Although Gordon Buehrig (pronounced 'b-yur-ig') was by his own admission a mediocre artist, he managed to make an exceptional career for himself as an automobile designer. He had an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time, and during his 4½ decades in the business worked on some of America's most appreciated automobiles.
Fellow stylist Richard A. Teague summed it up best in the prologue to Buehrig's 1975 autobiography:
Buehrig considered himself an automobile architect and sculptor rather than a technologist and engineer. Throughout his career, he chose opportunities to create individual new designs over those which offered financial security and career advancements and was awarded 15 US Patents during his lifetime.
He was a master of the clay model and was the first designer to incorporate the moveable styling bridge, an inverted U-shaped measuring tool that traveled transversely over the length of the car on tracks. With it, any point on the surface of the vehicle could be instantly located in space, and matched to the corresponding point on a body draft. Although styling bridges are now computer-controlled, they're still found in the world's leading design studios, a full 80 years after Buehrig introduced them.
Buehrig also worked on the design staffs of Raymond Loewy Inc., the Budd Mfg. Co., Consolidated Aircraft, Dietrich Inc., General Motors Art and Colour, Goodyear, Gotfredson Body Co. and the King Seeley Co. At one time or another Buehrig worked at or designed bodies for such varied manufacturers as Auburn, Buick, Cord, Duesenberg, Ford, Franklin, Jewett, Lincoln, Packard, Peerless, Pierce-Arrow, Studebaker, Stutz, White Truck and Wills Ste Claire.
Buehrig was personally responsible for the design of the Auburn 851 Speedster, the Cord 810/812 and over half the coachwork that graced Duesenberg's Model J: the Beverly Berline (built by Murphy, Rollston and Weymann); the Tourster (built by Derham); the Town Car (a single example built by Brunn); the Twenty Grand (a single example built by Rollston); the Convertible Torpedo Victoria (built by Rollston); and the Torpedo Phaeton (built by Brunn and Weymann-American).
He also designed the stillborn Tasco sportscar and patented its removable T-Top, which would turn up two decades later on the 1968 Corvette. He ended his corporate career at the Ford Motor Co. where he designed Ford's first convertible hardtop, spearheaded the design of the Continental Mark I and Continental Mark II and helped engineer its stillborn retractable hardtop which debuted on the 1957 Ford. After retiring from Ford Buehrig taught design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California and later in life introduced his own Corvette-based neo-classic coupe, the Buehrig Motor Car. One of his last projects was working as a consultant for The Franklin Mint which was in the process of putting out a series of highly detailed 1:24 and 1:16 scale classic car models, several of which Buehrig had designed originally.
According to C. Edson Armi, who conducted an extensive interview with Buehrig in preparation for his 1988 book, 'The Art of American Car Desiqn: The Profession and Personalities':
Gordon Miller Buehrig was born on June 18, 1904 in Mason City, Mason City Township, Mason County, Illinois to Fred William and Mary Louise (Miller) Buehrig. He had an older brother, Donald Fredrick Buehrig, (b. January 16, 1902 - d. February 20 1972) who was born on January 16, 1902. The 1910 US Census lists the family on Menard St., Mason City, their father's occupation, cashier at the Central Illinois State Bank (reorganized as the Mason City National Bank in 1944).
The father of our subject was born on September 5, 1869 in Fort Madison, Iowa to Fredrick and Caroline Buehrig, two German immigrants. The 1870 US Census lists Gordon's grandfather's occupation as 'retail dealer in books and shoes', his grandmother's birthplace as the Alsace-Lorraine.
Our subject's mother, Mary Louise (Miller) Buehrig, was born on December 9, 1873 in San Jose, Illinois to Frederick H. and Mary (Skinner) Miller. Her father was born in New Hampshire, her mother in Oswego, New York.
The 1920 US Census lists the family around the corner from Menard St. on Division St., Mason City – his father's position remains as cashier at the Central Illinois State Bank.
As a youngster he was fascinated by automobiles and was frustrated because his father didn't own one. His older cousin acquired a 1904 Orient Buckboard and started to build a special car on this primitive chassis. Gordon and his brother, then high school students, inherited the project when their cousin got another car. They attempted to construct a speedster body for the Buckboard, using screen wire over a wooden frame, covering this with a mixture of sawdust and glue. Finding this unsatisfactory, the boys covered the framework with canvas and motored about the small Illinois town in their miniature speedster.
As youngsters the two Buehrig boys were fascinated with automobiles and were disappointed that their father, who was cashier (aka manager) of the Central Illinois State Bank, wouldn't buy one. As teenagers they acquired a half-completed 1904 Orient Buckboard project car from a cousin and proceeded to turn it into a speedster, creating their own coachwork using a wooden frame covered with wire screening. The original surface of the 'Hoopus' (their name for the jalopy), a homegrown concoction of sawdust and glue, proved unsatisfactory and was subsequently replaced with doped canvas.
Luckily for the boys their family was relatively well-off when compared to their Mason City neighbors, allowing both of them to pursue higher education after secondary school. After graduating from High School in 1920, Donald attended Bradley Polytechnic Institute in Peoria, Illinois and after his 1925 graduation embarked on a sales career, moving to Los Angeles where he sold insurance and worked as a buyer at Lockheed.
Gordon followed in his older brother's footsteps, embarking on a course of liberal arts study with an emphasis on fine art after graduating from high school in 1922. Although he had hoped to graduate with Bradley Polytechnic's class of 1926, fate intervened in the form of an angry Chemistry professor.
Thinking his academic career was likely over, he moved to Chicago, Illinois that summer, taking a job as a Yellow Cab driver that July, a position which presented him with an opportunity to closely observe the elegant vehicles that filled the streets of the Windy City. As it remains today, the minimum age for a Chicago hack was 21 years-old, and his supervisor eventually discovered Buehrig was only 19, and he was fired just after Thanksgiving of 1923.
In response to an article on taxi cabs published in the October 1979 issue of Special Interest Autos, Buehrig sent in the following letter which appeared in the June 1980 issue of the same publication:
His time as a cabbie had only heightened his interest in designing automobiles and that Fall he made inquiries at local firms engaged in the construction of custom coachwork. One of the firm's he visited – he also mentions Graff (Graff Mfg. / Graff Motor Coach Co.) in his autobiography – was C.P. Kimball & Co., an old Chicago firm that traced its ancestry to one of New England's finest carriage building families.
That November he walked in to the offices of C.P. Kimball & Co. and asked if he could speak to the firm's designer to see how he could get a foot in the door, so to speak. Detroit native Clarence E. Wexelberg, Kimball's primary designer, body engineer and draftsman, agreed to see him, and the pair discussed how to prepare for his chosen career, suggesting that he get some more education and look for a position with Fisher Body Co. or C.R. Wilson Body Co., two of Detroit's largest concerns at the time.
The first step involved returning to college, and that January (1924), he returned to the Bradley Polytechnic Institute in Peoria and signed up for a full semester of courses in art, drafting, metalwork and woodworking. When the first semester of 1924 ended that May, Buehrig wrote letters to each firm and upon receiving several favorable responses went to Detroit for interviews. Buehrig recalled:
At the time, Jones was in the process of leaving C.R. Wilson, having taken a position as chief engineer of the Gotfredson Body Co., a truck manufacturer who had recently expanded into the production of automobile bodies for third parties such as Jewett, Peerless and Wills Sainte Claire.
Jones liked Buehrig and offered him a 40 cents per hour position as an apprentice in Gotfredson's sample body shop starting on November 8, 1924. During the next year he became familiar with all aspects of composite body construction under the watchful eye of Bill Jones, Gotredson's chief draftsman and Walter's brother. Buehrig polished up his orthographic drawing skills as a detailer – the person who added measurements and final touches to the full-sized body drafts – and learned how to run the blueprint machine, which made copies of the full size body drafts for each department. At that time Gotfredson was building touring car bodies for Jewett, sedans for Peerless a roadster and sedan for Wills Sainte Claire.
As most of the early automobile pioneers were mechanics and engineers they naturally turned to carriage builders to supply them with the bodies for the early horseless carriages. Prior to the wide-scale adoption of all-steel bodies in the late 1930s, the design and tooling required for composite coachwork was a somewhat inexpensive and straightforward process and was pretty much the same whether the body be custom-built, or constructed in large numbers.
The designer was given the task of coming up with the overall shape of the body, proportioned to fit the dimensions of a given chassis and interior. This generally did not include the fenders, grill, or any other part of the front end of the vehicle as the coach-builder's designer was typically only responsible for the parts behind the cowl/firewall.
Once the design was finalized and agreed to by the client, the designer handed of the project to the body engineer, who would decide how to construct the wood framing that would support the doors, windows and exterior metalwork. Once the intricate structure was designed and approved, his assistants, the body draftsmen would produce the full size drafts required before the project was shipped off to the woodworking department. The draftsmen were responsible for accurately depicting every joint, plate, and screw that would hold the numerous small wooden components together that made up the body framework. Many of the screws lay directly underneath the metal skin and had to be countersunk, so they wouldn't poke through the thin sheet-metal.
The sample body shop – where Buehrig served his first apprenticeship – would build a prototype body framework directly from the full-sized body draft. Every screw and wooden component would be test fit, to make sure to make sure no problems would emerge once the body entered into production. Unlike the regular production line, these wooden components were not glued together, as the entire frame had to disassembled afterward so that the parts could be numbered, shellacked and sent off to the tooling department where skilled artisans created the various jigs and guides that held the components while they made their way through the banks of wood shaping and milling machines once full scale production commenced. Once the jigs were made up, and the components run through and measured for conformity with the model part, the project was taken over by the woodworking department where they would run off the exact number required to complete the production run.
Buehrig estimated that at Gotfredson, it cost between $30,000 and $40,000 to produce the models and tooling required to make one distinct body style. At Gotfredson 400 duplicate bodies would be produced during a typical production run. Multiple orders of the same style decreased the cost of tooling as the expense could be spread out over say 800 bodies, instead of the initial 400, creating larger profits for the coach-builder.
As Gotfredson had a limited number of woodworking machines, once 400 examples of one part were milled, the machines were reset to make the next run of 400. A typical wooden body frame might contain 60 different wooden components requiring 60 different milling operations. The shellacked master model and associated jig would be returned to the tool storage room, and the next set brought out so the milling machine could be set up for the next run of 400.
The manufacture of 400 bodies required stockpiling 24,000 wooden components and keeping them separate, as mixing up similar parts from different body types wood create a nightmare in the production framing department. This was where the approximately 60 different wooden parts required to complete the body were fitted together using a massive purpose-built body framing jig. Here the frame would be screwed & glued together permanently, after which the body was sent off to the metal shop where stamped steel or aluminum panels were drilled and nailed to the wooden framework.
Much larger firms like Fisher Body might dedicate a single machine and operator to shaping just one part, as the numbers they required were significantly larger – a typical Fisher Body order might consist of 4,000 duplicate bodies in those days – and they could easily afford to buy the extra machines required.
Composite bodies normally required various types of molding to hide the numerous seams that were left exposed after the metal panels were nailed to the wooden framework. Belt moldings covered the horizontal seams and vertical moldings and window surrounds covered the remaining ones. Just like today's automotive trim, the system used to attach the molding was hidden once the body was painted. Although some larger pieces were fastened from behind using attached studs, most molding was attached using a hammer. In a 1984 interview Buehrig described the process used by Gotfredson as follows:
In May of 1925 Buehrig was transferred from Gotfredson's sample body shop to the body engineering department to the body engineering department where he worked as an apprentice body draftsman under Bill Jones, Gotfredson's chief draftsman (and Walter Jones' brother). Buehrig was now just one step away from the design department – amazing considering he had only work in the business for six months. After working at Gotfredson for a little over a year Buehrig had learned the techniques of creating body drafts and creating full-sized sample bodies, and was now ready to make the next step. As Clarence E. Wexelberg had originally suggested back in the fall of 1923, Buehrig began looking for a higher-paying position in Detroit, taking a position as a draftsman in the body engineering department of Dietrich, Inc. on January 14, 1926.
At the time Dietrich was Detroit's most prestigious custom body firm, having been formed when Raymond H. Dietrich had split from LeBaron Carrossiers (and his partners Thomas L. Hibbard and Ralph Roberts) to go on his own. Financial backing for the move came from the Murray Corp., a large Detroit production body builder who was working closely with the Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln Division. At that time Dietrich was building semi-custom (aka series-built custom) bodies for Franklin, Lincoln, Packard and Pierce-Arrow. They also constructed an occasional full-custom (or one-off) body on a foreign or domestic chassis for a wealthy automotive executive or for display by a production body client at an automobile show or salon.
Although fully custom-built and series-production built bodies look identical to a layman, there are two key differences in the parts that lay underneath the two types of bodies. Production bodies were typically framed with hard maple and sheathed in stamped sheet steel panels. A full custom body used stronger white ash framework and was covered by hand-formed aluminum panels. The distinction between the materials used involved involved weight, strength and precision and most importantly cost. The heavier production body could be constructed for significantly less money than the custom body where cost was a minimal concern, especially when building one-off bespoke creations for wealthy clients. The difference could be enormous; a basic production Ford composite body in 1927 might cost as little as $45, a basic series-built custom body on a Packard might go for $1,200, while a completely custom-built body for a Rolls-Royce sometimes exceeded $15,000.
Dietrich Inc. bodies were distinguished by their clear-vision window pillars, an extremely narrow bronze casting that offered drivers increased forward vision – a safety feature championed by Ray Dietrich who claimed that because the width of his pillar was less than the distance between your eyes, it effectively eliminated the forward blind spots that had plagued motorists after the windshield was first introduced to the automobile at the turn of the century.
After a short six months working in Dietrich Inc.'s body drafting department Buehrig decided he wanted to work for Walter M. Murphy Co. - the most prestigious builder at that time - in Pasadena, California. Buehrig resigned in August and soon after made the trip out to the West Coast accompanied by his older brother Donald. Although the two brothers fell in love with the California climate, neither of them landed a job, and they returned to the Midwest soon after.
