|1931 Duesenberg J-495 Murphy Custom Beverly
When we speak of Duesenberg, we are indeed referring to the very best. The phrase, “It’s a real Duesey” comes from the famed marque itself. Simply put, the Duesenberg was the very best that America had to offer in the world of unsurpassed quality and luxury. In the present day, the name Duesenberg still commands respect on the finest concours show fields of the world. There may be other cars of comparable size and elegance, but the Duesenberg stands alone as a perfect combination of power, precision, and speed. Every Duesenberg ever built has a pedigree that marks it as a great automobile and while many automobiles have come and gone, the mighty Duesenberg stands alone as “the very best” in the annals of automotive history.
Fred and Augy Duesenberg got their start building race cars in 1913 with one of their first entries driven by the famed Eddie Rickenbacker in the 1914 Indianapolis 500. Eddie finished 10th, but that did not detour the brothers efforts and with several years and proper refinement the brothers went on to win the famous Indy race in 1924, 1925, and 1927. Racing endeavors didn’t stop Duesenberg from building some of the most reliable and well engineered vehicles of the day as production of the Model A and the Model X paralleled the company’s racing efforts. In 1926, the Duesenberg Company was purchased by the flamboyant Errett Loban Cord, who had a vision of building the world’s finest luxury car. After considerable development and fanfare, Duesenberg introduced the Model J at the New York Car Show in 1928. Never before had the world seen an automobile of such beauty and quality. The Duesenberg chassis alone sold for an astounding $8,500 during the Great Depression! Simply put, the Model J had set a new level in automobile standards. The impact of the Duesenberg Model J on America was stunning as it was an automobile that carried an allure of class that very few could experience. The Duesenberg name even managed to carry this mystique into the early years of the Great Depression as it continued to remain a beacon of high-society.
All of the coachbuilders of the day eagerly awaited orders on the fine Duesenberg chassis. The new Model J was well-suited for the custom body builders mainly because it had the length, power, and engineering needed to carry a heavy and imposing body. The Duesenberg Model J was never meant to be a car for the common man. Indeed, most advertising from Duesenberg pictured finely dressed members of high society in elegant settings with the simple, but elegant text that said it all, “He drives a Duesenberg” was all that was needed to convey the message that this was a car that was the very best. The Duesenberg Model J was a car aimed squarely at wealthy individuals who sacrificed nothing in their quest for the finer things in life. Selection of the Duesenberg chassis was only the beginning in the creation of these fine automobiles for the body still had to be designed and built. Once the chassis was selected, a number of coachbuilders could be hired to custom build the body to the customer’s exact needs. These were companies that could create beautiful town cars, roadsters, phaetons, or coupes built to the owner’s exact specifications with the utmost attention in high quality standards.
There were two entities, a designer and a coachbuilder that played an intricate role in creating what has been called the most beautiful Duesenberg ever built; a 1931 Murphy bodied Beverly Berline built on Duesenberg chassis #J-495. The designer in this case was the great Gordon Buehrig, a talented artist that created some of the most stunning automotive designs in history. Buehrig’s design work had already appeared on great marques like Stutz and Packard when he became chief body designer for Duesenberg at the age of 25. Buehrig is responsible for the design of the Auburn 851 Speedster and the Cord 810. Buehrig’s talents were not limited to ultra expensive cars as his later career found him at the Ford Motor Company where he designed the 1951 Victoria Coupe and the 1956 Continental Mark II. Ever the innovative designer, Buehrig is also credited with the removable T-top in 1951. Buehrig’s designs for the Duesenberg chassis are looked upon as the highlight of his years and are clearly evident in his stunning creations.
