Production of the Duesenberg Model J halted in the 1930s, its over-the-top opulence thwarted by the Great Depression. But the legendary luxury car was revived for one last hurrah in 1978 by a passionate proponent of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg company.
Glenn Pray, an Oklahoma industrial arts teacher and Cord restorer who had acquired the trademarks and all the remaining parts inventory of the defunct ACD business, decided to recreate an accurate depiction of the Duesenberg using period-correct components.
The result is a magnificent homage to the great Model J, hand-built in the Le Grande style on an authentic Duesenberg chassis, and accurate enough to receive the last sequential serial number from the Auburn Cord Duesenberg factory after a production gap of more than four decades.
This final Duesenberg Model J goes to auction in Dallas as part of the Leake Auction Company’s new Platinum Series of premium collector cars. The three-day auction of about 500 vehicles takes place November 21-23 at Dallas Market Hall.
The Duesenberg is expected to cross the block November 22 during prime-time Saturday bidding.
Pray is well-known among ACD enthusiasts for his earlier efforts to recreate the glory of Cords and Auburns. In the mid-1960s, he pioneered the notion of reviving true classics with the Cord 8/10 – so-named because it was an eight-tenths scale version of the famous Cord 810. Next, he created the Auburn 866 Speedster in the style of the automaker’s memorable roadster of the 1930s.
The Model J was a different kind of revival, though. Rather than build a consumer product that evoked the originals, as he did with the Cord and Auburn recreations, Pray set out to create an authentic Duesenberg that could have been built by the Indiana automaker in the 1930s.
According to the lot description in Leake’s auction catalog, Pray designed the body by pulling molds off an original Duesenberg Model J Durham Tourister. The final configuration is of a dual-cowl phaeton.
“A sweep panel was added to the Tourister body to combine Pray’s idea of a modern-day recreation in the Le Grande style,” the description says.
In attempting to stay true to his “what-might-have-been” concept for the Duesenberg, Pray installed an Auburn-designed V12 engine, which he sourced from a fire truck. The V12 is backed by a period-correct, three-speed manual transmission.
“One of the many innovations of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg empire had been the superbly engineered V12 engine for the Auburn line,” Leake says in its catalog description. “Even after the Auburn brand was discontinued, this basic engine design was kept alive and used for decades in fire engines produced by the American-LaFrance company.
“A V12 was acquired from one of these fire rigs for Pray’s Duesenberg project. He replaced and added all-original 1930s V12 accessories from his large parts inventory to recreate the classic Auburn V12 engine.”
The Duesenberg was built in Pray’s own Auburn Cord Duesenberg factory in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, where the custom body was fitted with the famous Duesenberg grille, headlights and fenders originally created by industrial designer Gordon Buehrig, Pray’s longtime friend and colleague, the description says. The car stands on a set of chrome-plated Buffalo wire wheels, plus a pair of side-mount spares.
The Duesenberg is fully road ready, the seller says, having toured extensively over the years and appearing a number of times in the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival in Auburn, Indiana.
“Finished in gleaming red with deep burgundy sweep-panels, the lines of this car exude speed, elegance and luxury all rolled into one package,” Leake says. “From the dual side-mounted spare tires and outside exhaust to the front driving lights and luxurious leather interior, this Sport Phaeton paints a picture of grandeur not seen since the golden age of classic cars.”