In December of 1926, Buehrig took a position with the Detroit office of the Edward G. Budd Co. as a body draftsman. He got laid off after Christmas and through a man he met at Budd, found a higher-paying $200-a-month job at Packard as a detailer and body draftsman which commenced on January 16, 1927. At this time he was not a very experienced body layout man and my work on the full-sized boards was largely confined to making drawings of the body panels. However Buehrig fondly recalled his short time at the automaker years later:
While working for Packard, Buehrig gained the friendship of a recent MIT engineering graduate named Frederick J. Hooven who presented him with a copy of a recently translated collection of Le Corbusier's essays advocating for and exploring the concept of modern architecture. Originally published in 1923, the French architect's book,'Toward New Architecture' helped Buehrig formulate much of the philosophy of design which he used later in designing automobiles.
Another friend, fellow delineator Joseph Pizzo, had recently been hired by Harley Earl who was assembling designers to staff the newly-created General Motors central design department, which was known as Art & Colour. While playing tennis together in early 1928 Pizzo suggested that Buehrig go have a talk with Earl. He arranged an interview the following week where Buehrig was offered a position as an apprentice designer / aka junior designer or 'design assistant'. He took the advice of his friend Fred J. Hooven, who advised him to “follow his conscience and he'd never regret it.”
Although it meant a $30 per month reduction in salary Buehrig took the job, joining the growing staff of Earl's Art & Colour department which was located on the 10th floor of the GM Building at 3044 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit.
Prior to the formation of Art and Colour, there was little if any interchangeability of body parts among General Motors' various division save for some interior and exterior hardware. At the time Fisher Body was slowly implementing a changeover from composite to all-steel body construction which meant a significant increase in tooling costs. By establishing a central design department within General Motors Earl was able to put together a plan whereby Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Pontiac were able to share three basic body shells allowing amortization of the cost of tooling to be split between them based on how many cars of each body shell type each division produced.
At Art & Colour Buehrig's first task was to submit designs for the instrument panel of the upcoming 1929 Buick, a special model that commemorated the marque's silver anniversary. Most of the rest of the car had been completed by the time of his arrival. In his autobiography Buehrig had little recollection of the instrument panel but enthusiastically discussed the Art & Colour clay modeling process, which he would soon adopt in a major way.
It was the first time Buehrig had seen a full-size clay model in the flesh and the technique was so new that General Motors was forced to import its modeling clay from Germany as it was a different formula than the type used by ceramic artists and sculptors. Automotive clay is very sensitive to heat, and at normal room temperatures is very hard, but at 105° is very soft and pliable. Although they use electric ovens to heat the clay today, back then the simply dropped the clay bars into buckets of boiling water to heat them up after which the modelers pushed the warmed clay directly onto the wooden armature. General Motors eventually found a domestic source for the clay in Jersey City, NJ, named the Chavant Manufacturing Co. which was able to duplicate the German formula and has supplied the same formula to the North American automobile industry ever since.
Buehrig recalled the first time John Lutz, an experienced German clay modeler working for Earl, let him sculpt a fender in clay:
In his autobiography Buehrig also defends Harley Earl's claim that Fisher Body screwed up the look of the 1929 Buick, the first model designed by Earl's Art and Colour Department, which was described to the press as looking 'pregnant' by Walter P. Chrysler upon its introduction. The comment, by Buick's largest competitor, was widely repeated in the nation's press and is often given as the reason why Buick's 1929 sales were so poor in relation to their competitions. It may have been a contributing factor, but most Buick historians site the brand's poor performance, poor mileage and stodgy image as other contributing factors. Buick's sales had been in a steady decline since 1927 when it produced 255,160 cars. 1928 sales declined further to 221,758 and in 1929 only 196,104 Buicks were constructed. While the rest of the industry experienced a 20% increase in production in 1929 Buick's market share slipped from 5.8 to 4.3 percent during the same period.
As manufactured, the new 1929 Buick appeared swollen because of its unusual bulging belt-line, which was highlighted by the piece of trim that circled the car below the windows to hide the body seams and to add some style. When viewed head-on the car appeared to bulge out at the sides, which was very noticeable in when you compared the Buick to its competitors, which still featured the same slab-side styling that had been popular for over a decade.
Earl claimed, and Buehrig, confirms below, that as originally designed, the 1929 Buick was in fact far more attractive than the production version, arguing that Fisher Body Co.'s Engineering and Manufacturing Department significantly altered the design of the greenhouse – the area above the belt-line that includes the roof and windows - to reduce the costs of tooling and manufacturing the required sheet-metal and underlying wooden framework.
Buehrig bought his first new while working at General Motors - a 1929 Buick roadster which included the instrument panel which he had designed. However, he was ill-prepared to make the $80-a-month payment that went along with it, and soon discovered he had little money left to live on.
In an interview with Clement Edson Armi, Buehrig recalled how intimidating his boss, Harley Earl, was:
Buehrig had only been working at Art & Colour since the Spring of 1928 and ruled out asking his imposing boss for a raise. He elected to try and find a higher-paying position elsewhere, and set up a meeting with a representative of the Stutz Motor Car Co., who was in Detroit interviewing applicants for an open position in the auto manufacturer's design department back in Indianapolis. He was hired as Stutz' resident body designer, negotiating a salary sufficient to pay for his new Buick, and his room and board too. In his autobiography, Buehrig reflect on his hasty decision to leave Art & Colour:
However, if he had stayed at GM it's unlikely he would have gone on to design the great cars he's known for today. Historically only a handful of the designers working under Earl received the credit they deserved, and it unlikely Buehrig would have been given the autonomy necessary to come up with the striking designs he created while working for Errett Lobban Cord.
Buehrig officially left the employ of General Motors on November 28, 1928 and later that week drove his new Buick to New York City to attend the 5-day New York Auto Salon accompanied by friend and former Dietrich Inc. co-worker Jack Keegan. The pair drove from Detroit to New York City non-stop, arriving at their destination in 26 hours, 20 minutes, about twice what the 849-mile trip would take today.
The hit of the Salon was the Duesenberg Model J, which was introduced to the world on December 1st via a prominent display in the lobby of the Hotel Commodore. Buehrig especially liked the Model J Phaeton that had been bodied by LeBaron and the stunning Convertible Roadster body by Pasadena's Walter J. Murphy.
Once the show closed, the pair returned to the Midwest and on December 10, 1928 Buehrig started work at Stutz' engineering department in Indianapolis. The firm had recently introduced a slightly smaller companion car to the 1928 Stutz called the Blackhawk in an attempt to grab a share of the expanding medium-priced market. The premium-priced $3,000 Stutz came with a straight-8 and the $2,000 Blackhawk, a straight-six.
Buehrig shared an apartment with Jack Beaty, a young Stutz accountant who explained to him the ins and outs of automobile production finances. He soon realized that Stutz' current income did not allow the firm to underwrite a new body design for the upcoming 1930 models – the job he thought he was hired to do. However Buehrig did embark on several interesting projects at Stutz; a redesign of the cowl and windshields on the firm's slow-selling open models; the design of a boat-tail speedster which would appear on three Stutz race cars entered in the 1929 24 Heures du Mans (24 hours of LeMans); and the design of a short-wheelbase sports convertible.
He designed the latter while on a short visit to the LeBaron plant in Detroit to discuss his planned design changes for the firm's open bodies during February of 1929. Upon returning to Indianapolis he excitedly showed his rendering to the firm's management, but was unable to get them to commit to producing it at the time. However, shortly after he left the firm Stutz announced the Super Bearcat, which looked nearly identical to the sports roadster design he submitted in early 1929. Built in very small numbers (10 known examples) from 1932-1933, the Super Bearcat was fitted with Stutz' legendary DV-32 (Dual Valve) straight-8 and remains one of the most sought-after Stutzes of all time.
The firm's new-for-1928 bodies had been designed by Ralph Roberts and his staff at Brigg's LeBaron design studios in Detroit and remained much the same for the 1929 model year. To reduce costs, the Stutz and the Blackhawk shared the same bodies which on the former were attractive as it had a longer wheelbase and longer hood than the latter. However, the bodies looked too big for the Blackhawk - an impression that was compounded when the cars were placed next to one another.
The Briggs Mfg.-built enclosed bodies were well-designed and on the Stutz chassis had very good proportions. However the firm's open cars - speedster, rumble-seat roadster and phaeton - were not very attractive and Buehrig was given the task of improving them with a minimum of expense.
The open coachwork featured cut-down front doors, which although popular on the Continent, looked awkward on the significantly larger Stutz / Blackhawk whose bloated cockpits forced their folding windshields to be located too far forward. Buehrig eliminated the cut-down door and made the cowl deeper, which allowed the windshield to be moved closer to the driver. He also designed a new instrument panel which combined with the body alterations had the effect of wrapping the car around the driver and front seat passenger, providing a more intimate relationship with the automobile.
He also addressed the tendency of the firm's windshields to pop up in the driver's face at speed. As was the normal practice across the industry Stutz' folding windshields were held in the up or down position by a pair of friction nuts (hand-operated knurled knobs) located bi-laterally in the centerline of the side posts. When folded down, the top portion had a nasty tendency to flop up in your face at speed if those two nuts weren't securely tightened.
Buehrig solved the problem by revising the knurled hold-down nut (the folding connection) to include a two-position (or 2-notch) locking pin. The tapered pin allowed the frame to lock in place - the first notch securely held it in the down position, the second notch held it securely in the up position. Changing the position of the windshield required significantly less strength than before as once the pin snapped into place, the notches in the assembly prevented the top part of the assembly from moving, either up or down.
His efforts on the open cars were rewarded by increased sales of the premium Stutz, however nothing could be done to save the poor-selling Blackhawk, whose very existence did nothing but tarnish the prestige of the firm which posted a $2.4 million loss in fiscal 1929.
Prior to Buehrig's arrival at Stutz, French coach-builder Charles Weymann had taken 2nd place in the 1928 24 Heures du Mans using a single Stutz DV16 Blackhawk speedster co-driven by Edouard Brisson and Robert Bloch. Weymann, who was financially interested in the Weymann American Co., one of Stutz' primary production body builders, planned on entering 3 Stutz race-cars in the June 1929 spectacle, and commissioned Stutz engineers to design three new cars capable of winning the event.
Included in Stutz’s 1928-29 catalog were half-a-dozen models by Weymann-American, mostly two or four door sedans on both the standard 134½-inch and longer 145-inch wheelbase that was used for seven-passenger models and custom bodies. They were aggressively priced midway between Stutz’s regular production bodies and the series-built customs they were buying from Fleetwood and LeBaron. Included in the 12pp catalog were the following Weymann-built bodies: Aix-les-bains, Biarritz, Chamonix, Chantilly, Deauville, Monaco, and Versailles.
For the 1929 Le Mans speedsters Stutz' chassis engineers utilized a Blackhawk frame in which a DV-16 engine and 4-speed transmission was installed several inches to the rear of its normal location, allowing the radiator to be placed directly above the front axle. Mounted in front of it was a Roots-type supercharger which was driven off the front end of the crankshaft, Blower Bentley-style. The Stutz straight-8 was bored to 3 3/8 inches, giving the 322 cu. in. engine 115 hp at 3,600 rpm or 155 hp with the blower engaged.
As Stutz' sole designer, Buehrig was given the task of designing an aerodynamic fabric body for the new LeMans entries that would be compatible with Weymann's lightweight construction principles. The French coach-builder's system provided additional flexibility and reduced noise, but required an extra rigid frame to work effectively. Per M. Weymann's instructions and the governing body's regulations, Buehrig designed an open four-seat speedster that was very short on space for the rear seat passengers, recalling:
The speedster bodies were constructed across town at the Weymann-American plant utilizing an ultra-light white ash framework approximately one-third the weight of typical American-built composite body of the same size.
Weymann stated that his frame was based on his 'principle of four parallelograms,' but in actuality the framing was constructed using a series of parallelograms and arches. Vertical posts at the cowl, windshield, and A, B and C-pillars were all joined to their corresponding posts on the opposite side of the body by a curved bow. These frames were in turn attached to the body sills in a semi-flexible manner with cross-members of wood joining the opposing body sills wherever possible.
The body used an ultra-light ash framework, held together by 4mm-thick (1/8”) I, L and T-shaped steel plates instead of the mortise-and-tenon joints used by other coach-builders. To cut down on squeaks, the plates were separated from the wooden frame during assembly using greaseproof paper and 2- to 7-mm spacers that held the wood in place while each brace was screwed to the two (or three) adjoining pieces of wood. Most adjoining wood sections were kept two millimeters (1/16”) apart, while door openings had a clearance of four millimeters (1/8”) along the hinge side, and seven millimeters (7/32”) at the lock or opening side where more flexibility was natural. Once the frame was completely assembled, the spacers were removed and could be re-used on the next body.
When a rounded corner was desired, such as the corners of the cowl or the back of the roof, small metal panels were placed between the framework and the fabric in order to give the body the proper contour and support. Straining wires were used inside the doors so that they held their shape when opened. Custom locks were fabricated that allowed the doors to move silently within the framework when stressed due to bumping, rapid acceleration or braking.
Large open areas were covered with chicken wire and the assembled framework was then covered in muslin, followed by a thin layer of cotton batting and finally a pigmented synthetic leather - usually a pyroxylin-coated fabric such as DuPont’s Zapon in much in the same way as the roofs of conventional bodies were covered at the time. Other brands of synthetic leather at the time were: Fabrikoid (DuPont), Drednaut (Chase), Elascofab, Meritas (Standard Textile), Rexine, and Tole Souple - The final step was to affix decorative aluminum moldings to the beltline and to cover any exposed joints in the fabric. The completed body was then mounted to the chassis with rubber insulators.
The finished speedster bodies were extremely light but were somewhat limited in shape because of their construction, however Buehrig was pleased with his design work. However 1929 did not prove to be a great year for Weymann's LeMans entries, of the three cars entered, only the Stutz of Guy Bouriat / George Philippe (Baron Philippe de Rothschild) finished the race, taking fifth position with an average speed of 64.8 mph.
