- Original chassis, engine, and body
- Used when new by Indianapolis driver, Leon Duray, of Miller Packard Cable Special fame
- Formerly owned by Norris Allen and the Watson Family
- Extensive cosmetic freshening by marque specialist Chris Charlton
- Among the best surviving examples of a classic Model J design
- Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) Full Classic
Many men dream of owning the cars that fired their imaginations as a young man; few succeeded in the endeavor so thoroughly as Fred Guyton. His collection included not the models he had dreamed of owning, but in many cases the exact cars that he had admired throughout his life, owned by dear friends whose love for them had matched his own. He was a man for which there was no substitute for the right provenance.
That is significant in many of the cars in his collection, none more so than his Duesenberg Model J.
THE STORY OF A MODEL J
According to the records of Duesenberg historian, Ray Wolff, the short-wheelbase Murphy convertible sedan J-329 had been driven when new by Leon Duray, the American Indianapolis driver famous for his exploits in Millers, most probably as a “loaner” supplied to him by the Duesenberg factory. Duray famously wrote from Los Angeles to Harold Ames of the Duesenberg company: “Car is perfect if there is such a thing. Completed fifty-two hundred miles on car today . . . . Arrived here 8 P.M. Sunday sleeping seven hours each night.”
Following its use by Duray, the Model J was sold here in St. Louis, where its earliest known owner was one Walt Martin. It was later owned by Edward Grove, of the Bromine fortune, who traded it into a Cadillac dealer in January 1936. The dealer resold it to Norris Allen, a young attorney and already a devoted car enthusiast, with a natural skill for mechanical engineering that had led him to favor Rolls-Royces and, of course, Duesenberg. He would go on to own multiple examples of both.
Mr. Allen was interested in automotive design, leading him to retrofit the convertible sedan, late in his ownership, with modified Cadillac front and Lincoln Continental rear fenders. The fenders and a streamlined trunk were bolted into the original Murphy coachwork at their open edges, preserving all of the original Murphy panels underneath – something that came in handy when, several years later, Mr. Allen realized the error of his ways, filled the holes with aluminum plugs, and reinstalled the original fenders, returning the Model J to its more attractive original configuration.
WATSON FAMILY OWNERSHIP
In November 1958, Mr. Allen sold the Murphy convertible sedan to Marshall Hughes Jr. Hughes, in turn, passed it four years later to Arthur K. “Dick” Watson of Connecticut, son and heir of the founder of IBM, and future U.S. Ambassador to France. Watson commissioned a mechanical and cosmetic restoration of the car not long thereafter, with the cosmetics handled by the famed early restorer, Gus Reuter. A White truck transmission with overdrive was installed, a popular period conversion by Jim Hoe that made the car much easier to drive at high speeds.
“I’ve always remembered the Duesenberg being part of the family,” Watson’s son, A.K. “Kitt” Jr., recalled to Hemmings Classic Car. “I remember going to Yale football games in it with my father . . . . We had a lot of fun with the car, and we used it in all weather with the top down or up. I used to drive it all over the place. Even Mom used to wheel that thing around.”
“Mom” inherited the car from her husband in 1974, and soon passed it to Kitt Watson, who in 2003 submitted it to noted Duesenberg specialist Chris Charlton’s Classic Car Services of Oxford, Maine, for fresh restoration work. All chrome was correctly refinished, with the headlights and door sills properly etched; the interior properly retrimmed in beautiful rich blue leather; and the body properly stripped and repainted to a fine standard in the Watson family’s preferred two-tone blue.
Occasionally shown in various New England events, the Model J continued to also be occasionally driven, and was garaged and maintained at Mr. Charlton’s when not on the road. It was also featured in the aforementioned detailed article in Hemmings Classic Car, in May 2011.
ACQUIRING A HERO’S CAR
Meanwhile, a young Fred Guyton had come to consider Norris Allen a mentor and dear friend, whose connoisseurship of Rolls-Royce and Duesenberg automobiles he admired and would eventually emulate. Such was the closeness of their relationship that Mr. Guyton eventually bought his current home because it was two doors away from the Allen residence, allowing the two to visit frequently and enjoy wrenching on one another’s cars. It was Mr. Guyton who would eventually receive the prized Allen Phantom III at its owner’s passing in 1991.
Knowing his mentor’s standards for quality, Mr. Guyton always kept an “ear to the ground” for the cars that had formerly been housed in the Allen carriage house. One of these was J-329, and when the Watson family at last made it available for sale in 2012, Chris Charlton contacted Mr. Guyton, who did not hesitate to acquire it for his collection. This was not his first Model J – two others had proceeded it – but it would be his last and his favorite. It had, after all, lived right on his block.
The cosmetic restoration by Charlton is extremely well preserved, having been meticulously cared for; the paint is virtually flawless, as is the top, and the leather interior shows only the most minimal signs of wear and use. Mr. Guyton commissioned a complete engine rebuild by Mr. Charlton, soon after acquisition. The engine compartment remains clean and tidy, and still nearly show-worthy. Inspection shows the critical firewall, frame, and bell-housing stampings exactly where they should be, and the original body number is still stamped into the Murphy woodwork under the front carpets, indicative of just how benign a life this car has lived. At the time of cataloguing, the car recorded 71,111 miles.
Accompanying this wonderful Duesenberg is a fascinating history file, including delightful period photographs, registration information and other documents from throughout its ownership by Norris Allen, and selected invoices for parts and service work between 1997 and 2012. It is also outfitted with a correct trunk with its three-piece set of fitted luggage, two suitcases, and a hatbox.
A Duesenberg Model J is always a star in its owner’s collection, but few more so than this car – which boasts an incredible history with noted figures of racing and the car hobby, going back well into the 1940s. It has always been loved, always well kept, and always treasured. In its engineering and superb presentation, it stands as a superb motoring monument to the men – Allen, Watson, and Guyton – who have loved it most.