Monday, June 13

1934 Duesenberg JN Rollston SWB Convertible Sedan

'Fred Duesenberg shocked the automotive industry in 1928 when he announced that his new motorcar, simply called the J, would be powered by a dual overhead cam 420 cubic inch straight-8 engine generating an astounding 265 horsepower. This came at a time when other luxury manufacturers were still struggling to break 100 horsepower in their top-of-the-line cars, and it was nothing less than earth-shattering news to the rest of the industry. In the years that followed, many would chase Duesenberg, but none would catch them, especially because in 1932, the SJ debuted with a supercharged version of the straight-8 engine, now making a mind-boggling 320 horsepower. Even Cadillac's mighty 452 cubic-inch V16 barely made half that number at 175 horsepower. No, there is simply no other manufacturer in American motoring history that can match Duesenberg's legendary combination of brute power, technical sophistication, and all-out luxury.
The Duesenberg story is a long, interesting, and complex saga, and many accurate histories have been written about the brothers Duesenberg, their relationship with brilliant marketer E.L. Cord, and the tragic end of the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg empire. But the important part of the Duesenberg story to remember is that by the late 1930s, with the Great Depression in full swing, the market for 6000-pound, 120 MPH luxury cars just didn't exist like it had in the late 1920s. E.L. Cord, a fighter to the end, had several short wheelbase J chassis built, added updated features such as skirted fenders and smaller diameter wheels, and called the revised model the "JN," with N standing for "New Style." Sadly, it wasn't enough, and Duesenberg passed away like so many other fabulous small manufacturers during those dark years.
Only ten JN models were manufactured, and they all carried bodies built by Rollston of New York. Of those ten, only three JNs were convertible sedans, and convertible sedan J-570 is unique among all of them as the most original, authentic, complete example. With a sleek, stylish body with tidy proportions on the shortened J chassis, it gives the appearance of a coupe more than a sedan, yet has the convenience of four doors. Purchased new on September 2, 1936 by William H. Dunning of Ft. Worth Texas, president of Sequoia Oil Company. Uncommon in even the rarefied atmosphere of Duesenberg collecting, J-570 remains in original configuration, with its original body, chassis, and engine, most likely due to thoughtful stewardship throughout its life, as well as the unusual and jaw-droppingly gorgeous bodywork for which there is no possible upgrade.
Restored several years ago to concours standards, this car made the show car circuit and won every possible award a car can win at the highest levels. Refinished in highly appealing dark red paint, with a red leather interior and tan canvas top, it remains in spectacular condition today, and as with all Duesenbergs, has a presence that can't be matched by many other vehicles. It is massive, yes, but also elegant, well-proportioned, and sleek, which easily mask its great size. Originally black with a tan top and interior, the current color combination is both elegant and eye-catching, and gives this coach built car a sporty flair. With more than a million dollars spent on the restoration by the Imperial Palace Auto Collection, the finish work is above reproach in every way, with absolutely no signs of sub-standard workmanship anywhere. There is no filler in a car of this caliber, no non-authentic materials used, and the paint is deeper and more lustrous than anything you've seen before. As a hand-built automobile, Rollston's craftsmen were expected to deliver near-perfection, and the restoration only served to correct any remaining flaws—if there were any. The doors open and close with precision (note the wonderfully intricate door hinges), the top fits beautifully and seals up snugly, and all four windows roll up and down easily. 
Classics of this era are renowned for their attention to detail, and J-570 doesn't disappoint with its wonderful design elements. From the famous stylized Duesenberg "bird" hood ornament, to the upright Duesenberg grille, to the slender and well-proportioned bumpers, the chrome on this car is excellent. Other unique details include the smaller JN style taillights, the polished aluminum trunk rack, and the unique Duesenberg exhaust, which siameses the dual exhaust pipes together into one stylish tip. The JN continued to use chrome wire wheels when other manufacturers were moving to steel discs and artillery style wheels, and they lend a sporty attitude to the car, accentuating it's long lines. Dual side mounts feature chrome trim bands, while polished rub strips protect the running boards. 