Just as Stutz was completing the finishing touches on their new Duesenberg-based DV32 engine, a twin overhead cam straight-8 with 4 valves per cylinder which provided them with a much-needed shot in the arm, Buehrig heard that Duesenberg was looking for a designer. During the first week of June, a few days after the 1929 Indianapolis 500, he scheduled an interview with Harold T. Ames, Duesenberg's vice-president of sales, at which time he presented his portfolio. Ames liked what he saw and offered Buehrig a job to design bodies and act as an intermediary between Duesenberg’s clients and coach builders. On June 10, 1929, Buehrig commenced working for Duesenberg as the firm's in-house body designer, for which he earned $300 a month, $130 a month more than he was earning at GM's Art & Colour.
Buehrig would spend most of the next 8 years working with Ames so a short biography of the brilliant automotive executive is in order. Ames himself provided the following details of his automotive adventures with E.L. Cord in a speech before a gathering of the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club on September 1, 1963:
Three days into his stint at Duesenberg Buehrig and Ames made a brief tour of Duesenberg's northeast coach-builders (Derham, Judkins, Holbrook and Willoughby) in order to become familiar with their staff and facilities.
At that time Duesenberg's total payroll was less than 50 persons. Officers and management consisted of Errett Lobban Cord, president; Frederick Samuel Duesenberg, vice-president and chief engineer; Harold T. Ames, vice-president and sales manager; and Pearl Watson, vice-president and factory manager. The engineering department consisted of one engineer - Fred Duesenberg, a chief draftsman named Walter Trummel, 6 chassis draftsmen, Buehrig and a blueprint boy named Oscar Hadley who ran the antiquated blueprint machine. Fred Duesenberg didn't even have a secretary and spent most of his time out in the plant. The firm's owner, E.L. Cord was rarely in Indianapolis and Buehrig claimed he never once saw him at the plant during the time he worked there.
When Cord purchased the struggling Duesenberg Motors Co. in 1926 and reorganized it as Duesenberg Inc., only Fred was included in the new organization. His younger brother Augie (Augustus Samuel Duesenberg) remained in charge of the brothers' race car-building business (Duesenberg Bros.) and had nothing to do with the design and development of the Model J which was solely the work of Frederick. However Fred retained an interest in Duesenberg Brothers' racing activities which was run by his younger brother Augie and located across the street in the block just west of the Duesenberg Inc. plant at the northeast corner of W. Washington and Koehne Sts. They leased space on the second floor of Thompson Bros. Pattern Works Inc., 1542 W. Washington St., a machine shop founded in 1921 by brothers Eli E., Leon C., Webb W. and Horace E. Thompson. Augie employed half-a-dozen men including his son Fred Duesenberg Jr. and race car driver Wilbur Shaw, who later became general manager of the Indianapolis Speedway.
Originally constructed by the Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Co., Inc. in 1921, the Duesenberg Inc. plant was located at 1511 W. Washington St. (actually 1501-1513 W. Washington), Indianapolis, Indiana, just west of a railroad overpass. Duesenberg's offices were in a two-story building* located at the southwest corner of W. Washington and Harding Sts. The entrance led into a small, dark lobby where a Model J engine was prominently displayed.
Buehrig described the layout of the building's interior - which can be seen in the floor plans to the right - as follows:
The Duesenberg Model J's styling elements - fenders, headlamps, grill, radiator shell, hood and instrument panel - were finalized well before Buehrig became associated with the firm and are now believed to have been the work of Alan H. Leamy*. However, Harold T. Ames and Errett Lobban Cord certainly had a say in the resulting creation, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful front ends (radiator, front fenders, lights, hood, cowl and dashboard) of the Classic Era.
*Some Duesenberg Model J accounts solely credit Leamy with the design of the front end of the prototype Model J styling elements, one supporting account being included in George Philip & Stacey Pankiw Hanley’s ‘Marmon Heritage’ (pp.451 – pub.1985):
Author Dan Burger in his 1983 Automobile Quarterly article on Leamy also raises the question of Leamy’s involvement citing certain statements made after the fact by automobile designer / instructor Strother MacMinn as evidence.
In his book on E.L. Cord, historian Griffith Borgeson theorizes:
The fact that both the Leamy-designed Cord L-29 and the Model J were introduced almost simultaneously is sometimes referenced as evidence of Leamy’s involvement; however that merely proves coincidence and not fact. In his book ‘The Duesenberg’ J. Herbert Newport, Jr., Duesenberg’s chief body designer from 1934-36, is noticeably silent about who designed the front end.
In his book ‘Rolling Sculpture’ Buehrig states that Harold Ames and E.L. Cord - not Leamy - were responsible for the design of the car:
Although during his lifetime Leamy was never directly credited with the front end of the Duesenberg Model J, it’s certainly possible he was consulted by E.L. Cord regarding the matter and a comparison between the front end of the Cord L-29 and Duesenberg Model J reveals some similarities.
A drawing uncovered by Auburn/Duesenberg expert and restorer Randy Ema shows a side and front view of the Model J’s fenders, providing their exact dimensions and distances between the various anchoring points commonly used by body engineers to create the master drafts used to creating the body dies needed to create sheet metal stampings. It’s signed by Leamy and marked ‘OK’ by Fred Duesenberg who dated it Aug. 20, 1928.
In Automobile Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 4, Lee Beck states that the drawing is the proof that Leamy designed the Model J stating:
The drawing bearing Leamy’s signature concerns itself with the fenders only, the front end of the car only being included for reference. However in his Automobile Quarterly article, 'Chariots of the Gods: The Grandeur of the Model J Duesenberg' (AQ, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Summer 1992), Randy Ema states conclusively that:
Gordon Buehrig addressed the subject in a letter published in the ACD Club Newsletter during the Summer of 1979 (Vol. 28, No. 5):
He readdressed the issue in another letter to the editor of the ACD Club Newsletter, during the summer of 1984 (Vol. 32 No. 6; pp9):
In a letter dated June 26, 1984, and included in Vol. 32 No. 6 of the ACD Club Newsletter during the summer of 1984, ACD Museum Director Skip Marketti concurs with Buehrig:
The drawings submitted to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum by Mrs. Leamy provide additional evidence that Leamy produced more than one orthographic drawing of the Model J.
The drawings submitted to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum by Mrs. Leamy provide additional evidence that Leamy produced more than one orthographic drawing of the Model J, a fact already acknowledged by all. However, crediting him with the entire design of the Model J front end is an entirely different matter and is still open to debate unless we take Joe Felt’s* word for it. As seen above, Skip Marketti, the ACD Museum Director believes the matter is still open: “We... will continue our efforts to prove that the Model J styling was the work of Alan H. Leamy.” (*Like Buehrig, Joe Felts ended up at Ford and served as executive engineer at the Mercury Advanced Studio.)
Griffith Borgeson addressed the subject in his 1984 biography, Errett Lobban Cord; His Empire, His Motor Cars; Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg:
As a researcher I would like to see some 'concrete evidence', albeit orthographic or photographic, backing up Ema's statements as he provides none in his AQ article. Perhaps he has some documents that he acquired from Marshall Merkes, Ray Wolff or others that prove Leamy did it – if so please share them.
Regardless, Ema’s reputation is such that it's now “accepted as fact” that Leamy styled the Model J. I don't dispute Ema’s AQ article, but based on what I've discovered, I can't verify it either – and neither could Gordon Buehrig.
It’s hard to reconcile the fact that while E.L. Cord had Leamy apply for design patents on the L-29 Cord, and 1931 Auburns, no design patents were taken out on the Model J. Correspondence donated by his widow Agnes to the ACD (Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg) Museum include a letter to the S.A.E. Employment Service, dated September 28th, 1933, where Leamy lists his accomplishments:
No mention was made of the Model J Duesenberg, nor of the Auburn Cabin Speedster, another A-C-D project Leamy is often credited with.
Like Rolls-Royce, Duesenberg was strictly a chassis manufacturer who purchased all of their bodies from a third-party customer coach-builder. Although larger manufacturers such as Lincoln or Packard might order 50 to 200 identical bodies, a typical Duesenberg order might be for only 5 or 10 examples. Although constructing a body for Duesenberg – America's highest-priced car - was more prestigious, building 200 bodies for Packard was decidedly more profitable, and according to Buehrig the coach-builders that worked with Duesenberg “must have regarded us a nuisance account” especially when the engineering and set-up work (outlined above in the Gotfredson Body Co. section) stayed the same, regardless of the total produced.
Prior to the Model J's introduction Harold T. Ames placed small orders with LeBaron, Murphy, Derham, Judkins, Holbrook and Willoughby. As a large portion of prospective buyers at the time were looking for chauffeur-driven and enclosed automobiles Ames enlisted the services of Derham, Judkins and Willoughby, three firms which were at the top of their field. Although the cars were prominently displayed at the 1929 New York Auto Salon, most of the show's attendees ignored the sedans and limousines on display and thronged around the Murphy convertible coupe and LeBaron phaeton, as did Buehrig when he attended the event as a spectator.
At that time of its introduction the Model J's direct competitors included Bentley, Hispano-Suiza, Isotta-Fraschini, Mercedes Benz, Minerva and Rolls-Royce. One rung below stood Cadillac, Cord, Lincoln, Marmon, Packard, Pierce-Arrow and Stutz which all offered similarly sized cars for substantially less money.
Few closed-car orders were received at the show by Duesenberg, the main problem being that nearly identical closed-bodies (standard semi-custom offerings) could be purchased on a substantially less-expensive chassis from one of Duesenberg's second-tier competitors (in particular Lincoln and Packard), a problem that would be compounded with the onset of the Depression. Why would a potential limousine customer buy a $12,000 Willoughby-bodied Duesenberg when an identically-bodied Lincoln could be had for $5,000?
Although the stock market crash wiped out large numbers of wealthy individuals, many others managed to retain their wealth, however the most of them were reluctant to flaunt it considering there were hundreds of thousands of Americans standing in bread lines. Consequently, many individuals who could easily afford a new Duesenberg were looking at considerably less-expensive cars – some were even purchasing Ford's Model A Town Car.
Ames knew he had to do better, and hired Buehrig to create a line of elegant bodies that were exclusive to Duesenberg and unavailable on its second-tier competition. Closed bodies from Ames pre-crash orders that remained unsold were held in storage at the various body companies until Ames, or one of the factory distributors, managed to unload them.
During 1929 Buehrig made scores of proposals to Ames, although the vast majority never made it to production. However most of the handful that met Ames' approval became instant style icons, accounting for over 50% of the firm's sales during the coming years. Buehrig also came up with the Duesenberg's elegant radiator ornament (when introduced, the Model J had none), and helped re-design the original hood to accommodate the exposed exhausts required on the supercharged Model SSJ, which debuted in May of 1932.
When first introduced the Model J Duesenberg was not equipped with a mascot as Fred Duesenberg and Harold T. Ames felt the car was so distinctive that a radiator ornament and nameplate was unnecessary. However, a few early Model J owners complained, stating they were tired of having to explain to their friends that they were riding in a Duesenberg. Consequently one of Buehrig's first tasks was to come up with a radiator ornament consistent with the elegant character of the car and its owners. He recalled the special circumstances that influenced its design in his autobiography:
A 2/3-scale sterling silver version of Buehrig's iconic, yet simple, mascot now graces the Harold T. Ames trophy which is presented annually to the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club's 'Best in Show' winner. In the following letter, published in the June 1959 issue of the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club Newsletter, Buehrig revisited the subject:
The first Buehrig-designed Duesenberg body constructed was a close-coupled coupe on a short-wheelbase chassis constructed by Judkins for Minneapolis' agricultural oilman Schreve M. Archer, the Archer of Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. Judkins also constructed Buehrig's second design, a 5-passenger coupe.
The Model J's chassis was produced in two wheelbases - 142.5” and 153.5” and shared the same sheet-metal save for the running boards and splash aprons, which were 11” longer on the 153.5” chassis. The only exceptions being a pair of 125” wheelbase SSJ Speedsters constructed while Buehrig was on hiatus at General Motors during 1933.
Buehrig followed a fairly routine procedure when designing a new body. The first step was to come up with a 1:16 scale design of the side, front and rear elevations (or the design lines in each plane) which would be presented to Ames, who would sometimes make suggestions on how to improve it, Buehrig recalling:
An orthographic* side elevation design drawing also does not give a true picture because it eliminates foreshortening due to perspective. In order to eliminate the foreshortening inherent in an orthographic view, Buehrig added a small amount of perspective to make the sketch more realistic.
(*Representation of a three-dimensional object in two dimensions.)
He started out by sketching a prospective body in India ink on a semi-transparent sheet of paper that was laid over a 1:16 scale photostat* of the chassis - one for the 142.5” chassis and a one for the 153.5” chassis. He recalled the exact procedure in his autobiography:
Up until that time most automobile designers cheated on their overall body proportions and roof lines, particularly on closed cars. The practice was necessitated by the location of the rear seat which was traditionally located above the differential which required several inches of vertical travel when the suspension hit a rut or bump in the road. Consequently the rear seat would often be located several inches higher than the front seat, which required a roof that gently sloped up rearwards in order to provide enough headroom for the rear seat passengers.
The long wheelbase (153.5”) Duesenberg chassis was originally designed for seven-passenger coachwork and the shorter wheelbase (142.5”) for 5-passenger bodies. By designing his 5-passenger bodies on Duesenberg's longer 153.5” chassis, Buehrig created what he termed as a 'perfect roof line' which had the additional benefit of moving the rear seat forward of the rear axle (on most designs it rode above it, creating a bumpy ride) which made the rear seats the same height as the fronts seats.
Once a particular 1:16 scale design was approved, Buehrig than produced a 1:8 scale orthographic body draft of the side, front and rear elevations (or the design lines in each plane) which would be followed by the car's interior, which would be sketched, shown to Ames, and then rendered in a similar fashion. These were the empirical design instructions that were required by the body-builders to create the wooden framework that provided the structure to which the windows, doors and sheet-metal panels were affixed.
The completed 1:8 scale drafts and sketches, along with color and trim specifications, were then sent to several body builders, who would look them over and submit their bids back to Ames. The winning bidder's draftsmen would then produce a full-sized body drafts from which a sample body would be created in the coach-builders model shop, and if there were not any problems, the requested number of bodies (generally from 5-10, but occasionally 40 or more) would be constructed.
