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A.H. Walker Co.
A.H. Walker Company, 1934-1935; Indianapolis, Indiana
Associated Builders
Walker La Grande

Albert H. Walker was an Englishman from Kenilworth in Warwickshire who in 1934 took over the vacant Indianapolis Weymann American Body plant in 1934 to build a handful of bodies for Duesenberg. Only 7 Walker-built Duesenberg bodies were built before he withdrew from business in 1935, and today they’re referred to as Walker-LaGrandes. 

By 1926, Charles T. Weymann had made a fortune on his patents - he boasted of 123 licensees worldwide - but the American market proved elusive, so when Fred Moskovics approached Weymann looking for a light-weight body for his new Stutz 8, Weymann was eager to please. Both Stutz and Weymann tried to interest a few production body builders in setting up a line to build the fabric bodies for Stutz, but nobody was interested. The former Rubay/National factory was leased in Indianapolis for the new venture and the first Weymann-equipped "Safety Stutz" rolled out of the Weymann American Body Co. factory in the Spring of 1927. Although the details are sketchy, rumor has it that a substantial portion of the capital used to outfit the new factory was furnished by Stutz. The venture was described as a "uniting of European and American capital." 

George Connolly, an experienced body designer formerly of Hupmobile and Murray, was appointed president, and two bankers, Hermann Steinbrugg - a banker cousin of Weymann's - and Maurice Dollfus were elected to the board of the new firm. Steinbrugg had previously served as the US representative of Weymann and helped with the tests carried out by the Checker Cab Co., Weymann’s only American licensee. 

In 1928 Weymann American's management was reorganized. John Graham, formerly with the Holbrook Co of Hudson, NY became its president, A. H. (Bert) Walker, its chief designer and E. G. Izod its managing director. Graham, a pioneer in the custom-body field, co-founded Holbrook in 1908 and was its guiding hand for a great many years while Walker - one of Great Britain’s foremost designers and body engineers - had previously worked with C.T. Weymann in the Paris factory and had later managed the English plant. Izod had worked for Weymann’s British subsidiary in the same position. The board of directors was also reorganized with H. Leigh Whitelaw, an American natural gas company executive, elected as chair. Whitelaw probably brought in a sizable amount of cash as he was also given a seat on the parent company’s board (now called Weymann Corp.) as well as a seat on the board of Weymann Motor Bodies, Ltd, its British subsidiary. 

In 1929 Weymann issued its own catalogue depicting a number of unidentified American-looking chassis adorned with Weymann bodies. Among them were a Stutz Monte Carlo, a Pierce-Arrow coach, an L-29 Cord Faux Cabriolet and a Duesenberg Model J sedan. While Stutz remained their best customer, Weymann made a total of 13 bodies for Duesenberg including a speedster that still retains its Weymann body. 

Auto designer Gordon Buehrig worked a short time for Stutz during late 1928 and early 1929. While he was there he designed the Weymann-built boat-tail speedster bodies for the factory’s 1929 LeMans entries. He also designed most of the 13 Weymann bodies that made their way onto Duesenberg Model J chassis after he left Stutz to work for Duesenberg in 1929. (Weymann's immediate successor - the A.H. Walker Company [aka Walker-LaGrande] - built seven more bodies for Duesenberg in 1934-35). A handful of bodies were produced for Marmon, Peerless and Cord, the most famous being two Cord L-29s - a coupe and a cabriolet - built for bandleader Paul Whiteman.

Unfortunately Weymann American ceased operations - within a year of the above press release - at the end of 1931 although a few 1932 Stutz’s were equipped with leftover bodies. Weymann’s last job for Stutz was a handful of DV-32 Bearcat and Super Bearcat bodies introduced in 1931. The first few Super-Bearcats carried Weymann bodies, but when they shut their doors later that year, Murray took over their manufacture. 

