Market Finds: Parking A Duesenberg In The Garage Is A Good Sign You’ve Made It

Parking A Duesenberg In The Garage Is A Good Sign You’ve Made It

Andrew Golseth By Andrew Golseth
January 7, 2016

Photography Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

How often do you see a product and think, “Why didn’t I come up with that? I’d be rich!”

I do—I’m looking at you, Selfie Stick. There are so many items that we, as consumers, take for granted, but this car’s story got me thinking: canned soup is a brilliant invention. Hear me out. Canned soup is a cheap, delicious, and relatively healthy meal that is readily available around the world—Campbell’s is sold in over 120 countries.

So, what does canned soup and America’s finest vintage luxury automobile maker have in common? Normally… nothing at all, but this particular 1934 Duesenberg Model J Town Car’s history ties the $1.79 nourishment and uber-automotive class together. Before we get to that story, let’s go back…

During the late 1920s, Duesenberg struggled to sell enough cars to stay afloat. The Great Depression affected most of the American population, so premium handcrafted luxury road-yachts weren’t in high demand. Though Model J production technically spanned from 1929 to 1937, the majority of the chassis were constructed in 1929—it just took Duesenberg nearly a decade to sell them all!

Many of the chassis sat dormant, waiting for contracted coach built bodywork. California based coachbuilder, the Walter M. Murphy Company, built six bespoke Model J bodies—this being one of them. By the time this car’s engine and chassis were mated to the Murphy bodywork at the Philadelphia factory in March 1934, the Walter M. Murphy Company had been out of business for two years!

Around the same time, John Dorrance, employee at the Joseph Campbell Preserve Company, created a system to can and condense soup. This process made Mr. Dorrance wealthy enough to purchase what later became the Campbell Soup Company. Unfortunately, John passed away shortly after in 1930, leaving his empire and enormous fortune to his widow, Mrs. Ethel M. Dorrance. What’s a rich and powerful recently made single woman to do? Buy a Duesenburg to get chauffeured in, dammit!

In 1947, Mrs. “Campbell” sold the Model J to Mr. Bayard Badenhausen for $1,300—not a typo. Badenhausen was shocked to discover the “Duesy” had a mere 1,800 miles on the odometer. Apparently, while Mrs. Dorrance was being chauffeured in Philadelphia, a “political agitator” threw a brick at the Model J—so, she locked the Duesenberg up in a garage. This story and Badenhausen’s ownership experience are documented in the Classic Car Club of America Bulletin’s January 2013 issue.

In 1948, Badenhausen used the opulent cruiser for his wedding and honeymoon before selling the car to Duesenberg wrencher Jim Hoe, founder of Hoe Sportcar Garage in Weston, Connecticut. Afterwards, Harold S. Johnson Jr. kept the car for 25 years, during which time he gave the car it’s first restoration—refinished in off-white.

A later caretaker’s widow sold the car to established collectors Mr. and Mrs. Kughn, who attended CCCA events regularly throughout the Mid-West. The Duesenberg found its way to the West Coast under the ownership of Mike Fennel, who restored the car to its current presentation. Mr. Fennel displayed the Murphy special at two Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance—1990 and 2010.

The limo now has a click under 40,000 miles, which are believed to be accurate. The Duesenberg Motor Company was launched during an unfortunate era of depression. Despite the brand’s struggles, we should be thankful they managed to compete as one of the world’s greatest luxury automobile manufacturers. Still beloved today, the attention to detail and luxury these hand built vehicles carry are astonishing.

Who knew, all it took to afford a Duesenberg was to reinvent canned goods?

– One of six Murphy Town Cars built on Model J chassis (estimated)
– Original chassis, engine, and body (ACD Category One D-079)
– Built for Ethel M. Dorrance

~265 horsepower, 420 cu. in. DOHC inline eight-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission, beam-type front and live rear axles with semi-elliptical leaf springs, and vacuum-assisted four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 153.5 in.

Vehicle information
Chassis no.: 2531
Engine no.: J-295
Body no.: 986
Firewall no.: 2531

Auction house: RM Sotheby’s
Estimate: $1,200,000 – $1,400,000
Price realized: Auction on January 28-29

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