In some instances the coach-builder was allowed to tailor a design to their particular building style. In that case only the original 1:16 scale orthographic design sketches would be sent out for a quote and the resulting coachwork would have certain contour characteristics of the respective coachbuilder.
When designs for which Buehrig had created the 1:8 body drafts were constructed by multiple coach-builders – for example his Beverly Berline – the resulting bodies were identical. Without looking at the body-builders nameplate, it's almost impossible to tell a Murphy-built Beverly from a Rollston-built example - with the exception of a Rollston Beverly constructed for Mrs. William Wrigley, where the distinctive 'V' between the doors was eliminated at her request. The same held true for Buehrig's Torpedo Phaeton another body where he did the 1:8 scale body drafts. The initial example constructed by Brunn looks identical to the 4 bodies later constructed by Weymann-American / A.H. Walker – 2 bore a Weymann-American plate while 2 others, constructed after A.H. Walker took over the business, bear a Walker-LaGrande plate.
In January of 1930 body engineer Philip Derham was hired by Ames to serve as a liaison with their coach-builders. He was one of Joseph J. Derham's sons and had learned the trade in the family's suburban Philadelphia (Lancaster Ave. in Rosemont) coach-works. However the 1928 passing of the firm’s patriarch and founder caused a rift between his offspring. Philip wanted the firm to modernize by greatly increasing its production, thereby reducing its per-unit costs by utilizing the proven economies of scale theories then prevalent in the auto industry. However, James and Enos, his two younger brothers were opposed to any drastic changes, and wished to keep the firm running as their father had intended. The majority prevailed and Philip left the company to form his own firm. Funded by a Bryn Mawr-based European car importer by the name of William Floyd, the Floyd-Derham Company was formed in 1928 with William Floyd Sr., president; Philip Derham, Vice-President; and Floyd’s son William Jr., Secretary. Philip Derham handled all the design and drafting work while the actual bodies were built at Alexander Wolfington, Sons and Company, a well-known Philadelphia commercial body builder.
The Floyds already had a high visibility showroom and service depot in Bryn Mawr, located less than a mile from Derham’s Lancaster Ave. showroom. When the Floyd-Derham name was added to the Floyd’s Bryn Mawr showroom, it caused quite a stir as well as a bit of confusion in Rosemont as to who was who. Floyd-Derham’s first Salon entry was a Minerva that they exhibited at the Chicago Salon in the Fall of 1928. At December’s New York Salon, they exhibited an Isotta-Fraschini convertible sedan at the Isotta-Fraschini stand, but unfortunately it was the last time that the firm’s work would appear at any salon. It was early 1929 before the first few Floyd-Derham bodies appeared and by that time, the stock market crash was looming on the horizon. Although Floyd-Derham had a backlog of orders, the Floyds imported car business began to flounder and they pulled the plug on the Floyd-Derham project and soon after Philip Derham was hired by Ames to be Duesenberg’s body engineer. Like Buehrig, Derham spent most of his later career working in the styling and body engineering department of the Ford Motor Co.
Many older books and articles on Duesenberg Model J's claim that Duesenberg had its own body engineering department, not true according to Buehrig who in his June 1984 interview with David R. Crippin states:
The procedure Buehrig used in dealing with a coachbuilder, prior to Derham's arrival, follows:
From 1928 through 1937 the regular sheet metal on the Model J was common to most of the cars, although several featured custom built fenders and other items of which Buehrig was responsible for the unique fenders seen on the firm's two boat-tailed speedsters. On occasion Buehrig modified pre-existing designs, recalling a convertible coupé that was heavily influenced by a Mercedes shown at the Paris Salon. He also designed a one-off speedster for San Francisco playboy George Whittell* that was based upon a LeBaron phaeton originally designed by Ralph Roberts. Buehrig later reworked the same LeBaron phaeton into the La Grande phaeton by altering its windshield.
(*Whittell was Duesenberg's best retail customer, purchasing six Model J's between 1928 and 1935.)
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 name coined by Harold T. Ames that he hoped would have the same ring to it as Le Baron which at the time was the nation’s most prestigious builder. Ames banked on the fact that many of Duesenberg's customers wouldn’t know the difference, and he was right – during the next five years Duesenberg offered 29 different bodies under the LaGrande moniker. 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.
Designed by Buehrig, most LaGrande bodies were constructed by the Union City Body Co., of Union City, Indiana, a firm better known for their commercial and production body work for Auburn, Ford, Essex, Pierce-Arrow and others. At the time 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. Of the approximately 21-29* LaGrande bodies produced for Duesenberg's Model J program, Union City supplied from 19 to 21* of them – all of which were delivered to Indianapolis in-the-white then decked, trimmed and painted by Duesenberg's in-house staff of talented craftsmen, whom Buehrig considered to be the equal of those working for the prestigious coach-builders. At least one left-over Union City body (originally an L-29 coupe) was mounted on a new Duesenberg chassis (2491, J-472).
(*Sources vary on the actual numbers, which are currently unknown.)
The LaGrande name was later applied to all bodies received at the Duesenberg factory in-the-white*, which included unfinished bodies from Weymann, Walker, Brunn and others. While a LaGrande coach-builders plate was available, most LaGrande-bodied cars were delivered without a body plate as they were supposedly constructed at the Duesenberg factory.
(*In-the-white refers to bodies delivered to a chassis manufacturer minus trim, paint, varnish and hardware.)
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:
From that point on, LeBaron refused to build on the Indianapolis automaker’s chassis.
A pair of SWB (short wheelbase) 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 Co. was another branch of Errett Lobban Cord’s business empire, which also included Duesenberg. The third LaGrande builder, A.H. Walker Company, of Indianapolis, worked out of the old Weymann-American factory and 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.
When Buehrig left Duesenberg in early 1933, he didn't take any original design work with him although he did take a few photographs and reproductions of design sketches and body drafts. Luckily large numbers of Duesenbergs survive today and a little over half of them bear coachwork he designed, a description of each model follows.
According to Buehrig, the first Duesenberg Model J that was constructed from his design was a 2-passenger fixed-head rumble seat coupe.
The known survivor, whose chassis (chassis # 2162 – engine # j-137) was originally purchased by Joseph P. Wright, president of the Continental Diamond Fiber Co., on June 1, 1929. Apparently Wright was dissatisfied with the car as it was sold or traded back in to the dealer soon after. The Model J was subsequently purchased by Shreve M. Archer, a principal in the Minneapolis-based agrochemical giant Archer, Daniels, Midland Co. who requested that the Murphy convertible body be taken off and replaced with a less ostentatious fixed-head coupe.
Buehrig states he designed a body specifically for Archer, who requested it be black, equipped with a rumble-seat, and equipped with blackwall tires - the result being one rather stealthy-appearing motor whose elegant body was devoid of ornamentation save for a chrome drip molding above the doors which blended into a chrome bead that outlined the rear quarters. J.B. Judkins was the low-bidder, and they are thought to have constructed 2 examples, although whereabouts and history of the second car (thought to be chassis # 2145 – engine # J-125) remain unknown.
The next Duesenberg Model J body constructed using a Buehrig design was a 3-4 passenger Victoria coupe which was designed on February 13, 1930 according to a surviving rendering. 2 examples were constructed, again by J.B. Judkins, and Buehrig felt it was the most glamorous of all his Model J designs.
Like the coupe he created for Shreve Archer, the Judkins Victoria Coupe's exterior was also severely plain - the only accent being a bas-relief colored panel located below the sidelights. Built on the shorter 143.5” Model J chassis it achieved its glamorous proportions by virtue of its unique interior, which was designed as a close-coupled 3-4 passenger coupe - the only Duesenberg Model J coupe to have a rear seat, that shared the rear of the tonneau with a wooden vanity/liquor cabinet/occasional seat located directly behind the driver. Only two were built, probably because the interior had a limited appeal due to its cramped rear compartment.
Buehrig's first home-run, the Beverly (a close-coupled 4-door 5-passenger limousine priced at $14,000 including chassis), started life as an illustration that was included in Duesenberg's coachwork portfolio at the 1930 Chicago Salon (held during the second week of November, 1929). The handsome design generated considerable interest and was eventually built in small quantities by Walter M. Murphy on the west coast, Weymann-American/A.H. Walker in the mid-west and Rollston Co. in the east.
The Beverly Duesenberg was a Berline (pronounced Ber-len), the term referring to a small, close-coupled, limousine with broadcloth seating front and rear. It included a glass partition and was marketed both as an owner-driven and chauffeur-driven motor, which differed from a standard limousine in that the reduced size of the rear compartment did not allow for any jump-seats. Buehrig supplemented the smallish rear compartment with an oversize, yet elegant, rear-mounted trunk which helped solidify the unusual proportions that made the Duesenberg Beverly so distinctive.
The car was introduced in the flesh at the 1931 Chicago Salon (which was held in the Drake Hotel's exhibition hall from November 8-15, 1930) and was finished in three pastel shades of green with a light tan Haartz-cloth roof and fawn broadcloth interior.
The second example's exterior was painted in three shades of tan, its interior a rich maroon broadcloth piped in a light tan leather that corresponded with the shade of the exterior belt-line. The color of the broadcloth was so unusual that Laidlaw, the upholstery vendor, suggested that a mistake must have been made, Buehrig recalling:
The Beverly featured a rearward-canted windshield which brought the top of the 'A' post – and by association the windshield header – rearward giving the car much more dramatic proportions that also allowed a straight line door opening. Another unique design characteristic of some Beverlys (but not the pair built by Rollston) was a fabric-covered roof that extended down the 'B' pillar to the belt-line using a V-shaped treatment also found on the magnificent four-door convertibles designed by Hibbard & Darrin, Buehrig providing the details:
The rear divider of one Rollston-built Beverly constructed for Mrs. William Wrigley included a radio, bar and 3-gauge lighted instrument panel which allowed her to observe the speed of the car, which under certain conditions was capable of 100 mph. The rear seats of most examples were equipped with 'armchair'-style over-stuffed cushions seats with a removable center armrest that might accommodate a third person in a pinch.
Among the bodies Buehrig designed while working at Duesenberg, his favorite was the Derham Tourster, a 5-7 passenger dual-cowl phaeton which debuted in November, 1930 at the Chicago Auto Salon which was held in the ballroom of the Drake Hotel. Although the Tourster was severely plain in ornamentation it had the unusual virtue of being equally handsome with the convertible top raised or lowered and was the first dual-cowl phaeton to feature a crank-down rear windscreen.
One feature absolutely crucial in designing an attractive phaeton was to get the lowered convertible top to lay flat, and ideally no higher than the tops of the doors. This was typically achieved by building the top wide enough to allow the bows to fold outside the body and by using a very lightly-padded top, however the combination made for a rather skeletal top when in the raised position.
Buehrig was able to significantly lower the height of the rear portion of the raised top by creating his design exclusively for the long-wheelbase Model J chassis whose extra length allowed him to place the rear seat just ahead of the rear axle hump thereby reducing the height of the top and still allowing the rear-most passengers adequate headroom.
To get a more pleasing front and rear profile he slightly widened the front seat (when compared to the LeBaron version) and put a little more ogee (reverse curve) in the cowl which allowed a wider windshield that was now parallel with the sides of the car. By slightly narrowing the rear seat he was able to reduce the width of the convertible top (both raised and lowered), which now too was parallel with the body sides.
At that time a popular feature of a higher-priced phaeton* was a second cowl located in front of the rear seat, which more often than not included its own windshield, providing the rear seat passengers with a much more pleasing open-air experience.
(*For the uninformed a phaeton was an open four-door car equipped with a light collapsible top and flimsy detachable side curtains for windows. If permanent side windows and a more substantial convertible top were desired, one was forced to purchase - at considerable added expense - a convertible sedan.)
That second windshield, properly called a tonneau windshield, consisted of a folding piece of glass attached to the second cowl – either permanent or folding, the latter generally pivoting from the back of the front seat. The cowl was a two-piece affair that typically folded down when entering or exiting the rear seat of the car.
During inclement weather when the top was put up and the side curtains installed, it took a Herculean effort to get in and out of the rear seat of a dual-cowl phaeton. To get in, you had to detach the side curtain, fold the windshield forward by releasing the friction knobs, reach underneath the cowl and pull the handle that released the locking pins that held the cowl in place, then open the door and get in. Before the journey could start, the same procedure had to be followed – in reverse – and once again when you exited the car at journey's end.
For the Tourster Buehrig designed a system with a crank-down tonneau windshield (seen to the right in pictures and patents) that eliminated most of the nuisance factors associated with getting in and out of the rear seat, especially when the top was up.
By using the 153.5” long-wheelbase chassis Buehrig was able to install a full width 35° rearward sloping 8” deep box behind the front seat which contained channels in which the rear windshield (aka tonneau shield) was raised & lowered by a recessed window crank located in its center. As the cabinet ate up 8” of rear legroom, Buehrig installed footwells between the frame rails that allowed for adequate legroom for even the tallest rear seat passengers. The beauty of Buehrig's design was that the relative position of the tonneau windshield to the rear seat passengers was almost identical to that of the front seat passengers to their windshield.
In his autobiography Buehrig described an amusing event surrounding the color of the very first Tourster which was painted Primrose Yellow and Parkway Green:
Derham created only eight examples: 2425 J-431 (Gary Cooper - original J-403 engine was defective and replaced with J-431); 2440, J-423 (Butler Hallahan); 2456, J-444 (Joe E. Brown); 2464, J-448 (W.S. Odom); 2468, J-451 (David Joyce); 2472, J-412 (G.B. Heister); 2499, J-489 (Mrs. Payne Whitney); 2524, J-504 (factory demonstrator), and 80 years after their debut they remain among the most desirable of the series-built 4-door Model J Duesenbergs.
A small number of Duesenbergs were equipped with Brunn bodies, the first, a formal town car designed by Duesenberg’s Gordon Buehrig for the 1930 auto show circuit. An unusual second cowl in front of the close-coupled passenger compartment gave rear passengers some much needed foot room.
Although Buehrig designed several town cars while at Duesenberg, only one – the All-Weather Town Brougham, which was prominently featured in the firm's ad in the 1930 New York Auto Salon catalog as well as the April 1931 issue of Vanity Fair - made it to production. Constructed by Buffalo, New York's Brunn & Co., it was the very last town car design built by Duesenberg as the market for the once-popular body style literally disappeared at the onset of the Depression and never returned.
