Considered to be one of the world’s finest cars, the Duesenberg Model J has not only held up to that claim, but it continues to astonish the world of car collectors even today. Car collectors from around the world were taken back when the one-of-a-kind 1931 Duesenberg Whittell Coupe brought $10 million (including the buyer’s premium) at the Gooding & Company auction in Pebble Beach, CA in 2011. Before getting into the details of the auction and why this particular vehicle commanded so much, it will be necessary to learn more about this amazing automobile, as well as the designers commissioned for the task, Fred and Augie Duesenburg.
The World’s Finest Motor Car
E. L. Cord, owner and operator of Auburn Automobile, was the driving force behind the actual decision to create this limited luxury edition of the world’s finest automobile. In 1926, Mr. Cord acquired the Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company from August and Frederick Duesenberg. The sole purpose was to create one of the finest luxury vehicles of the time. The brothers, self taught engineers as they were, did have moderate success with some of their earlier creations such as the Model A of 1921 to 1927, and the limited Model X of 1926 to 1927 where only 13 were actually built.
The idea of course was not only to build a fantastic luxury vehicle that would cater to the rich and famous, but an automobile that would also be the fastest, biggest, and the most expensive luxury car ever created. In addition, he wanted the car to be built on a large chassis, so he decided to order one of the largest chassis’s ever built. This in turn would allow the vehicle being created to compete with the most luxurious, powerful and biggest European luxury cars of the time.
The Iconic 1931 Duesenberg Model J
After a number of conflicts with August Duesenberg, a name change for the company, and settling in with the title of Vice President of experimental work and engineering, Cord would see the first prototype of the Model J roll off the line as the Model Y. This version sported the smaller 5.2L 320 cu engine which was against the wishes of Mr. Cord. After a little time, a prototype that never made it to the assembly and a few adjustments here and there, the Model J was introduced in 1928.
This new design featured a straight eight power plant that was designed by Frederick Duesenberg, but built by Lycoming, a company owned by Mr. Cord. This new engine sported a dual overhead cam design which included 4 valves per cylinder. This edition offered a vacuum assisted hydraulic braking system – chrome and aluminum trim throughout, and only weighed in at around 5200 lbs. The vehicle could easily reach speeds of 85mph in second gear, and 120mph in high.
This impressive offering caught the eye of a number of wealthy people including William Randolph Hurst, Howard Hughes, Greta Garbo and the eccentric George Whittle. In fact, Mr. Whittle would go on to own 6 of these vehicles which were customized to his liking. One of those luxury models, referred to as the Duesenburg Whittle Coupe, was recently auctioned off for a little over $10 million in Pebble Beach, CA in 2011. This was unprecedented in the world of car collectors. In fact, there has never been a vehicle of this stature to fetch that amount in past years.
This simply goes to show you that a unique idea, hard work, and a truly focused design will not go unrewarded as long as you have a little time to wait – such as with the 1931 Duesenberg Whittell Coupe.