Classic Profile: Checkered past of 1929 Duesenberg J-183

The Duesenberg J-183 with its original Derham town car body | Courtesy of the author
The Duesenberg J-183 with its original Derham town car body | Courtesy of the author

The fascinating history of 1929 Duesenberg chassis 2201 (engine J-183) starts with the handsome town car body seen in the photo and created by Enos Derham. The Derham Body Company was one of the longest-lived American coachworks, surviving two world wars.

The company was founded by Joseph Derham as the Rosemont Carriage Works only a few miles west of Philadelphia. Enos Derham, the youngest of four brothers that followed their father into the firm, would end up running the company. They were known for their formal coachwork and bodied many great brands including Duesenberg. Interestingly, the company’s building survived, becoming the home to Chinetti & Garthwaite in the 1960s, the U.S. distributor for Ferrari.

After Derham was finished with the body, the Duesenberg was delivered to Edwin Corning (1883-1934), the recently retired Lieutenant Governor of New York. It was Corning’s grandfather, Erastus Corning, who built the family’s fortune by founding the New York Central Railroad. Edwin suffered from diabetes and it was probably ill health that lead him to part with the Duesenberg soon after.

The car found its way to Colonel Henry (Harry) H. Rogers II, whose father had become Vice President of Standard Oil. It must be nice to inherit an unimaginable sum of money at a young age, and that’s exactly what happened to Harry when his father passed in 1909. Harry would achieve the title of “Colonel” from his command of the Third Field Artillery in the Great War (WWI). Harry went on to acquire an estate on Long Island, a yacht, and eventually worked his way through three marriages.

The 're-created' Duesenberg when sold at auction in 2013 | RM Sotheby's
The ‘re-created’ Duesenberg J-183 when sold at auction in 2013 | RM Sotheby’s

It was in December 1933 when the Rogers were driving along the Long Island thoroughfare in the town car that they collided with another vehicle. The Duesenberg is said to have caught fire and was destroyed. The Colonel escaped without injury, but he would pass away two years later at the age of 56.

The remains of the car were rediscovered in 1950 by early Duesenberg enthusiast Jim Hoe, who acquired the chassis and running gear and built his own Duesenberg custom short-wheelbase speedster. He is said to have cut down the frame, replaced the engine and built his own body.

Used for many years in that state, the car was later sold and has since been “re-created” with a reconstructed frame and new J engine. It now wears a dual-cowl phaeton body in the style of Murphy Coachworks. Even so, the storied Duesenberg is still referred to as J-183.

2 thoughts on “Classic Profile: Checkered past of 1929 Duesenberg J-183”

  1. I’d be very surprised if there’s any such thing as a restored car of that age that hasn’t had a significant number of parts replaced. The benchmark seems to be the existance of the chassis plate. If the original chassis plate is still in place, anything else can be replaced and it’s still the ‘same’ car. It’s like the axe that killed Queen Mary: It’s had a dozen new handles and three or four new heads – but it’s the same axe.

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