The car introduced another clever Buehrig trick, a compact rear compartment with an accommodating seating arrangement, which was made possible by extending the interior below the beltline forward into the normally underused space just below and ahead of the glass partition, allowing seating for four-five passengers in a space normally designed for two-three. Buehrig explains:
Only one car was built, Brunn called it an All-Weather Brougham and it was built on chassis 2404, engine no. J-398*. It was sold to Victor Emanuel (b. 1898 – d. 1960), a Cord stockholder and financier (Cornell class of 1919) who later purchased E.L. Cord's interest in the Cord Corp. for $2.6 million and merged it with AVCO (Aviation Corp. - later Avco Mfg. Corp.) whose successful wartime military aviation contracts earned him the cover of the October 7, 1946 issue of Time magazine.
(*Although the car was eventually scrapped, its engine ended up with the Harrah Collection.)
Another Buehrig design created by Brunn was the Torpedo Phaeton, a car whose design was prompted by an 8-page letter Ames had received in the mail from a young sportsman named Marcus Jay Lawrence (b. July 19, 1907 - d. May 11, 1938):
Lawrence was born on July 19, 1907 in Cleveland, Ohio to Mortimer James and Carrie A. Lawrence – his father was president of the Lawrence Publishing Co. (79-85 Wood St, Cleveland - publisher of the Ohio Farmer) and the Lawrence-Williams Co. (85 Wood St., Cleveland – manufacturer of Gombault's Caustic Balsam, a popular French Veterinary remedy). When his father retired the family moved to Clearwater, Florida and following the patriarch's passing Marcus moved with his mother to Washington D.C. where they purchased a mansion at 2131 Wyoming Ave. N.W., an affluent neighborhood located 1 mile north of the White house just off of Connecticut Ave. N.W.
Lawrence requested a special body that had the physical enclosure of a convertible sedan but kept the outward appearance of a phaeton. Buehrig designed a very attractive hybrid convertible sedan/phaeton body incorporating all of the features outlined in Lawrence's letter.
When Lawrence received the sketch he called Ames and asked how much would it cost?
At that time Duesenbergs were priced from $12,000 to $14,000, but these prices reflected a production of five or ten cars of the same design, albeit with different paint schemes, trim and interiors. A one-of-a-kind car cost more, especially if it was as complicated as the car Lawrence desired. Ames got a quote from Brunn and set the price at $19,000. Lawrence wired back, "Proceed immediately."
Using a system he had come up with while working at Stutz, Buehrig addressed the tendency of a the firm's folding windshields to pop up at speed due to increased wind pressure. As was the normal practice across the industry Duesenberg's folding windshields were held in the up or down position by a pair of friction nuts (hand-operated knurled knobs) located bi-laterally in the side posts. When folded down, the top portion had a nasty tendency to flop up in your face at speed if those two nuts weren't securely tightened. Buehrig solved the problem by revising the knurled hold-down nut (the folding connection) to include a two-position (or 2-notch) locking pin.
The pivot point on the redesigned windshield was assembled with a bolt passing through the bushing located on the stanchion and shield member. Just below the pivot point he installed a tapered pin bolt which screwed into one of the members and matched two notches in the other member. The tapered pin allowed the frame to lock in place - the first notch securely held it in the down position, the second notch held it securely in the up position. Changing the position of the windshield required significantly less strength than before as once the pin snapped into place, the notches in the assembly prevented the top part of the assembly from moving, either up or down.
Buffalo, New York's Brunn & Co. created what has been called 'the most beautiful double cowl phaeton ever created'. Painted a high-gloss piano black, its interior was outfitted with red pebble-grain pleated leather seating surfaces and door inserts contrasted by black patent leather seat backs and door cards replete with chrome moldings. The front and rear windshields, wind-wings (which retracted into the doors), side-mount covers, and wire wheels were also plated in chrome and a single pilot-ray spotlight was installed above the front bumper. Several months later the car, chassis 2511 - engine J496, was returned to the factory and retrofitted with a supercharger, one of the few that used the early 1-piece 8-port exposed exhaust manifolds.
When Duesenberg suggested that owners of the early supercharged 1-piece 8-port manifold cars retrofit them to the new flexible tube-covered manifolds, Lawrence kindly refused, stating:
Buehrig recalled Lawrence's enthusiasm when he picked up his car at the factory on March 15, 1932:
Four other Torpedo Phaetons were constructed two by Weymann-American in 1933 - 2542 J511, 2554 J526 (SJ) - and two more by that firm's successor, A.H. Walker in 1935 - 2583 J548 (SJ), 3608 J582 (SJ), the latter two bearing Walker-LaGrande body plates and being equipped with 17” wheels and factory-skirted front fenders.
Although the bulk* of Marcus Jay Lawrence's Brunn-built Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton no longer survives, unlike some missing Dueseys, its fate is known. During the mid-1930s he established a second home in Arizona's Verde Valley, a rural mining community where young, wealthy Marcus – who listed his profession as 'rancher' - soon developed a reputation for being a bit of a gambler and playboy. It should come as no surprise that the owner of the 'V bar V Ranch' eventually totaled his Duesenberg when he smashed it through a guard rail and plummeted of a cliff in the Painted Desert sometime in 1937.
(*Only its engine survived the crash – which a subsequent owner eventually parted out.)
Although Marcus was not seriously injured in the crash, on May 11, 1938 he succumbed to injuries he had suffered at the hand of Ernesto Lira, a well-known sportsman and former manager of light heavyweight boxing champion John Henry Lewis. Lira had accused Lawrence of sleeping with his girlfriend, Mrs. Odessa Webb, at Lira's Soda Springs Ranch in Prescott, Arizona. Facing a possible death penalty, Lira admitted to beating Lawrence to death (with a camera with which he hoped to catch the two 'lovers' in a compromising situation) and on July 30, 1938 was sentenced to 30-40 years in prison.
Lawrence was still married at the time to Jane Stout Lawrence (daughter of Irma M. Stout) and on May 23,1938 she filed for executorship of his estate. Unfortunately for her, months earlier she had filed for divorce, and Lawrence had recently changed his will to leave her with the 'minimum allowed' under Arizona law. The bulk of Lawrence's estate, valued at $700,000, was distributed amongst his attorneys, his mother, Carrie, his half-brother, Paul J. Lawrence, two uncles and an aunt.
The various court cases caused quite a scandal in the tight-knit Arizona mining community so in order to provide her son with better local legacy, his mother made a donation to help establish the Marcus J. Lawrence (MJL) Memorial Clinic, an outpatient facility located in Cottonwood, Arizona, that officially opened on June 2, 1939. When a nearby hospital located in Jerome, Arizona closed during the Second World War, an even larger donation by his mother established the Marcus J. Lawrence (MJL) Memorial Hospital, a 24-bed hospital which opened in 1945 and survives today as the Verde Valley Medical Center.
Another memorable Buehrig design was the Arlington Torpedo Sedan, a close-coupled sedan very similar in appearance to the Beverly Berline with a pronounced Hibbard & Darrin side window treatment and a Torpedo Phaeton-like rear end. Designed and constructed especially for the Cord Corp. display at the 1933 Century of Progress, the car was dubbed the Twenty Grand by the press due to its $20,000 asking price.
When one takes a glance at the car – most often in the surviving black & white photos, or the beautiful 1:24 scale version created by the Franklin Mint – the first thing you notice is the unusual V-shaped windscreen, a design not used on any other Model J. A second interesting feature are the 14 exposed chrome-plated door hinges (7 per side), Buehrig explains:
It used the same interior hardware Buehrig had designed for the Marcus J. Lawrence car and was fitted with the Beverly's rear division panel replete with gauges and a bar. Rollston constructed the sole example which was originally painted grey with a light tan Haartz cloth top and grey leather interior.
Duesenberg had a hard time selling the car, which was subsequently 'modernized' with smaller disc wheels, skirted fenders, and a black top and paint job in order to attract a buyer, which ended up being Minneapolis' Shreve M. Archer (Archer, Daniels, Midland Co.), who had previously purchased another Buehrig-designed Model J, the Judkins Coupe.
Thankfully the Arlington Torpedo Sedan (2539, J513) survives and can be seen in the Grand Salon of the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar, California. After spending several decades painted black, J.B. Nethercutt acquired it in the late 1970s and restored the car to its original colors. More recently a reasonably accurate tribute was constructed using a Ford 351 V-8-powered 1984 Duesenberg II dual-cowl phaeton as a donor car.
Another Buehrig design that included exposed chrome plated piano hinged doors was the Convertible Torpedo Victoria, a very attractive 4-passenger 2-door body originally designed for a yet unsold Model J chassis; 2262, J-231, that had originally been equipped with a Willoughby sedan body. Using a similar system to the one used on Walter M. Murphy's disappearing top 2-seaters, the Convertible Torpedo Victoria's was designed it so it folded into an enclosed well built behind the rear seats, giving it the car a very clean appearance when the top was stowed away. Another unique feature was its oversize doors, which provided unencumbered access to the rear seats, Buehrig explaining:
J. Herbert Newport is credited with the interior and three examples were constructed, all by Rollston: #2262, engine J-231; #2263, engine J-235 – w/rear door hinges; and #2597 engine #J573. According to Fred Roe the Rollston Convertible Torpedo Victoria body on chassis no. 2263, engine no. J-235, the one with piano hinges at the rear of the door, replaced an armor-plated limousine body constructed by Willoughby. Although Rollston made approximately a dozen of their own similar-looking Convertible Victoria bodies for Model J chassis, they are easily distinguishable as they use standard width doors - Buehrig's were effectively a door-and-a-half wide - and their tops were stowed outside of the body on top of the rear deck as was the standard practice on Convertible Victorias.
San Francisco, California's George Whittell Jr. was Duesenberg's best customer in respect to the number of Model J's he owned – six, all purchased brand new. One of them was a boattail* speedster designed by Buehrig and constructed by Albert H. 'Bert' Walker at the former Weymann-American body plant in Indianapolis. The $17,500 car was one of two speedsters constructed from a Buehrig design – he designed two others, but they never made it to production. However one of his un-built boat-tail designs was used as the inspiration for a replacement body on chassis engine no. J364 - replaced a Rollston Convertible Victoria body.
(*Many Duesenberg histories differentiate between the 2 cars, the first as the 'fishtail', the second as the 'tapertail' speedster. Buehrig – the car's designer – called them both boattail speedsters.)
Whittell's speedster (2537, J508) was built on the long 154.5” chassis, the second car, (2450 J437) built for San Francisco's Walter T. Varney, was constructed on the shorter wheelbase 142.5” chassis.
Although the body lines were similar, the completed cars looked very different. Whittell's car had a much taller boat-like tail while Varney's was ended much lower to the ground, closely following the sweep of the rear fenders – which were the same on both cars.
Varney's car had no side windows, step plates or running boards (the battery and toolbox was built into an enclosed streamlined box located just behind the rear of the driver's-side front fender) and its spare tire was accessed via a door built into the top of the tapered tail which also stowed the flimsy roadster-type top. His car was built with slightly smaller doors whose hinges were hidden inside the coachwork.
Whittel's car had proper crank-down side windows, a more substantial convertible top and wider doors that were equipped with Buehrig's characteristic exposed chrome door hinges. His spare tire was also stored in an enclosed rear compartment in the tail.
Duesenberg's LaGrande Phaeton, which Buehrig admits was based on Ralph-Roberts-designed Phaeton previously furnished to the firm by LeBaron, bears testimony to the great lengths Harold T. Ames made to keep Duesenberg in business during the Depression. By sourcing similar-looking bodies in the white from the Union City Body Company in Union City, Indiana, and finishing them in-house, Duesenberg added a significant amount to their bottom line. The savings were not limited to the automaker, the customer benefited as well as LaGrande Phaetons was priced significantly lower than similar-looking phaetons constructed by Brunn, Derham or LeBaron.
ACD Club historian Fred Roe briefly touched upon the subject in 1982:
At Ames' request Buehrig revised Robert's original design incorporating a number of features requested by the Los Angeles distributor for a celebrity customer, in this case, Twentieth-Century Fox screenwriter Eugene W. 'Gene' Markey. Although he lacked leading-man good looks, Markey's humor and gift for gab made him one of Tinseltown's most eligible bachelors, and he managed to wed THREE of Hollywood's most beautiful leading ladies; Joan Bennett (1932-1937); Hedy Lamarr (1939-1940); and Myrna Loy (1946 to 1950).
I couldn't locate any corroborating evidence that Markey owned a LaGrande Phaeton, however he was the original owner of another Model J, a Murphy-bodied Torpedo Berline Convertible Model J (2315, J-391) – unusual as it was built with an integral trunk and was always photographed topless with a tonneau cover stretched over the rear compartment.
The LaGrande Phaeton incorporated several design improvements over Robert's Phaeton (LeBaron) that Buehrig had originally introduced on the Derham Tourster. Both Buehrig-designed cars (Tourster & LaGrande Phaeton) used the same narrowed rear end and cowl and included the locking folding windshield Buehrig had designed when he worked for Stutz. As the LaGrande Phaeton was designed to help sell existing short-wheelbase chassis, the Tourster's crank-down tonneau windshield cabinet wouldn't fit, so a regular collapsible dual cowl with a folding shield was made available.
When a LaGrande Phaeton body was placed on the short-wheelbase Model J chassis, little space remained for the rear-mounted trunk. To create more storage Buehrig designed an extra-tall trunk with chrome plated trim with a folding false compartment at the top which provided just enough space to make the lowered top stack flat.
Most importantly for Ames, the LaGrande Phaeton project helped Duesenberg unload short-wheelbase chassis* on which most (14 of 19) were constructed and had the additional benefit of keeping the firm's painters and trimmers busy during lean times.
(*Frames for the long wheelbase chassis were in short supply.)