Duesenberg president Harold T. Ames knew that sales of the Model J could be improved if the firm offered a series of catalog customs, however he realized that the firm’s clients wouldn’t bite unless a well-known coachbuilder was involved. Hence the mid-1930 emergence of LaGrande, Duesenberg’s exclusive in-house coachbuilder.  In reality, LaGrande was a fictitious builder, formed to help sell the designs of Duesenberg’s body designer Gordon Buehrig. 

An in-house coachbuilder enabled Duesenberg to keep close tabs on quality and give them a tidy profit as all LaGrande bodies were built by production body builders who could deliver a custom-appearing body for less than half the price of a true custom-built coach. At the time, Le Baron was the nation’s most prestigious builder, so it came as no surprise that Ames came up with a similar sounding name, LaGrande. He banked on the fact that many of their customers wouldn’t know the difference, and he was right as an estimated 29 LaGrande bodies were sold between 1931 and 1936. 

The LaGrande Sweep-Panel Phaeton made its debut at the 1931 New York Auto Salon, and was clearly based on earlier Swept-Panel designs created by Le Baron. Le Baron delineator Hugo Pfau recalled “We were unhappy to have not only our designs pirated, but even our name adapted with only a minor change and not a word of thanks or apology.” From that point on, Le Baron refused to build on the Indianapolis automaker’s chassis. 

Most of the bodies for the LeGrande program were supplied to Duesenberg in-the-white by the Union City Body Co. of Union City, Indiana. In-the-white refers to bodies delivered to a chassis manufacturer minus trim, paint, varnish and hardware. Union City was a major supplier to Auburn and the bodies for the legendary Auburn Speedsters were built there. Union City also built 8 LaGrande bodies for the Cord L-29's custom body program, 2 Town Cars, 2 Victorias, 1 Coupe, 1 Salon Sedan, 1 Boattail Speedster and 1 Sedan.

A pair of SWB roadster bodies and 2 unsold Cord L-29 bodies (one a sedan, the other unknown) were supplied to Duesenberg's LaGrande program by the Central Manufacturing Co. of Connersville, Indiana. The LaGrande Roadster coachwork was used on the much publicized 1935 SSJ roadsters while the leftover L-29 sedan body was mounted on a used Duesenberg chassis (J-189) in 1933. The other L-29 body, type unknown, was mounted on a new Duesenberg chassis (J-472) in 1933.

Central Manufacturing was a subsidiary of Errett Loban Cord’s business empire, which also included Duesenberg. The third LaGrande builder, A.H Walker Company, of Indianapolis supplied Duesenberg with bodies trimmed and painted. A.H. Walker was totally unrelated to the Walker Body Co. of Amesbury, Massachusetts which went out of business in 1931.

Harold T. Ames, Duesenberg’s president, wanted the firm’s coachwork to have a distinctive, yet congruous appearance. He greatly admired the work of Stutz’s in-house designer, Gordon Buehrig, and hired him as Duesenberg’s chief body designer a few days after the 1929 Indianapolis 500. Most early Duesenberg bodies were designed by Buehrig and built by outside coachbuilders such as Brunn, Derham, Holbrook, Judkins, Le Baron, Murphy, Rollston and Willoughby. Buehrig’s most popular design was the Beverly Sedan, built by both Murphy and Rollston. His personal favorites were the Derham Tourster and the Brunn Torpedo Phaeton (actually a convertible sedan). 

Philip Derham was Duesenberg’s official coachbuilders’ representative and spent lots of time on the road visiting the automaker’s authorized coachbuilders ensuring that Buehrig’s designs were adhered to. When Buehrig resigned in 1932, the factory coachwork program was put on the back burner and J. Herbert Newport Jr. was promoted to chief designer. Newport had previously worked with Derham at the short-lived Floyd-Derham works and was hired by Duesenberg on his recommendation. Newport had previously worked for Studebaker, Dietrich and Brunn before joining Duesenberg in February of 1933. Alex Tremulis, another legendary designer, was hired by Ames in 1933 to assist Newport and eventually became Auburn’s chief stylist when Buehrig left to work for Budd in 1936. 

