Claimed by the Artcurial, "This original Torpédo Scaphandrier" body by Kellner is the only known example in existence, on any marque." This is incorrect as there exists a 1931 Renault Reinastella with the exact coachwork. Following catalog description...
Up for auction from Artcurial, will be this rare Duesenberg Model J with body by Kellner...
Chassis n° 2173
Engine n° J148
- The last remaining Scaphandrier Kellner body
- Outstanding engineering and performance
- Original chassis and engine
- Owned by a collector for 34 years
- Appraisal and description by Christian Huet, historian and international expert in Collectors' Automobiles
Founded during the 1880s by the brothers Fred and August Düesenberg, German immigrants to the US, Duesenberg quickly distinguished itself in racing. In Europe, the marque was known for its victory in the 1921 French Grand Prix, reflecting its outstanding engineering. In 1927, Erret Lobban Cord, then in charge of Cord and Auburn, became involved in the enterprise, and took on the challenge of building the best and most luxurious car in the world, to compete with the most prestigious European marques such as Hispano-Suiza, Rolls-Royce, Isotta Fraschini and Mercedes-Benz. Within a period of just 27 months, Duesenberg developed the Model J, with three examples unveiled at the New York Motor Show in 1928. The exceptional engineering of this car was immediately striking : an in-line eight-cylinder Lycoming engine, seven litres, twin overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder - designed by Fred Duesenberg, this was a true competition engine developing 265 bhp at 4000 rpm. It had almost 100 bhp more than the Cadillac V16 and 120 bhp more than a Packard Roadster - its direct competitors in the US ! In addition to the power, this car displayed enormous panache, bodied with highly luxurious coachwork, sporting chromed radiator grille, impressive lights and an imposing horn. The speedometer was graduated to 150 mph and the dashboard featured an altimeter, barometer and lights to indicate when the next service was due. It didn't take long for this extraordinary automobile to become the darling of millionaires, Hollywood stars and aristocrats. Some of the most famous clients included Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Howard Hughes, Rudolph Valentino, the Duke of Windsor, Prince Nicolas of Roumania, Queen Marie of Yugoslavia, King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy and King Alphonse XIII of Spain.
Duesenbergs have always been considered by enthusiasts as being the most powerful, the fastest and best built touring cars of their day. They were the true supercars of the 1920s (in particular the supercharged SJ version), superior to all other American touring cars, and even European cars of the same period. This was an unusual situation, especially in relation to the engineering, and merits being emphasised. In France, Duesenberg models were imported in small numbers and it is therefore very rare for an example to be offered.
The car on offer
The car on offer was the 49th Type J chassis to be built, out of a total production of 465 examples. It is stamped with number 2173, at the top left of the bulkhead, as on other Duesenbergs. With a wheelbase of 135.4 inches (3.44m), it has the special feature of having been lightened, with numerous round holes in the longitudinals and central cross member. According to an article that appeared in Automobile Revue Suisse in January 1962, this chassis would have been shortened and lightened by the Swiss coachbuilder Hermann Graber, from 3.62m to 3.44m, before having a cabriolet body fitted that retained the original radiator, bulkhead and dashboard.
There is no doubt about the change of body by Graber in 1934, but this is not the case when it comes to the chassis modifications. On inspecting the chassis, I noted that the bottom section of the longitudinals were lined from the front to the cross member where some welding was visible on the exterior, although not in the heart of the rails.
However, to make twenty-four holes (of non-decimal dimensions), plus two stamped but not pierced, with four different diameters in each of the longitudinals (where the metal was 5.4mm thick), it would have been necessary to dismantle the sections to cut them with a press that has more than a hundred tonnes of pressure ! It would be the same for the central cross beam (8.3 mm thick metal) which is pierced with thirty-two holes (eight on each face). The four sides of this beam must have been hole-punched before being welded ! Also, as the shape of the Duesenberg chassis is trapezoidal, shortening it would change the angle of fixing for all the modified rails. This would have been a considerable amount of work, and impossible for conventional coachbuilders who would not have had the use of a powerful enough press. Lightening the chassis wouldn't have been of interest to Graber who would have found it easier to build a roadster body in aluminium, rather than a steel-bodied cabriolet, if he had wanted to reduce the weight.
It seems more logical to assume that this shortened and lightened chassis, in anglo-saxon dimensions is a " special " chassis, built to client order by Duesenberg in 1929, as would be the case with two well-known roadsters whose chassis rails were shortened to give a wheelbase of 3.17m (2594/J563 and 2595/J567).