The heart of J-570 remains its original 420 cubic inch DOHC straight-8 power plant. A massive casting, the engine itself weighs somewhat north of 1000 pounds and might look more at home powering a tractor trailer. A symphony of Duesenberg green paint and polished aluminum castings, there's clear indication that Fred and Augie Duesenberg, E.L. Cord and the engineers at Lycoming knew that they were building something very, very special. The polished intake manifold is topped by a Stromberg carburetor that has been painted to match the engine. Air filters remained options on many cars of the period, but the Duesenberg came with a standard cast aluminum filter unit with a washable, reusable oil bath element. Polished aluminum covers hide the twin chain-driven camshafts. On the exhaust side, dual manifolds feature individual exhaust pipes that feed the dual exhaust system—necessary thanks to the Duesenberg's advanced cross-flow cylinder head with 32 valves. The polished stainless steel firewall (this car's original piece, by the way) houses items like the Bijur system, which will automatically lubricate several dozen points throughout the chassis every 60 miles or so. Fully detailed and ready for show, no Duesenberg should ever be displayed with its hood closed.
The shortened chassis used in the JN cars mean that there are no numbers stamped into the frame rails as with other J models, but there's no question that this is the car's original frame, thanks to extensive documentation. In addition, J-570 carries its original 3-speed manual transmission, again somewhat of a rarity among Duesenbergs, which have often had components swapped among them, or replaced entirely as using a 4-speed transmission from a truck was a common replacement for damaged Duesenberg gearboxes. From their years of racing experience, the Duesenbreg brothers used hydraulic brakes from the beginning, with massive drums at all four corners and an emergency brake acting on the driveshaft. Front and rear axles are suspended on semi-elliptic leaf springs, a part of the design that E.L. Cord just couldn't modify and which caused many detractors to refer to the Duesenberg as "the world's fastest trucks." Nevertheless, the construction is robust, with a frame strong enough to support a railroad bridge, and axles that are virtually immune to road damage and wear. The comprehensive restoration returned every component and system to as-new condition, and the subsequent years of gentle use have resulted in a reliable, mechanically top-notch Duesenberg that can be toured with pride and is ready to go on a moment's notice. 
Like the chassis components, the interior draws heavy influence from racing, with a comprehensive array of gauges in a machine-turned dashboard. Of course, luxury was the name of the game, and there are few other cars that can compete with a Rollston interior. The supple red leather is simply beautiful to look at, and impossible to resist touching. Accurately duplicating the original patterns, the tufted seats show virtually no wear, and along with the beautifully finished matching red leather door panels, make this an incredibly inviting place to be. As I mentioned, the dash is full of gauges, ranging from a large, prominent tachometer, to an altimeter, to a brake pressure gauge, to all the standard gauges such as oil pressure, coolant temperature, fuel level, and speed. There's also a beautifully designed clock that matches the rest of the instruments. Handles and other hardware are expertly restored and have lost none of their crisp detailing during the re-chroming process. Ahead of the steering wheel, you'll find the controls for the adjustable braking system, with settings for Dry, Rain, Snow, and Ice, which allow the driver to fine-tune the brakes to road conditions. You'll also find the traditional Duesenberg shifter, which takes a few bends to clear the dashboard in reverse and second gear. Windowsills are gorgeous wood that has been varnished and polished until they glow. The back seat is nicely appointed, with matching red leather and dark red carpets underfoot, as well as a stylish art-deco clock front and center on the rear of the front seat back. The tan canvas top is without blemishes and fits beautifully. It folds easily and makes a tidy stack behind the back seat that is housed in a matching tan canvas boot. Every seam is straight, every button's placement exact, and the detailing is simply too nice to convey in photographs. It's no wonder that cars like this are often considered art instead of mere transportation.'

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