1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Torpedo Phaeton

1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Torpedo Phaeton photographed by Douglas Wilkinson at the RM Auction - 2005 Vintage Motor Cars at Meadow Brook Hall, Auburn Hills, Michigan.

1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Torpedo Phaeton
1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Torpedo Phaeton

1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Torpedo Phaeton Pictures

1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Torpedo Phaeton

1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Torpedo Phaeton

1935 Duesenberg Model SJ Torpedo Phaeton
Coachwork By: LaGrande, executed by A.H. Walker
Photo By: Douglas Wilkinson
Location: RM Auction - Vintage Motor Cars at Meadow Brook Hall, August 6, 2005, Auburn Hills, Michigan
Auction Results: Sold at a price of $1,650,000

320bhp 420 cu. in. four-cylinder, twin overhead camshaft inline eight-cylinder engine with Schwitzer-Cummins centrifugal supercharger, three-speed transmission, beam front axle, live rear axle and vacuum-assisted four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Wheelbase: 153.5"

The new Duesenberg was tailor-made for the custom body industry. It had the power and stance to carry imposing coachwork, and the style and grace of the factory sheet metal was ideally suited for the execution of elegant custom coachwork. While most of the leading coachbuilders of the day were commissioned to clothe the mighty J, many modern observers believe it was Gordon Buehrig, Al Leamy and Herb Newport's exceptional LaGrande designs, combined with the build quality of A.H. Walker and others, that created the most unforgettable coachwork.

Duesenberg's LaGrande bodies have stood the test of time, their classic elegance and tasteful embellishment distinguishing them among the most coveted coachwork on these great chassis. In an era of great designers and coachbuilders, this is an exceptional recognition.

Among LaGrande designs the spectacular torpedo phaetons built by A. H. Walker Company are considered among the most attractive bodies ever installed on the mighty Duesenberg chassis. Just two were built (the other was J548/2983) and other similar bodies were executed by Brunn and Weymann.

The LaGrande Torpedo Phaetons are distinguished by their graceful top lines. While most convertible sedans had large and complicated top mechanisms, the Torpedo Phaeton top was compact and simple to operate. It is one of the few open designs that managed to look as good with the top up as it did with the top down. This remarkable achievement was a result of an ingenious body design that allowed the entire rear body to open, hinged at the bumper, revealing a spacious compartment into which the top lowered completely. With the top down and hidden, the car takes on a very sporting appearance, with compact lines that emphasize the muscular appearance of the high performance chassis below.

Another striking feature of these cars is the gracefully and sweeping roll up side windows. Not only were they practical, providing sufficient weather protection for mild conditions, but their arcing lines gave the car a unique flair. Combined with a low windshield and a short-coupled body on a long wheelbase chassis, these Torpedo Phaetons are probably the sportiest four passenger bodies ever mounted on the magnificent Model J chassis.

The remarkable example offered here, one of two original Walker LaGrande Torpedo Phaetons built, was delivered new to Mr. E. L. King of Winona, Wisconsin as J558 on chassis no. 2558. Mr. King, of Mathews Products, was apparently not pleased with his new Duesenberg, and consequently Duesenberg agreed to replace the car's complete chassis, substituting J582 on chassis no. 2608, installing his original body on this new chassis. Later, King's original chassis, J558/2558 was reported to have been broken up by the factory for spares.

There is some question as to whether J582 is one of the original supercharged cars. Noted Duesenberg historian, the late Ray Wolff, indicated in his record that the car was originally equipped with a supercharger, making it one of a handful of SJ cars delivered by the factory. This possibility is supported by photos of the car when new which do show the signature external exhaust of a supercharged car, although it was possible to have a car built with external pipes but without supercharger.

By 1938, J582 was owned by Eddie Glatt of Edward's Finance Company before selling to Mr. V. Douglas Paige of Watervliet, Michigan. After Paige, J582 went to M.J. Vignola of Chicago, Illinois for a short period, before joining the long list of great Duesenbergs to pass through the hands of Chicago are dealer John Troka in 1941.

Troka sold the car to well known Duesenberg collector Marshall Merkes, who later in 1943 traded it back to Troka on J526, a Weymann Torpedo Phaeton. In May of 1943, Troka sold J582 to a Mr. Jukitska of Chicago. Sometime later, probably in the winter of 1944/45, Jukitska had an accident with the car, running into a pillar supporting the elevated subway on Chicago's Michigan Avenue. Following the accident, he sold the car back to John Troka in May of 1945.

Probably at this point, some of the parts of J582 began to be sold to other collectors. Finally, likely in the late 1940s or early 1950s, J582 was purchased by Gerhardt Zamiet as a project. In 1961 Ernie R. Mills of Greenwood, Indiana, bought the car and began to hunt for the parts that had gone missing. He was remarkably successful, eventually locating all the body parts except for the four doors, aided by the car's unusual shade of blue. Nonetheless, he was able to locate and acquire most of the missing parts.

In 1973, before beginning the restoration project, Mills sold the car to Johnnie Bassett of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Bassett bought the remains of chassis 2470 as a parts car, and hired Steve Gunder to undertake a restoration. Since the frame from chassis no. 2608 was heavily damaged from Jukitska's accident, Bassett and Gunder elected to use the undamaged frame from chassis no. 2470, lengthening it to fit the J582 project.

Bassett also elected to commission California Metal Shapers to fabricate a complete new body for J582. Unfortunately, in 1984, before the project could be completed, Johnnie Bassett passed away, and noted collector Robert Bahre of Oxford, Maine acquired J582, along with the leftover parts from the 2470 project and the new body built by California Metalshapers.

At some point along the way, J582 had lost its original engine. Bob Bahre was able to locate it, purchasing it from Marshall Merkes. He then acquired J555, which carried an original supercharger, and sent it to Gunder, who removed the blower from J555 and installed it on J582, restoring the original engine to the car (as indicated by the numbered bellhousing and crankshaft), and also returning the car to what many believe is its original supercharged configuration.

However, rather than use the new body Bob elected to restore the original body from J582, having California Metal Shapers fabricate the missing doors as well as a few minor pieces. Gunder finished the car in early 1987, showing it at the CCCA Grand Classic where it earned a perfect 100 point score.

Later, in 1985 or 1986, Bahre sold the California Metalshapers body, painted and trimmed in red, to Ed Lucas in Michigan.

Later, Chris Charlton updated the restoration for Bob Bahre, showing it at the ACD National Meet in Auburn, Indiana in 1987, where the car's quality, provenance, and beauty earned it the coveted Best in Show award. Later competition in CCCA judging resulted in multiple 100-point awards, confirming the quality and accuracy of the restoration.

Not long afterwards, the vendor acquired the car from the Bahre collection. Included in the sale of J582 is a dossier of information including photos of the recent restoration as well as several invoices and perhaps most importantly, photos of the original body, as found by Mills in the 1960s.

Today J582 stands as a breathtaking example of Gordon Buehrig's Torpedo Phaeton design. One of two such cars executed by Duesenberg's in-house body company, Walker LaGrande, it represents what many feel is the ultimate Duesenberg, a startlingly fast car with a highly competent chassis carrying four in style and comfort. That only two such cars exist is at once a great tragedy, and at the same time, a suitably rare and beautiful reward for a lifetime of achievement.

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