The final body style designed by Buehrig for Duesenberg was the Derham Four-Door Convertible (aka All-Weather Convertible, sometimes listed in error as a Derham Town Car). Designed for the short-wheelbase chassis, it incorporated a number of his signature embellishments such as exposed chrome-plated door hinges, a speedometer equipped instrument panel in the rear compartment and the leather-covered trunk he designed for the LaGrande Phaetons. Several were constructed – one was sold new on 2452, J-426 to Antonio Chopitea, of Lima, Peru and a second replaced a Willoughby Berline body on 2257, J-237, which was owned by Kenneth G. Smith, president of the Chicago's Pepsodent Co.
Although E.L. Cord had been active in the design and development phase of the Model J. Duesenberg, the sales, promotion and production of the chassis was left up to Harold T. Ames and Fred Duesenberg. Although they met several times Buehrig did not know the firm's owner very well, and stated Cord rarely visited the factory. However, Buehrig had a special relationship with vice-president Fred Duesenberg whom he greatly admired:
In January of 1931, after Buehrig had been with the firm about a year, Duesenberg invited him to live in a third floor apartment of his Indianapolis home, which had recently been vacated by a draftsman named Paul Miller. While living there* Buehrig recalled many evenings that Duesenberg spent at his home drafting table finishing up projects for the factory.
(*Buehrig lived at 3290 Fall Creek Boulevard [now 3290 E. Fall Creek Parkway] from January, 1931 until February of 1934 save for the nine months - Feb. 1933 to Oct. 1933 - he returned to Detroit to work for Harley Earl's Art & Colour during an especially rocky financial period at Duesenberg. Fred's widow, Isle (Oulteford) Duesenberg (b. Mar. 20, 1890 in Auburn, Nebraska), even let him stay there after her husband succumbed to injuries suffered in a July 2, 1932 automobile accident.)
When he moved into Duesenberg's home Buehrig had recently (Dec. 21, 1929) taken possession of his own custom-bodied automobile, a Buehrig-bodied 1930 Model A Ford cabriolet – 1 of 1.
On September 27, 1930, he traded in his 1929 Buick on a 'loaded' 1930 Ford Model A Cabriolet at the Ford Motor Co.'s Indianapolis factory branch which was located 3 miles east of the Duesenberg plant at 1315 E. Washington St. Equipped with 8-ply General white sidewalls (with dual side-mount spares), a rumble seat and auxiliary trunk rack, Buehrig's Briggs-bodied Model A (model 68B) would have cost $645, not including the optional Ford accessories ($70) and six 19” x 5” General tires ($30) - about ten times more than a bare Duesenberg Model J chassis.
The very next day Augie Duesenberg's men commenced its reconstruction across the street at the Duesenberg Bros. race car shop. Buehrig had a lot of changes in store for the car and had already prepared a full-sized body draft before taking delivery. He radically re-designed the car's coachwork – chopping the top by 3”, extending the hood by 4” and fitting it with a convertible Victoria top. Buehrig's blind-quarter top preceded the ones constructed by Dietrich, Waterhouse and Rollston by several years.
The workmen removed the body and convertible top and discarded the rear-half, which was cut off just behind the 'B' pillar. The front seat was removed as was the extra-cost rumble seat assembly. They also cut down the windshield and 'A' hinge pillar by 3” which took care of reducing the height of the cabin glass and top-hinged windscreen by the same amount. The cowl's integral dash/firewall and toeboard were carefully cut out, and re-attached 4.5” forward of their original position in front of the 'A' pillar and a 4.5” strip of sheet-metal welded into the void to form a 'dummy' extended cowl. This operation allowed the dash and toe-board to be returned to their original position in relation to the chassis when the body was remounted. A new extended (by 4.5”) engine hood was also constructed that fit over the 4.5” metal addition to the cowl assembly, which allowed the dash and toe-board to retain their original alignment with the engine and chassis components.
Next step was to build the framework for the rear of the body per the full-sized body drafts, put it together and install the carefully-sized hand-hammered aluminum panels. Buehrig retained the folding 'B' pillar which was shortened at the bottom by 3” - this allowed the original linkage and windshield header to be used. However, from the 'B' pillar back, an all-new bows and folding top linkage had to be constructed from the templates included on Buehrig's body drafts. The headroom lost by chopping the top was regained by dropping the floor and footwells several inches below their stock location, which provided a most comfortable driving and seating position. The rear seat was similarly lowered by notching the bottom of the seat so that it cleared the driveline.
Once the reconstruction of the coachwork was completed the Model A moved across the street to Duesenberg's paint shop where the body was primed, sanded and painted by Duesenberg's finest in 3 different shades of DuPont lacquer: the body (including dash and steering wheel) in Light Capucine; the fenders and belt molding in Dark Capucine; and the wheels and pinstripes, Flame Capucine.
Buehrig designed a special set of seat cushions for the car based on the same Marshall Knockland design typically used on the Model J. Because the bottom cushion had to be two inches shorter than standard, he revised the sprung frame's layout by having the row of coils around the perimeter extend all the way to the floor while placing those on the interior 1.5” below the floor level. As mentioned earlier the floor and footwell had already been repositioned several inches below their stock position in order to accommodate the new lower seats. Although they shared their bottom cushion, the passenger side of the split seatback folded forward to allow access to the rear compartment where a similarly-constructed sideways-facing auxiliary seat could hold a third occupant when necessary. Buehrig obtained four $5 hides from the Weymann-American Co. - a pigskin-grain cowhide to cover the exterior of the auxiliary trunk and three antique warm gray leather hides for the seats and interior trim.
All of the work at Duesenberg was done after hours with Harold T. Ames permission and Buehrig paid the workers out of his own pocket. Completed on December 21, 1930 the car, which he christened 'Baby' attracted attention wherever it went, Buehrig recalling:
In a later interview Buehrig recalled driving it to Ford's corporate offices in Dearborn in order to show it to Edsel, who he though would have appreciated it. However he didn't make it past Ford's chief body engineer, who declared “Mr. Ford would not be interested.”
The car was constructed per Buehrig's original design save for three small details: the accessory Ford trunk rack mounted behind the custom-built pigskin-covered trunk was changed in order to have a vertical orientation; the exterior landau irons were transferred to the interior; and a Boyce Moto-Meter was substituted for the Hispano-Suiza ornament on the radiator.
After driving the car a little over a year Buehrig updated it with a modified powerplant and experimental 15” Goodyear disc wheels mounted on 15” x 6.5” Goodyear balloon tires, whose matching spares required widening the front fender wells. He replaced the original radiator with a Motor-meter-equipped faux Hispano-Suiza unit, wrapping its lower end with a sheet-metal housing equipped with a Duesenberg gas cap over its crank-hole.
Inside, the original Ford instrument panel was replaced with an engine-turned 1/4”thick aluminum sheet equipped with Pioneer-brand aircraft-style gauges lit by a pair of Pontiac instrument panel lights.
The original flathead four was disassembled and converted over to overhead valves using a Harry A. Miller single overhead cam head supplied by Dick McCarthy, a Chicago racer for whom Buehrig had once designed a racecar body. In addition to installing a Mallory ignition and Packard Electric cables, Buehrig put in some Ray Day aluminum pistons to increase compression. He finished off the engine by grinding Miller's name off the cast aluminum valve cover and installing a chrome-plated fan and chromed oil and gas lines.
The car, which was subsequently featured in MoToR magazine, was topped off with an expensive Haartz cloth convertible top and repainted rich red maroon with bright red pinstriping. He drove it for 89,000 miles before reluctantly replacing it with a new Auburn in 1934. He lamented:
Although Buehrig thought the original design drawing for his Model A had been destroyed when the Duesenberg plant was sold in 1937, it turns out Oscar Hadley, Duesenberg's former file clerk – and later engineer, had retrieved it from the dust bin and saved it. A mutual acquaintance presented it to a much-surprised Buehrig 30 years later at an Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg meet, and he included it, along with several photos of the car, in his 1975 autobiography, 'Rolling Sculpture.'
By late 1932 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 that year 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. Although Duesenberg sales nationwide were almost non-existent, the Auburn California Co. / Auburn Automobile Sales Corp., Calif. branch, (popularly known as Auburn-Fuller) the Los Angeles A-C-D distributors, had some luck selling new ones providing their coachwork was updated to match the competition's which at a bare minimum required adding skirts to the front fenders.
O.R. ‘Ollie’ Fuller (b. Oct. 5, 1880-d. Aug. 20, 1946) was a Los Angeles-based automobile dealer and bus line operator who held the city’s Auburn distributorship from 1923 to 1932 at which time it went bankrupt and was taken over by Errett Lobban Cord. During those nine years his firm constructed hundreds of motor coach bodies as well as two custom-bodied Cord L-29s (one, an awkward-looking L-29 coupe originally built for E.L. Cord, survives, unrestored in Canada) and at least one Auburn Hearse.
Fuller started his business career working for his father’s draying concern (Pioneer Truck and Transfer Co.) which he helped parlay into a one of Los Angeles’ largest trucking concerns.
In 1907 Fuller was awarded a Cadillac distributorship for Fullerton, and in 1909 he returned to Los Angeles to manage a motor truck sales organization that at one time or another held franchises for Randolph, Rapid, Reliance, GMC and White trucks, and White, Stephens and Auburn automobiles.
Prior to the start of the First World War he turned two repossessed White trucks into a small freight business which after adding a bus line (White Bus Line) expanded into an enterprise (Motor Transit Co.) he sold for $3 million in 1930 ($40 million in today’s dollars).
Established in 1909, the Pioneer Commercial Auto Co., originally located at 1226-1228 S. Olive St. – later at 1017-1019 N. Alameda St., was reorganized as the White Automobile Co. in 1916 and increased sales of motor trucks resulted in a move to 1800 S. Figueroa St., in the heart of LA’s automobile row. Fuller continued to expand his automobile business during the 1920s, becoming Southern California’s largest distributor of White trucks and motor buses, many of which were delivered with bodies constructed in his own coach works.
By 1928 the sales of Auburn passenger cars, which were added in 1923, attracted the notice of Errett Lobban Cord who made a substantial investment in the firm, which was subsequently reorganized as the Auburn-Fuller Co. Auburn-Fuller became very successful and during the next several years established additional satellites in metro Los Angeles: 1101 S. Figueroa St., 1800 S. Figueroa St., 3465 Wilshire Blvd., 6145 Hollywood Blvd., Beverly Hills: 208 N. Canon Dr., San Francisco: 1147-1155 Van Ness Ave., and Oakland: 2111 Webster St., California.
Unfortunately the Depression wrought havoc on Fuller’s finances and the Auburn-Fuller Co. went bankrupt in 1932. Its assets were acquired by E.L. Cord who relocated most of its operations into a magnificent showroom located in the automaker’s new multi-story art-deco office building at 3443 Wilshire Blvd. By the end of 1932 O.R. Fuller had either sold off, or had been relieved of, his transportation-related businesses and he withdrew to his family’s 3,000 acre ranch north of Corona, California where he remained until his death in 1946.
After Walter M. Murphy closed its doors, several of its key employees - Christian Bohman and Maurice Schwartz - formed their own company, Bohman & Schwartz, which early on specialized in updating new Duesenberg chassis and re-bodying earlier ones. Duesenberg was no longer in any position to dictate how their chassis could be bodied and a number of unusual creations were built by the Pasadena coachbuilder for their eccentric Hollywood clientele during the mid-1930s.
Business was so bad at Duesenberg that several months might go by without a sale and in January of 1933 Buehrig made an inquiry with Howard O'Leary, GM Art & Colour's second-in-command, to see if they were looking for anyone. Buehrig was offered a designer position and returned to Detroit to go back to work for Harley Earl.
When Buehrig resigned Duesenberg's factory coachwork program was put on the back burner and Herbert T. Ames went looking for a replacement. He found one in J. Herbert Newport Jr. who had previously worked for Studebaker, Dietrich and Brunn and had previously also worked with Philip Derham at the short-lived Floyd-Derham works and was hired by Ames in February of 1933 on Derham's recommendation. Alex Tremulis, another legendary designer, was hired by Ames in 1933 to assist Newport and eventually replaced Buehrig as Auburn’s chief stylist. The pair are credited with designing the last of the factory-designed bodies, which like many of Buehrig's bodies, were built by LaGrande, the fictitious firm that fronted as Duesenberg's in-house body builder.
Although he didn't know it at the time, he would only be absent from Duesenberg for eight months, during which time Duesenberg got an order for two short-wheelbase 2-passenger bob-tailed speedsters from Auburn Automobile Sales Corp., Calif. branch. Design of the coachwork was handled by Newport and its construction by the E.L. Cord-owned Central Manufacturing Co. of Connersville, Indiana. The supercharger-equipped cars were built on a 125” wheelbase chassis which was built using a cut-down 142.5” donor. Although the term was never officially used by the factory, the two cars are known today as Model SSJ Speedsters (supercharged, short-wheelbase Model J) and were originally equipped with body-colored radiator shells and disc wheel covers.
Although Buehrig had designed a couple of bodies for short-wheelbase Model J's during his interim as Duesenberg's designer, they were never constructed and he had nothing to do with the 2 speedsters which were eventually sold / lent to movie stars Gary Cooper and Clark Gable. Cooper owned his speedster, J-563 #2594 (originally buff/light brown and re-painted two-tone gray before delivery), while Gable's speedster J567 #2595 (originally two-tone yellow/brown, later repainted coffee/brown and eventually silver/red) was lent to him by the Los Angeles distributor for a two-month trial, which soon turned into six months after which Auburn Automobile Sales Corp., Calif. branch, was forced to repossess it. The car was subsequently refurbished and sold to jazz violinist George E. (Georgie) Stoll.
Soon-after Gable was oft-photographed with another Duesenberg, a crème-colored Rollston-bodied 1935 Model JN convertible coupe (2585, J-560) that was re-styled by Bohman & Schwartz. A purported gift from his wife, Carole Lombard, the car was later featured in Hal Roach's 1938 comedy 'Merrily We Live' which starred Constance Bennett and Brian Aherne. For many years it was believed that Gable actually owned this car, however new information has recently come to light that claims that like the first car, it was only 'loaned' to him and upon its return to Auburn Automobile Sales Corp., Calif. branch, in 1936 (2585, J-560) was sold to publisher L. Stanley Kahn, (married to Moses Annenberg's daughter Janet at the time and later to actress Rita Johnson) who also owned 2522, J-462 before it too was 'restyled'.