Once Buehrig’s design was solidified, the Walter M. Murphy Body Company began work on J-495. The Murphy Company was no stranger to Duesenberg as they were recognized as a reliable coachbuilder that built their bodies to the exact high standards that Duesenberg’s customers demanded. Indeed, the Murphy Company would go on to build bodies for 125 of the Duesenberg Model Js ever built representing about 25% of the Model J’s production. Murhpy’s beautiful creations had already graced some of the most prestigious cars in the world with the likes of Bentley, Crane-Simplex, Hispano-Suiza, Lincoln, Minerva, Peerless, Rolls-Royce, Isotta-Frachini, and Bugatti all carrying Murphy bodies. With such illustrious names to its credit, the Murphy Company was a natural selection as a coachbuilder for the Model J chassis and was one of three selected to showcase the new car for the 1928 New York Auto Salon. Murphy’s design for a roadster with a disappearing top of the J chassis was a big hit at the show and solidified the company as a premier body builder for the Duesenberg J chassis. Of course, the Murphy Company would not call their creations simple names like roadsters or phaetons, but instead chose names like Beverly, Berline, and Sport Sedan for their works of art. These names were certainly better suited to the upscale image that Duesenberg was known for. With a beautiful body designed by Buehrig and the Murphy Company handling the construction, work commenced on Duesenberg chassis #J-495 in May of 1931 with its engine assembly taking place in October of the same year. The body is built from aircraft-inspired aluminum of the highest quality standards and a high-speed rear axle ensured quiet and smooth operation at any speed. Indeed this Duesenberg carries the same type rear axle that was used on the famous Mormon Meteor.
Offered to the discriminating collector of fine automobiles is this historic automobile, as fine a Duesenberg as was ever built. J-495 carries the Murphy bodied Beverly Berline body riding on an impressive 153.5-inch wheelbase. Murphy’s fine craftsmanship is clearly evident throughout this Beverly Berline’s outstanding fit and finish. Buehrig’s talented work is also displayed in the stunning body lines of his classic and timeless design. Its long and sweeping fenders combined with its low roof line have been described by many Duesenberg enthusiasts as the best looking, and most desirable close bodied Duesenberg every built. Absolutely nothing was over looked in the creation of this most elegant automobile and while Buehrig’s design set it apart from any other car on the road, its true beauty was found within as J-495 carries an interior that is fit for royalty. Sitting behind the wheel of this magnificent Duesenberg is like sitting in the cockpit of the Douglas DC3 aircraft of the day. A low slung driver’s seat offers a commanding view through the three-piece front windshield and over the long hood that has to be personally experienced to fully appreciate. Most impressive is the seating accommodations for the rear passengers. Despite its immense wheelbase, rear seating accommodates just two in the absolute finest luxury ever built in a motorcar. Rear instrumentation features a full dashboard with radio, altimeter, speedometer, and chronometer. A pull-out writing desk is also part of J-495’s interior décor and privacy is achieved through a roll up window that is controlled from the rear compartment. Rear seating is patterned in arm chair fashion trimmed with fine leather making for comfortable seating. The interior of this fine automobile leaves nothing to chance in its quest for automotive excellence.
Ownership of J-495 reads like a who’s who of American society. It was purchased new by William Hibbard of Chicago, IL, and was then sold to William E. Schmidt, also of Chicago. J-495 then passed through several owners through the years until being purchased by Ralph Engelstadt of the Imperial Palace Collection where it was restored by Fennel restorations. From there it entered the Blackhawk Collection and was then sold to Dean Kruse. It next found itself owned by the famous Robert McGowan of the McGowan Brothers, who were an American folk music band from Branford, Connecticut. The McGowan Brothers regularly toured New England during the 1960s and 1970s playing to packed houses with their humorous brand of folk music. Duesenberg J-495 was recently acquired from Robert McGowan and is now available. J-495’s history reads like a walk through time as in its succession of owners it sold for the bargain price of just $10,000 in 1964 and was then sold for $19,000 in 1967. Needless to say, Duesenberg prices have risen dramatically since then. The chance to own this incredible piece of American history is perhaps as rare as the car itself. Indeed, a Beverly Berline bodied Duesenberg has not been available to the general public since the mid 1990s.
This Duesenberg is a restored-to-factory authentic car that still retains its matching engine, body, and chassis. Its perfection is clearly evident in the fact that it was awarded the Most Elegant Car award at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours. J-495 has also recently received some cosmetic upgrades including a new top, new trunk covering, and a complete refresh of interior trimming. Duesenberg J-495 was an astounding car when it was built and it is even more so today. There are very few cars from the classic era that can claim to carry their original body with no modifications made, but this astounding Duesenberg does just that. The Duesenberg was the ultimate in American cars and this is the Duesenberg that proves it. With its classic flowing lines, immense wheelbase, and dedication to authenticity, this is a collector automobile that has no equal and will surely be the centerpiece of any collection. Its elegant lines and fine engineering speak of an era in automotive styling that is long gone and its fine detail and superb restoration are indeed a tribute to the vision of Errett Loban Cord and the Duesenberg Empire.