In the late 1920s, the Duesenberg Brothers’ stellar racing record had not translated into the sales of road cars they hoped for, and their only model, the Model A was due for replacement. Without the funds to develop a whole new car, they introduced the stopgap Model X as they searched for funding. Thankfully, a savior came in the form of Errett Lobban Cord. He had already transformed moribund Auburn’s fortunes with the vision of creating a motoring empire with the world’s finest automobile as its flagship. Cord found the perfect match with the Duesenbergs, as he could essentially buy an established reputation for engineering excellence, while Fred and August finally got the resources to develop the car of their dreams. In 1926, E.L. Cord purchased the Duesenberg Motors Company and reincorporated it as Duesenberg, Inc. Cord then installed Fred Duesenberg as Chief Engineer, and the two quickly set to work designing their vision of the world’s most prestigious motorcar.
The spectacular Model J first appeared on the show circuit in the fall of 1928, with production cars reaching the first customers about a year later. With its powerful, 420 cubic-inch, twin-overhead cam inline eight-cylinder engine, the Model J was the fastest, most expensive, and most exclusive car in America. Buyers demanded the finest coachwork, with Willoughby, LeBaron, Murphy, Franay, Gurney Nutting and many others granted the opportunity to grace the Duesenberg J chassis. Business moguls, Hollywood stars, and royalty would all clamor for a chance to be seen in the stunning new Duesenberg. The Model J and its derivatives are considered the Gold Standard of the Classic Era, standing proudly among the most influential, significant, and recognizable collector cars of all time.
Of the multitude of coachbuilders that created bodies for the Duesenberg J, one of the most prolific was LeBaron, producing nearly 40 bodies for the Model J throughout production. Founders Tom Hibbard and Ray Dietrich worked together as draughtsmen at Brewster & Co. Together, they envisioned a design consulting firm that would work directly with clients, then farm out the construction of bodies to various coachbuilders. Brewster summarily fired the pair after they were caught doing side work on company time, and thus, LeBaron Carrossier was born. A merger with the prestigious Bridgeport Body Company in 1923 gave them the ability to supply complete bodies, and despite the founders leaving in 1927, LeBaron remained one of the most prestigious luxury coachbuilders of the period.
Our featured Model J, number J-338 (chassis 2350), is a superb concours-quality example wearing elegant LeBaron All-Weather Phaeton coachwork. According to marque experts, this short-wheelbase car was a factory demonstrator originally fitted with Arlington Sedan coachwork by Derham. On September 15, 1930, it was delivered to its first owner, Mr. William S. Rupert of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By 1933, J-338 changed hands to William Ferguson, also of Philadelphia. The trail picks up again in 1944 when this car, along with J-127, was purchased by Mr. Marion Roberts of Grand Island, New York. At that time, J-127 wore a LeBaron convertible sedan body, believed to have been intended for a Packard chassis, although possibly never installed as records suggest it replaced J-127’s original Holbrook Sedan body in 1933.
The two Duesenbergs remained with Roberts until 1965, when he sold the pair to John North of Maryland. By that time, both cars required extensive restoration, and Mr. North perhaps found the task to be more than he was willing to tackle. Keeping them as a pair, he sold the cars in 1967 to one of the pioneers of the car collecting hobby, Homer Fitterling of South Bend, IN. At one point, Fitterling’s collection approached nearly 300 vehicles, many of them highly significant American classics. Finally, J-338 was in capable hands and treated to a much-deserved, extensive restoration led by Fitterling’s collection manager, Keith Brown.
While in the hands of Marion Roberts, both cars suffered from exposure to the elements. The chassis of J-338 was deemed to be in sound condition; however, the Derham coachwork was well beyond repair. So, as was a common practice at the time, Fitterling’s team fitted the handsome LeBaron body from J-127 onto the restored chassis of J-338. Once the restoration was completed, the beautifully proportioned and elegant car was a fixture of Fitterling’s collection, proudly displayed in the foyer of his museum for many years. Following Homer Fitterling’s passing, his entire collection, including J-338 was acquired by Ed Weaver for $13M.
In 1988, while in Mr. Weaver’s care, J-338 was inspected by marque experts including Fred Roe, and granted ACD Club Category One Certification. A copy of that report is included. Ed Weaver died in 1995, and his massive collection was auctioned. J-338 entered a private collection and was displayed at the ACD Museum for a brief period, before joining the world-renowned collection of Robert Petersen in 2001. The most recent owner, a noted collector of Classic Era motorcars, acquired the car in 2013, promptly handing it to Greg Morrell of Mosier Restorations in California for an extensive, 3-year refurbishment and restoration to exquisite concours standards.
Duesenberg J-338 presents in outstanding condition, with concours-quality finishing and detailing. The two-tone livery, with its bright red body and maroon fenders and chassis, is quite striking. There is a distinct sporting flair thanks to the black wall Firestone tires and magnificent chrome wire wheels. The body features dual side-mount spares with chrome covers, dual Lorraine search lamps, an upholstered trunk, and outside exhaust. Paintwork is suitably exquisite, as is the plating and brightwork.
The natural tan leather provides a rich contrast to the red bodywork. The upholstery is glove-soft and finely trimmed to a high standard, complemented with matching brown carpeting and tan salt-and-pepper canvas topping. Interior fittings are beautiful and exquisitely finished, and the dash features a full array of instruments – including an altimeter and Jaeger chronograph – set into the engine-turned alloy panel.
Engine and chassis detailing are up to the same high levels, with plenty of gorgeous polished aluminum and the signature bright green paint on the big twin-cam straight eight. The chassis is fully detailed and features Watson Stabilators on the front axle and is as impeccably turned out as the rest of this exceptional motorcar. The meticulous preparation culminated in an invitation to the 2018 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and a trouble-free run in the pre-show Tour d’Elegance.
The sale of J-338 represents a rare opportunity to acquire a beautifully restored, concours-ready Model J with known provenance in some of the most prestigious collections in history. The stunning coachwork is versatile and beautiful, making this Duesenberg equally at home on road events or gracing the lawns of the world's most exclusive concours.