Many older books and articles on Duesenberg Model J's, particularly ones that highlight a specific vehicle, claim that the car in question was “custom-built” for the original owner. These claims were further perpetuated by Harold T. Ames, who in a speech delivered before the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club on September 1, 1963, stated:
Although he didn’t discuss the subject in his 1975 autobiography, in June of 1984 Buehrig set the record straight in an interview with David R. Crippin:
In his autobiography Buehrig recalled that he first reported for work the very day* that recently-elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt implemented his famous Bank Holiday, which suspended all banking transactions from Monday, March 6, 1933 until the start of business on Monday March 13, 1933.
(*It is now generally accepted that Buehrig returned to GM the week before the 'Bank Holiday', Tuesday February 28, 1933, a date that meshes with several later interviews where he says he returned to GM at the end of February, 1933.)
Upon his arrival he discovered things were a little slow at Art & Colour (which was still a part of the Fisher Body division of General Motors), so slow that early in 1933 Earl summoned a group of designers up to his 10th floor office and said:
To which Buehrig replied:
According to Buehrig, Earl's face and neck started getting red, and he thought he was about to thrown out the window. Earl replied:
To which Buehrig replied:
Soon after, Earl announced a new design contest pitting the studio's designers against each other. First prize was a week-long all-expense-paid trip to the upcoming Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago, Illinois (1933-1934 World's Fair).
The studio's employees were split up into five 3- to 4-man teams*, each headed by one of the studio's senior designers. The first was headed by Jack Morgan (Juan Ricardo Morgan), the second by Thomas L. Hibbard, the third by Jules Agramonte, the fourth by Franklin Q. Hershey with Buehrig's being the fifth. Buehrig's team had one extra person, due to the fact he was saddled with 2 apprentices, which Earl apparently felt put him at a disadvantage.
(*His biography says 3- to 4-man teams, in a later interview he states 4- to 5-man teams.)
The teams were presented with a package drawing (a draft that provides dimensions for the interior, wheelbase and exterior of a car) for a four door sedan which had the same basic dimensions as a current-model Buick. When finalized each team would construct a ¼-scale clay model which would be judged by a team made up of the heads of several different G.M. divisions and two of the Fisher Brothers.
Buehrig's team held a number of after-hours meetings at his Alden Park Manor apartment (8100 E. Jefferson Ave.) where they got together to work on the design and drink some beer. Buehrig's team included Carl Otto and a talented model builder named John Lutz, Jr. whose famous father, John Lutz Sr., headed Fisher Body's prototype clay shop – giving them a distinct advantage when it came to constructing the quarter scale replica.
Buehrig's streamlined design incorporated a hermetically-sealed engine compartment, a feature inspired by his own Model A Convertible coupe, whose engine compartment was always getting dirty. By moving the radiators outboard between the hood and front fenders, direct air flow to the engine compartment was greatly reduced as were the dirt and debris which accompanied it. Buehrig recalled:
Art & Colour's designers held their own in-house contest just prior to the official one, and Buehrig's car was judged the best-looking of the bunch. However it came in dead last in the official contest, which was won by Juan Ricardo (Jack) Morgan's group. Buehrig recalled that the hood of Franklin Q. Hershey's entry incorporated an early version of the 'Silver Streak' moldings he later introduced as head of the Pontiac design studio. Historically Buehrig's entry was the most influential - after several iterations it became the 1936 Cord Model 810.
On September 20, 1933 Buehrig got a call from Harold T. Ames inviting him to come visit him in Indianapolis for the weekend as he had an idea he wanted to discuss. Ames was excited about his latest marketing scheme, a take on the badge engineering program that Alfred P. Sloan was instituting at General Motors at the time with the new Oldsmobile-based LaSalle. Ames reasoned that Duesenberg could sell a lower-priced companion to the Model J based upon a smaller displacement straight-8 engine and chassis sourced from Auburn.
Ames wanted Buehrig to come up with a 'trick body' for the car, which would be sold and marketed as a Duesenberg. Buehrig immediately thought of car his team had entered into the recent design competition and after seeing two pencil-sketches of the car, Ames green-lit the project and offered Buehrig a job.
In a speech delivered to some members of the ACD Club on September 1, 1963 Harold T. Ames gave his version of the same events:
Apparently the plan sounded good to Buehrig and upon his return to Detroit that Monday he submitted his resignation. It marked the second time he had left General Motors Art & Colour to work for another manufacturer – the first time for Stutz, and now for Duesenberg.
By the time Buehrig got back to Indianapolis Ames had already assembled a skeleton crew to work on the car which would be designed and built in a sealed-off area of the Duesenberg plant away from prying eyes. Augie Duesenberg, who had returned to the company following the untimely death of his older brother Fred, was in charge of the chassis work. Buehrig was provided with his own office in the design studio and his replacements, Herb Newport and Alex Tremulus - who were busy designing new coachwork for the Model J, were instructed to keep out. Only Philip Derham, Duesenberg's coach-builder liaison, was the only design staff member to be involved with the project.
Although Ames didn't think Buehrig's sealed engine compartment was marketable, he was intrigued by introducing a car that didn't have a radiator in the front end. Buehrig worked out a 1/8 scale drawing from the original pencil sketches and had chief draftsman Walter H. Troemel and his team work out the details of the twin radiator, and the finalized car was then sculpted by Buehrig on a 1/8 scale styling buck. Buehrig later recalled that:
Once Ames approved the clay model, Buehrig made an accurate orthographic drawing of the 1/8 scale clay miniature and turned the body drafts over to Philip Derham who had arranged for A.H. Walker to construct the prototype coachwork across town in the former Weymann-American plant. While Buehrig was finalizing the body Augie Duesenberg engineered the twin radiator arrangement by using 2 small belt-driven fans which worked at lower ambient temperatures but proved inadequate under higher temps.
E.L. Cord had little to do with the baby Duesenberg although Buehrig reports the prototype was driven to Chicago for his personal inspection as he had not been interested enough in the project to come to Indianapolis to see it. At that time Cord had other things on his mind, the foremost being keeping his family safe. Although he officially dismissed the reports as “Hooey, Hooey, Hooey,” in its May 31, 1934 issue the Chicago Tribune reported that his two sons from a previous marriage, Charles and Bill, had been withdrawn from Delafield, Wisconsin's St. Johns Military Academy over the Easter holiday due to “threats from kidnappers”. That very same day the Associated Press reported that Cord and his family (wife Virginia and their 2 young daughters Sally and Betty, and older sons, Charles and Bill) had been living in their British retreat at Walton Heath, Heston, England since mid-April.
The trip was spawned by numerous threats against his children which dated back to March when a man threatened Cord at a Pasadena gas station. It was followed by phoned-in call to the Cord Haven estate on March 20, which threatened to kidnap the children and was reported the very next day by the Associated Press. Cord's friends revealed that his security team had also found a man lurking on the grounds of Cordhaven and that another had shoved a rifle into the ribs of one of the guards. The final straw was the spotting of a plane circling over the Beverly Hills estate. Cord had reason to worry as the threats closely followed the 1932 kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, a recent threat made against Beverly Hills' resident Bing Crosby and the May 10, 1934 kidnapping of another neighbor, millionaire stockbroker and oilman William F. Gettle.
Buehrig fully expected development on the car would continue, however the project got put on the backburner in February of 1934 when he and Ames got personally involved in a project that was near and dear to E.L. Cord’s heart - making money. Approximately one month before he became involved in the kidnapping hullabaloo, Cord ordered Harold T. Ames and Buehrig to Auburn, Indiana, to salvage the 1934 Auburn which had failed to win over both Auburn's distributors and the car-buying public in general. Buehrig recalled:
Buehrig would not return to Duesenberg and years later he fondly recalled his time at the Indianapolis manufacturer stating:
In 1933 Auburn, which was in rather shaky financial condition, gambled half a million dollars of their precious resources on an all-new 1934 design that featured the firm’s first all-steel body designed by the firm’s young designer, Alan H. Leamy.
Although the appearance of the 1934 Auburn looks fine today, it bombed at its debut at the 1934 New York Auto Show, especially so with the dealers who were the people that were actually placing the orders and purchasing the cars. On the return trip back from the New York Auto Show, Duesenberg's Harold T. Ames shared a Pullman car with Lucius “Lou” Bass Manning, E.L. Cord’s right-hand man and chairman of Manning & Co., a Cord controlled holding company which owned the bulk of Auburn’s stock. Inevitably the discussion between the two travelers turned to the failed debut of the Auburn and Ames volunteered that he knew what was wrong with the car, to which Manning replied:
And fix it he did. Manning made him executive vice president of Auburn and Ames was given a meager budget of $50,000 to cover the cost of face-lifting the car for the upcoming model year. Both Buehrig and Augie Duesenberg accompanied Ames on the move to Auburn, Indiana - Buehrig was put in charge of redesigning the front-end sheet-metal and Duesenberg was tasked with adapting the Switzer-Cummins centrifugal supercharger to the 1935 Auburn.
Ames only requests were that the car look powerful and have a big hood. Buehrig delivered, sculpting an entirely new front end which eliminated Leamy’s unpopular waterfall treatment and gave it a significantly more imposing radiator shell and grill. Upon Ames’ approval of the 1/8 scale clay model Burt Cotter and Ted Allen, two of Auburn’s body engineers, went to work on the orthographic drawings required to create the dies for the new sheet-metal and less than six months after the introduction of Leamy’s ill-fated 1934 Auburn, Buehrig’s new car was shown to the dealers. Buehrig recalled the details of the facelift:
Augie Duesenberg went to work with the Lycoming Engine Division of Cord and Louis Schwitzer of Schwitzer-Cummins to come up with something that would give the ‘new’ Auburn more of a performance image - a supercharger. In order to keep under-hood temperatures at bay, Duesenberg equipped the 1935 Auburn 851 with the same type of exposed stainless-steel exhaust pipes found on the Duesenberg SJ, a brilliant move which helped establish the supercharged 1935-1936 Auburn 851-852 line as the ones to beat.
Although ‘Ames intruders ’had provided Lucius B. Manning and Auburn distributors with a car that would sell, Buehrig sensed some animosity between the outsiders and existing Auburn employees. Harold T. Ames’ office was directly across the hall from Roy H. Falkner’s, who had returned to Auburn as president on August 24, 1934 after a brief sojourn as Pierce-Arrow sales manager. The two executives despised each other, and as most of the staff were solidly on Falkner’s side, Buehrig’s job was harder than it should have been. Alan Leamy, the man who had designed the failed 1934 Auburn, was still there, and listening to Buehrig, you can sense that Leamy was uncomfortable with Buehrig’s presence, and several months after Ames and Buehrig’s arrival, Leamy was gone.
Apparently Leamy was blamed for the poor sales of the 1934 Auburn line and his widow infers that he was asked to resign, telling ACD Museum director Skip Marketti that he was ‘relieved of his duties’. Apparently the dismissal came as no surprise to Leamy as a letter to the SAE Employment Service dated September 28th, 1933 reveals he was already looking for a new job. In fact he had been sending out sketches of interiors and exteriors to several manufacturers, including Graham and Packard during his final years at Auburn. Leamy wasn’t out of work long, accepting a position with the Fisher Body Co. that summer. Harley Earl was impressed by his work and on June 1, 1935 Leamy became a member of the LaSalle design studio at GM's Art & Colour division. 8 days later Leamy developed acute septicemia (bacteremia or blood poisoning) from a routine diphtheria vaccination he received as part of GM’s annual physical and four days later, June 12, 1935, he was dead at the age of 33.
Ames recalled the facelift of Leamy’s 1934 Auburn in his September 1, 1963 presentation before members of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club:
During the summer of 1934, Ames realized that he would need something to serve as the centerpiece of the firm’s upcoming auto shows, especially since much of Auburn’s 1935 lineup had already debuted, many months before the competition’s 1935 offerings. Lest the automotive press ignore the firm’s displays entirely, that showpiece had to be spectacular.
Ames asked Buehrig if he could cobble up a handful of supercharged Model 851 speedsters for the upcoming auto show season using some of the unsold speedster bodies* Auburn had in storage at the Union City Body Co. at Union City, Indiana.
(*Another one of Leamy’s brilliant designs, the Salon Speedster was offered on the 1932-1934 Auburn 8-105 and 12-160A/12-165 chassis, and although beautiful, the 1934 speedsters were slow-sellers and only 59 examples were produced (22 eight-cyl. & 37 twelve-cyl.), leaving an unsold surplus of approximately 41 of the initial 100-unit order placed with Union City.)
Upon test-fitting one of the surplus speedster bodies on a new Model 851 chassis it was discovered that it would require extensive modifications – in particular the two cars had a differently- shaped rear axle kick-up and the width of the frames were different, requiring compensating pieces to mount the 1933 body on the 1935 frame. In addition, the cowl of the 851 was significantly wider than its predecessor, requiring several revisions to the hood so that the cowl of the existing speedster bodies would meet up with the Model 851’s all-new front end.
Aesthetically, the rear of Leamy’s speedster looked out of place on the longer, sleeker, 851 chassis so Buehrig decided to scrap the rear end from the rear axle centerline, back. While at Duesenberg, he had designed a number of boat-tail speedster bodies for the significantly longer Model J chassis, and he incorporated one of those designs details on the new rear end he created for the 851 Speedster.
Buehrig recalled how the design of his Duesenberg Speedsters differed from the Auburn:
Ames bought the design and ordered four hand-built cars to be readied in time for the upcoming show season. As Ames had anticipated, the 851 Speedster was the hit of all four of the major 1935 auto shows – New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Although Buehrig deserves credit for the bulk of the 851 speedster’s design, in particular the rear end, the central portion of its body - from the cowl to the just above the rear axle centerline - was Leamy’s. Both designers’ contributions resulted in what is considered to be the most beautiful Auburn ever produced, one which Buehrig admitted had “much better proportions than the Duesenberg.” Just as Ames had hoped, the 851 Speedster made quite a sensation on the 1935 auto show circuit.