A few Duesenberg bodies were designed by a handful of other coachbuilders, although Duesenberg claimed that all of their designs had to be approved in advance. The non-official builders included Barker, Fleetwood, Floyd-Derham (completed by Wolfington), Franay, Hibbard & Darrin, Kellner and F.R. Wood & Son. When Buehrig left Duesenberg in 1932, J. Herbert Newport Jr. took over as the firm’s chief designer. Newport is credited with the design of the two short wheelbase Duesenberg SSJ roasters as well as the Lilly Coupe now owned by Jay Leno. Buehrig returned to the automaker late in 1933 to design the Baby Duesenberg, but spent most of his time working on new designers for Auburn. 

Walker’s highly skilled craftsmen and low-key operation were well suited to prototype development and it was in the Walker factory that the body for the prototype Cord 810 (Cord E-1) was built using an experimental chassis designed by August Duesenberg. The coachwork was designed by Gordon Buehrig, who had recently been re-hired by Harold Ames to help design a ‘baby Duesenberg’ using components sourced from the Auburn parts bin. The stunning 4-door sedan was completed in ten weeks during the spring of 1934, but was set aside for a number of months while Ames and Buehrig tended to more important matters such as face-lifting the 1935 Auburns. 

When Duesenberg wanted another pair of Brunn Torpedo Phaetons they contacted Bert Walker who was looking for work following the closure of Weymann-American. Weymann-American had built two “Brunn” Torpedo Phaetons for Duesenberg before they shut their doors, and Walker was the logical choice to supply additional examples. Walker took out a short-term lease on the Indianapolis Weymann plant in 1934 and hired a handful of former Weymann craftsmen and got to work. In addition to the 2 Torpedo Phaetons, Walker also built 3 Convertible Coupes, the famous J. Herbert Newport Jr.-designed Lilly Coupe (owned by Jay Leno) and a Convertible Sedan that was finished by Bohman & Schwartz after Walker closed shop in early 1935 and returned to his native England. 

The Depression had put a severe damper on Duesenberg sales and unsold chassis were piling up in Indiana. Things were just as bad at many of the firm’s authorized coach builders, Murphy closed down in 1932 and many of the others were close to bankruptcy. Designs and bodies in the white dating from the early thirties were mothballed until sales slowly began to pick up in 1934. A number of coach builders began to specialize in customizing existing Duesenberg bodies and re-bodying earlier Duesenberg chassis. The leader in the field was Bohman & Schwartz of Pasadena, California which was formed by Christian Bohman and Maurice Schwartz, two former Murphy employees. Duesenberg was no longer in any position to dictate how their chassis could be bodied and a number of unusual bodies were built by the Pasadena coachbuilder for their eccentric Hollywood clientele. 

The GAF Auto Museum in Longview Texas houses the original automotive drawings of J. Herbert Newport Jr. Many of Gordon Buehrig’s originals can be seen at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana.

© 2004 Mark Theobald -






Griffith Borgeson - Errett Lobban Cord: His Empire, His Motor Cars

LaGrande Mystery - Automobile Quarterly Vol 39 No 4

Dennis E. Horvath & Terri Horvath - Cruise IN: A Guide to Indiana's Automotive Past and Present

Beverly Rae Kimes - "E.L.: His Cord and His Empire" Automobile Quarterly, Vol 18, No 2

Dan Burger - "The Career and Creations of Alan H. Leamy" Automobile Quarterly Vol. 20, No. 2

Josh B. Malks - Cord 810/812: The Timeless Classic

Lee Beck & Josh B. Malks - Auburn & Cord

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Car

Beverly Rae Kimes - The Classic Era

Beverly Rae Kimes & Henry Austin Clark Jr. - Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942

Nick Georgano - The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile: Coachbuilding

Marian Suman-Hreblay - Dictionary of World Coachbuilders and Car Stylists

Michael Lamm and Dave Holls - A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design

Fred Roe - Duesenberg: The Pursuit of Perfection

Hugo Pfau - The Custom Body Era

Griffith Borgeson - Cord: His Empire His Motor Cars

Don Butler - Auburn Cord Duesenberg

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