Million-Dollar 1931 Duesenberg Found After 55 Years Is Ready for Its First Public Display

1931 Duesenberg Model J barn find 9 photos
Photo: Nobody's Show/YouTube
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In late 2022, Doug Pray of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Company was called to rescue a Duesenberg that had been in storage for 55 years. The car turned out to be a rare 1931 Model J worth millions of dollars. The classic was also in good condition, albeit no longer 100% original.
We saw the Duesy coming out into the light after more than five decades in February 2023, thanks to YouTube's "Nobody's Show." Come August, the Model J was cleaned up and prepared for its first public showcase. It will happen at the Great Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club Reunion in Auburn, Indiana, on Labor Day weekend. That's the first weekend of September.

Why is this important? Well, it's your only chance to see this classic in as-found condition. The Model J is scheduled to undergo a frame-off restoration that will bring it back to factory specifications. And Doug estimates that the process is so complex it will take up to three years.

The car's current condition is not precisely as-found, though. The convertible was obviously cleaned inside and out, and the fender skirts were cut off for a closer resemblance to its original specifications. As Mr. Pray explains, the Murphy-bodied Model J wasn't available with fender skirts in 1931. The option was added later in the 1930s when he assumed that the owner took it back to the factory for an upgrade. The Model J will also be running and driving at the event.

The restoration will include a significant overhaul of the pre-WW2 classic. For starters, it will be stripped of the current silver paint. That's mainly because it's not the original color. Believed to be repainted like this in 1951, this Duesenberg left the factory in dark blue. Needless to say, the wheels and the interior weren't green either.

While the latter appears original at first glance, the upholstery is vinyl instead of leather. So the restoration will also see the seats, door panels, and dashboard dressed in hide for a fancier and more accurate look. It turns out many of the instrument panel dials aren't original either, so the restoration will also include a hunt for authentic Duesenberg clocks.

Once restored, this 1931 Model J will be one of the finest and most original Duesenbergs out there. And that's more than fitting for a super-rare American classic worth millions of dollars. How rare is it? Well, Doug says it's one of only 25 Model Js bodied by the Walter M. Murphy Company.

Duesenberg built 445 Model J chassis, all of which were sent to various coachbuilding firms. About half of them were bodied by La Grande, while the rest were split among independent companies like Franay, Gurney Nutting, and Saoutchik. The Murphy cars are the rarest of the Model J lineage. So much so that people are standing in line at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Co. to make offers and buy it. But the owner is not interested in parting ways with his rare treasure.

How much is a Duesenberg like this worth? I can't give you an accurate number, but I can tell you that 21 of the 29 examples auctioned over the last couple of years found new homes for more than $1 million. Six of them changed hands for over $3 million, one sold for $4.6 million, while another one went under the hammer for $5.7 million. The record holder is an SSJ previously owned by Gary Cooper that sold for a whopping $22 million in 2018.

The latter is, of course, much rarer than the Model J, as Duesenberg built only a couple of them. The supercharger SJ is also scarce and usually more expensive at only 36 units made from 1928 to 1937. But while it may not be the most valuable Duesenberg out there, this Model J is definitely a million-dollar classic. One that still rocks its original 420-cubic-inch (6.9-liter) straight-eight engine. Check it out in the video below; all cleaned up and pretty.

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About the author: Ciprian Florea
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Ask Ciprian about cars and he'll reveal an obsession with classics and an annoyance with modern design cues. Read his articles and you'll understand why his ideal SUV is the 1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer.
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