Duesenbergs need little description. Their long lines, imposing hood and cowl, lightning-flash radiator ornament, giant headlights and muscular external exhaust do exactly as their creators intended. Convey speed, power, sportiness, luxury and exclusivity. “Built to Outrun, Outlast and Outclass Anything Else on the Road” was a popular summation.
So it is with J-315, a long-wheelbase dual-cowl phaeton crafted in the style of Murphy. A real car – not a “bitsa” – J-315’s chassis, engine, firewall and other running gear are original, and have remained together since the car left the factory. J-315 has been painstakingly restored in order to both show and drive. Gleaming in subtlety two-toned red with tan livery, J-315 stands out in any setting with its radically raked dual windshields, extreme length and sheer presence.
Reflecting the quality of its early-1990s restoration, subsequent care and refreshing, J-315 earned an AACA Junior award in 1996, an AACA Senior as well as the club’s prestigious Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg National Award in 2012, and an AACA Grand National First in 2020. At the annual Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Reunion, J-315 placed third in its highly competitive class in 2014 and second in 2019. J-315 was also named Most Popular Car at both the 2019 Henry Ford Museum Old Car Festival and 2017 Concours of Texas, won class awards in two showings at Houston’s Keels and Wheels Concours, and was named the 2020 Houston Auto Show’s “Star Car.” The car appeared in the major movie “Capone,” released in 2020.
J-315 has also been restored to drive. Its 1990s restoration included an engine rebuild with fitting of Carillo rods, new 7-to-1 compression ratio domed pistons, rebabbited main bearings and inserted rod bearings. During the past eight years, J-315’s current owner commissioned a comprehensive mechanical restoration by Classic and Exotic Services and its successor, Straight Eight, LLC. Among services performed were replacement of all valves and valve springs, rod bearings and water pump; refurbishing of the camshafts and their bearings; rebuilding of the carburetor, flywheel, clutch, transmission, driveline, differential, springs, shocks, brakes, steering box, steering shaft and drag link; installation of a high-speed 3.54-to-1 ring gear and pinion; replacement of the muffler; and installation of Tripp lights and a right-side tail light to facilitate night driving. Even with this work, in order to preserve its cosmetic quality the car has been driven sparingly, with fewer than 900 miles on the odometer since the initial early-1990s restoration.
J-315 has a well-documented history. Originally it was fitted with a high-roof Rollston limousine body for Mrs. Henry Evans, a New York socialite and widow of an insurance company CEO. In 1934 she traded in the car for a new Duesy (she would ultimately own 3 Duesenbergs in total). In 1935 J-315 was sent to the factory Chicago branch, which removed the limo body and fitted the chassis with a Dietrich coupe body removed from a Lincoln. J-315 remained on the Duesenberg books until the company shut down. In subsequent years the car was owned by several well-known Duesenberg purveyors and collectors, including John Troika, W.S. Edge, Owen Owens and James Dunbar, then in 1968 by Harry Andrews. Andrews removed the coupe body and commissioned construction of a dual cowl phaeton body in the style of Murphy, closely duplicating the lines of the famed William Harrah “Bluebird” Duesy – the sole example of a long-wheelbase split-rear-cowl phaeton originally built by Murphy.
Andrews then sold the still-unrestored car to Lewis Landoli, and it later went to the McGowan brothers, then in 1984 to Florida collector Bill Lassiter, who completed a beautiful cosmetic restoration with the help of Rick Carroll Restorations. In 2005 J-315 went to auction and was purchased by Houston collector John O’Quinn, then in 2011 was purchased by the present owner.
J-315’s current body was crafted in the original manner, with a wood frame and aluminum skin. Two other duplicate bodies built in the modern era were installed on Duesenberg chassis, meaning that with the original car only four examples of this body style exist on the long 153.5-inch wheelbase – rare company. The car shows only a few signs of the 25 years that have elapsed since its original restoration. It drives easily and strongly, reflecting the skills of those who brought it up to standards mechanically as well as the unsurpassed engineering expertise of its creators.
As they say, “There’s nothing like a Duesy.” Try to catch one with any classic car other than another Duesenberg, and you’ll agree.