack, New York, an early member of the Classic Car Club of America. Five years later it passed, via the great Duesenberg mechanic Jim Hoe, to Max and Cecile Obie, proprietors of Obie’s Autorama of Famous Cars, a sideshow attraction in which the couple’s colorful automobiles were exhibited at fairs and carnivals. Not long after purchasing J-490, the Obies brought it to the first major meet hosted by the burgeoning Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club in Avon, Pennsylvania.
Following brief ownership by New Jersey restaurateur Herman B. Zinn, the Model J passed in 1964 to legendary New York plastic surgeon and automobile enthusiast Dr. Samuel Scher. In January 1965, J-490 was purchased from Dr. Scher by Robert Atwell of Fredericksburg, Texas. Mr. Atwell was carefully assembling a well-chosen collection of Full Classics, exhibited to the public in his Classic Car Showcase museum in Kerrville. Prior to its departure to Texas, the Model J was cosmetically restored for Mr. Atwell by Gus Reuter, the pioneering automobile coachbuilder-turned-restorer of the Reuter Coach Works in the Bronx. Indications are that the body was not removed from the chassis; to this day the car has never been fully taken apart.
The restored Duesenberg achieved Senior status in CCCA competition, earning its first 100-point score in 1970, and in 1976 was a First Place winner at the ACD Club National Reunion in Auburn, Indiana. It would be driven in 1979 on the CCCA’s Texas Bluebonnet CARavan, and in 1981 it appeared at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Duesenberg historian Don Howell wrote of the Pebble Beach appearance in the ACD Club’s Newsletter, describing J-490 as “my all-time favorite closed-body Duesenberg on the short chassis.”
J-490 and the remainder of the family collection would eventually pass into the hands of Bob Atwell’s son, Rich, who has faithfully maintained the cars and continued to occasionally display them at national concours d’elegance. After its Pebble Beach appearance, however, the Duesenberg remained on display in the Classic Car Showcase and was not exhibited to the public for nearly 35 years. Only in April 2016 was it successfully acquired by the current owner, a longtime enthusiast and great admirer of this specific car, for his respected private collection, thus ending 51 years in the Atwell family’s hands.
In its present ownership, J-490’s mellowed restoration has been extensively freshened, with a new top, trunk covering, and pleated brown leather interior fitted by Dan Kirkpatrick, and the engine has been fully rebuilt by noted Duesenberg specialist Brian Joseph’s Classic & Exotic Service of Troy, Michigan. Following this work, the car was exhibited proudly at the 2018 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, then driven without fault in that year’s Duesenberg Tour through the White Mountains of New Hampshire, continuing the Atwell tradition of both showstopping beauty and driving excellence.
Few legitimately one-off Duesenbergs have become available in recent years—fewer still boast the exceptional known, continuous history of this unique Rollston Stationary Victoria, which has benefitted from over 50 years in one of the country’s great Full Classic collections and more recent extensive mechanical and cosmetic preparation. It is an exceptional Model J, ideal for both showing and enthusiastic driving, both well in the tradition of the men who have owned and loved it for the last 88 years.