On the mechanical side, this Duesenberg is equipped with a type J engine, numbered J148 on the rear left engine mounting. This number, consistent with chassis 2173, is also stamped on the front left section of the chassis. This is indeed the original engine. With a sophisticated design, this eight-cylinder in-line 6882cc engine developing 265 bhp, has four valves per cylinder, operated by two overhead camshafts.
According to various publications on Duesenberg, the first body for chassis 2173/J148 was a Le Baron Torpédo with double windscreen built in 1929 for Walter La Grange in Paris. Five years later, the Swiss coachbuilder Graber removed the Torpédo Le Baron before creating a not particularly elegant cabriolet body, retaining the radiator and original bulkhead.
In 1959, when this Duesenberg found itself in the United States of America, the Graber coachwork was taken off and put on a Packard chassis. Chassis 2173, complete with mechanical components, radiator, grille and aluminium bulkhead with dashboard, was sold to the President of the Duesenberg Club: Raymond A. Wolff from Wisconsin, in October 1959. Knowing of a genuine Torpédo Scaphandrier ( n°17963 ) body built by Kellner of Boulogne-Billancourt near Paris during 1929/1930, he bought chassis 2173/J148 and had this body fitted. The dimensions were remarkably similar apart from the canopy that was slightly wider and shorter than that of a Duesenberg. Wolff had the bonnet and wings modified and gave the car a mechanical overhaul, before fitting Marchal Trilux lights and registering it E17 - 388. In good original condition, the Kellner body didn't need restoring, and only the upholstery and paintwork were re-done (it is possible that this body belonged to a car that had been damaged at the front, from a now unknown marque).
Following inspection, this Torpédo Scaphandrier body built by Kellner from Boulogne-Billancourt, is undoubtedly genuine. The reference Kellner n°17963 is engraved on the coachbuilder's plaques fixed at the base of the canopy, and stencilled on the wood behind the upholstery of the front seats. The wooden frame of the body, largely original, corresponds perfectly to the specific dimensions and shape of this very short chassis. This rare " Scaphandrier " body still has the protective canvas cover on the front seats, which is exceptional.
History of the car on offer
Edmond. Z. Sadovich, the dynamic and efficient Duesenberg importer based in Paris, was responsible for some forty J and SJ chassis, equipped with radiator, bonnet and dashboard, being sold in France between 1929 and 1933. They were given elegant bodies by various coachbuilders including Fernandez, Hibard & Darrin, Franay, Figoni-Falaschi, Saoutchik, Letourneur & Marchand and Kellner. Two Duesenberg chassis found their way into Jacques Kellner's Boulogne workshop, one of which had a Torpédo Scaphandrier body (2541). The Torpédo Scaphandrier bodies were designed to be driven by the owners and not by a chauffeur, with room for wife and children in the back, which had a small hood in case of bad weather. During the winter, when conditions were really bad, a canvas structure with flexible window sections, was designed to protect the driver and his companion. Notably, the rear window retracts and the right hand side window has an adjustable deflector. The radiator also features a tailor-made stone guard.
In 1974, having used the car a great deal for A.C.D. rallies, President Wolff sold his Duesenberg 2173/J148 to Mr J. Southard from Atlanta, who replaced the spare wheels with ones that had a different design without chrome centre circle. He didn't restore the body that was still in relatively good condition. In 1978 it passed into the hands of the collector Tom Meade who sold it on to Sam Schwarz from New York in 1979. In 1980, this unique Duesenberg was bought by a Belgian dealer who registered it DEG-561, before selling it on in December of the same year, to the current owner, who entrusted its restoration to the internationally renowned Carrosserie Lecoq. The current owner asked me to appraise the car before and after restoration. The coachwork was not taken off the chassis, but the paintwork was completely stripped and corroded sections replaced with identical metal. A glove box was created either side of the dashboard and the (1933/4) lower sections of the wings were removed to be given something more similar to a classic Duesenberg. The current owner has used the car in numerous European rallies and the odometer currently reads 46,492 miles.
This original Torpédo Scaphandrier" body by Kellner is the only known example in existence, on any marque. This is therefore an exceptional car, for its type and its history. In addition to its outstanding performance and engineering, this Duesenberg offers its new owner a past that is without equivalent.
Wed Jan 15 2014 16:01:59 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)