When orders started coming in, the existing speedster bodies were re-worked in small lots, ten or twenty at a time. Cheap hardwood draw forms were constructed for forming the new rear fenders and tail ends on a hydraulic arch press. The popularity of the $2,100 Speedster was much greater than anticipated and when the inventory of 1933 speedster bodies was used up, additional units were contracted for and during its run approximately 600 Model 851-852 Speedsters were constructed – the only difference between the two models being the 851/852 script on the radiator grill.
In the May, 1957 issue of Motor Trend, Richard H. Robinson, a longtime Auburn stylist, discussed face-lifting the 1934 Auburn 650 and 850 series cars in an article entitled ‘Weird Wisdom: Some improbable high- and low-points in the little-known saga of Auburn and Cord’:
Although 1935-36 Auburns are significantly more popular and valuable in today’s collector car market, sales figures reveal that back in the day the ‘34s sold better than Buehrig’s face-lifted ‘35s, although neither approached the overwhelming sales success of Leamy’s landmark 1931 Auburn 8-98. Kimes & Clark report the following Auburn sales figures, starting with the 1931 model year: 1931-34,228 cars; 1932-11,145 cars; 1933-5,038 cars; 1934-7,770 cars; 1935-6,316 cars; 1936-1,263 cars).
Although the experimental ‘Baby Duesenberg’ had not made it to production, the project was not forgotten and once Buehrig had finished redesigning the 1935 Auburns a decision was made to revive the ‘Baby Duesenberg’ albeit with a new name, Cord, and a new driveline, a V-8 engine driving the front wheels.
On June 24, 1934 Buehrig and his friend Denny Duesenberg (Fred’s son) drove the Baby Duesenberg prototype from Indianapolis to Auburn in order to have Auburn’s engineers take a look at it. Buehrig decided to start working on the project right away, creating a quarter-scale, clay model. One of his assistants, Auburn stylist Richard H. Robinson, recalled working on the project in an article in the May, 1957 issue of Motor Trend:
The day after Labor Day, 1934, Buehrig went on a blind date with an Auburn, Indiana girl named Elizabeth C. (Betty) Whitten (b. March 13, 1910 in Bethel, Oxford County, Maine to Louis G. and Martha D. Whitten; d. August 28, 1970). They hit it off and on their next meeting he asked for her hand in marriage, she agreed and after their December 22, 1934 wedding ceremony left in our Auburn four door convertible sedan and drove to Florida. a little over three months after their first date.
By the time the newlyweds left for their Florida honeymoon – which was financed by the sale of some Packard stock the groom had acquired while working there - the design of the new Cord had been completed. Buehrig recalled:
When Buehrig returned from his honeymoon on January 6, 1935 he discovered, much to his dismay, that the whole front-wheel-drive Cord program had been scrapped. He was never given an official explanation as to why, however he believed that money was the problem:
Some of those compromise programs included creating ¼ scale clay models to see how they looked. The first involved mating the Cord front end to an existing Auburn body, the second involved mating the rear end of the Cord to a conventional Auburn-style front end. As he expected the results were atrocious while the Cord project was put on an extended hiatus he worked on another interim project, The Gentleman’s Speedster.
The Gentleman’s Speedster stemmed from Ames’ desire to use up surplus Lycoming 12-cylinder engines Auburn had in inventory. Buehrig and the rest of Auburn’s styling department worked on the project during the Spring of 1935, creating a quarter-scale clay model which was used as the basis for the full-size prototype which was eventually constructed using a 120” wheelbase 6-cylinder Auburn chassis fitted with a 160-hp 390-cu.in. Lycoming V-12.
The coachwork of the Gentleman’s Speedster used the cowl, windshield and doors of the 1931-1933 Auburn Speedster mated to a bustle-back rear end that included an integral trunk. Although the clay model featured dual side-mounted spares, the prototype’s single spare was mounted at the rear for a more continental appearance. Although the car was equipped with a very attractive one-off mascot it was constructed of mostly off-the-shelf A-C-D components such as low-mounted Auburn Model 851/852 headlamps, an Auburn 851/852 radiator shell, slightly modified Cord 810/812 fenders, Cord 810/812 bumpers and a hood constructed using parts taken from a Duesenberg Model J.
In a letter published in the May 1957 issue of the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club newsletter, Buehrig mentioned the Gentleman’s Speedster:
Once the car had served its purpose it was sold, presumably through the Cord-controlled Los Angeles distributor, to former child star John Leslie ‘Jackie’ Coogan Jr. (b. 1914 - d. 1984), who used it as his daily driver while he was courting Betty Grable, whom he married in 1937 - yes, after breaking up with Toby Wing (another Hollywood beauty) TV’s Uncle Fester went on to marry Betty Grable!
Although technically an Auburn prototype, many continue to identify it as a Duesenberg prototype, although no badging is present. The car survives and was recently exhibited at the 2011 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance and 2012 Elegance at Hershey. It currently resides in the collection of the William E. Swigart Jr. Automobile Museum in Huntingdon, Pa.
As suddenly as the Cord program had been stopped, management started it up again, Buehrig recalling:
On Sunday July 7, 1935, Buehrig received a phone call from Roy Faulkner alerting him that Auburn’s Board of Directors would discuss Auburn's future plans at a meeting the next day at the Cord Corporation’s Chicago headquarters. Buehrig recalled:
In the May, 1957 issue of Motor Trend, ex-Auburn stylist Richard H. Robinson confirms the historic event:
The date for the New York Auto Show was November 2, 1935 which left three months and 26 days to pick up the Cord program from where it had been left off at the beginning of the year. The Automobile Manufacturing Association permitted only production cars to be exhibited at the annual automobile shows; no prototypes were allowed. AMA required that at least one hundred cars be completed in order to meet the definition of "production."
It was a near-impossible task to build and test the prototypes, complete the tooling and have the required 100 cars ready by November 2nd and although Auburn managed to get the job done, the results were far from satisfying and the problems that ensued would financially cripple the already cash-strapped firm, and put them out of business – but not before they managed to build several thousand of the most beautiful production cars of the Classic Era.
Although the Auburn organization had some experience building front-wheel-drive cars, the 1929 Cord L-29 suffered from numerous maladies, in particular poor weight distribution, caused by having to place the cars straight-8 Lycoming engine behind the clutch, transmission, and differential. Although it wasn’t noticeable while driving on relatively flat terrain, as soon as you started to climb a hill the center of gravity shifted rearwards causing the driven wheels at the front to loose traction, a potentially dangerous situation if you’re driving on a snow or rain covered roadway.
Buehrig revealed that the German-built 1933-1938 Audi Front UW 220/225 series of 6-cylinder front-wheel-drive cars served as the inspiration for the drivetrain layout used on the Cord 810 in an interview with C. Edson Armi for his book ‘The Art of American Car Design’ (pub.1989). In the interview Buehrig discussed the all-new ‘package’ that gave the Cord 810 near-perfect weight distribution:
In his autobiography Buehrig discussed the differences between the Cord >L-29 and the Cord 810 in greater detail:
Buehrig was a master of the clay model and was the first designer to incorporate the moveable styling bridge, an inverted U-shaped measuring tool that traveled transversely over the length of the car on tracks. With it, any point on the surface of the vehicle could be instantly located in space, and matched to the corresponding point on a body draft. Although styling bridges are now computer-controlled, they're still found in the world's leading design studios, a full 80 years after Buehrig introduced them.
Buehrig discussed the creation of the bridge in his autobiography:
Now that the exterior of the car was more-or-less finalized, Buehrig turned his attention to the interior which featured a 'no nonsense’ instrument panel, which gave the driver all the information he required at a single glance:
The Cord 810 also featured the recently-introduced Bendix Electric Hand gear selector:
Buehrig also took a novel approach to enclosing the front-wheel-drive mechanism:
At the time Auburn couldn’t afford to create the required molds for a new steering wheel, so Buehrig took an existing wheel and modified it by adding a horn ring, the first American-built car to have one:
For the very same reason, Buehrig utilized slightly-modified obsolete hardware for the Cord 810’s interior:
Buehrig turned to one of his favorite Duesenberg bodies for the interior of the Cord 810:
The lighting that Buehrig designed for the rear of the car would become just as memorable as the hidden units found at the front of the Cord 810:
The Cord 810 featured the first set of disappearing headlights found on any production automobile – a feature that wouldn’t be reappear until 1942 when Chrysler used it on the DeSoto:
(A short youtube video showing Buehrig’s initial headlamp design in operation can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q95FcIVFjnE and the Buehrig-owned Coppertone Cord 810 currently on display at the ACD Museum has been retrofitted with a set.)
Buehrig makes no mention of having been directly involved with the redesign of the headlights and Herbert C. Snow’s name appears on the patent. Stylist Dale L. Cosper recalled that Auburn’s engineers worked on several systems – electric, pneumatic, and mechanical – to raise and lower the headlights, settling on the crank-and-cable system as it worked every time. The original headlights were only used on the #2 and #3 E306 (Cord 810) prototypes. The shakedown trip to California proved the headlight’s in-board location - as originally designed by Buehrig and installed on the ‘Baby Duesenberg’ prototype - was not ideal.
Although the inner-mounted lights kept the front portion of the fenders clean, they were not as visible to other motorists and the fender blocked a little of the available light - a problem shared with many other cars of the era. A more troubling issue was that when the headlights were retracted in the off position they were located too close to the front tires, which would occasionally hit the lights while turning, or when going over a large bump. Consequently the hidden headlights on E306 # 4, #5 and #6 were fitted with the new centrally relocated headlights found on the production 810s.
Another Buehrig first was the full-size chrome hubcap. Buehrig’s original designs did not include the round holes found on the production cars. The holes were added after road-testing showed the original hole-less hubcaps caused the brakes to overheat. Experimental engineer George P. Ritts suggested that they stamp holes in the covers that matched existing holes in the wheels, a solution that placated both Buehrig and Auburn’s engineers:
The Cord 810 was also one of the first cars to come with a radio as standard equipment:
Like numerous other components, the Cord 810’s bumpers were existing pieces sourced from a supplier:
Another first was a locking door covering the fuel filler cap:
A total of six prototypes were constructed, the first chassis (E306 #1) featured a closed Auburn sedan body, the next five (E306 #2-#6) all featured Cord 810 coachwork. As soon as the first completed sample Cord 810 sample body was received from Central Mfg. in Connersville, it was mounted on a second chassis (E306 #2) in Auburn. The car, a 4-door Beverly equipped with stainless steel louvers (found only on the prototypes), was taken on its initial shakedown cruise all the way to Los Angeles so that E.L. Cord* could have a look at it. Accompanying Auburn chief engineer George Kublin on the journey were engineers Stanley R. Thomas and George P. Ritts. Departing from Auburn on July 27, 1935, each man took turns at the wheel arriving in Los Angeles on July 30, 1935. Harold T. Ames had flown in from Chicago to greet them and gauge Cord’s enthusiasm. Before E.L. was allowed to drive the car it spent several days undergoing repairs and inspections at the firm’s Wilshire Blvd. complex. Cord drove the car around Los Angeles for several days, making several suggestions to the engineering team, who embarked upon their return trip on August 5, 1935.
Although Cord’s immediate family remained in England until the spring of 1936, E.L. Cord returned during the summer of 1935. A June 11, 1936 press release announced his official return:
Now that E.L. Cord had driven and approved the 810 prototype (E306 #2), all five of the Cord-bodied E306 prototypes (E306 #2, #3, #4, #5 and #6) were rushed onto Indiana roads, and driven hard to discover any undiscovered weaknesses.
An August 27, 1935 memo from chief engineer Herbert C. Snow, reminded Auburn’s staff that:
That allowed sufficient time for the 25 finished automobiles to be shipped to the New York and Los Angeles automobile shows which opened on November 2, 1935. No mention was made of the remaining 75 cars that the AMA required to meet their 100-car requirement, as the firm had little chance of completing the first 25.
Most of the problems encountered during road-testing were relatively minor, and easily addressed in the 3 months remaining. However, one was not, and before the cars were slated to debut at the New York and Los Angeles auto shows on November 2, a huge task awaited Auburn and its suppliers.
Amongst the several pages of problems the team recorded on the initial run to California, the propensity to pop out of 2nd gear was the most worrisome. Also problematic were noisy universal joints, inadequate brakes, an overheating engine, vapor lock and an intermittent fault in the Bendix Electric Hand gear selector. On August 9, 1935, during the return trip, E306 #2’s transmission failed completely just outside of Dixon, Illinois, requiring a replacement unit to be trucked out from the factory, and the team arrived back in Auburn on August 11, two full weeks after they had embarked on the journey.
Although purely aesthetic, the prototype’s front wheels tended to kick up road debris directly onto the leading edge of the rear fenders. During the 5,000 mile round trip the paint on those two spots become severely pitted wearing through to bare metal in several spots. Unlike the remainder of the car’s problems, this fix was easy – a large chrome-plated scuff plate was installed over the problem areas, a piece that became one of the production car’s endearing characteristics.
Another problem that wasn’t quite so easily solved was the overly small windshield and rear window. Production cars featured significantly larger units that were successfully tested on a couple of the prototypes.
A few more changes mandated by the California shakedown run were retrofitted to that car (E306 #2) such as a 1” taller radiator which solved the overheating problems and the substitution of Rzeppa constant velocity universal joints, for the too-noisy Cardan units.
It quickly became apparent that the transmission woes encountered by E306 #2 on its shakedown cruise were not an aberration; all five of the prototypes suffered multiple transmission failures of one type or another – most involved stripped gears, others seized up completely due to overheating, poor lubrication, etc.
The transmission for the new Cord was an entirely new design requiring new tooling. Although the 810’s transmission was assembled by the Cord-owned Columbia Axle Co., Auburn blamed the problems on the component’s manufacturer, the Detroit Gear & Machine Co. However the problems could have easily been solved if Auburn management had given the suppliers a realistic amount of time to test and develop the all-new transmission. As it was, Auburn’s manufacturing schedule called for completed transmissions to be delivered weeks before the tooling was finalized and final testing completed. It didn’t happen.
The transmission problems were so severe
that Columbia Axle
Co. (Cord-controlled) and Detroit Gear & Machine halted production
first batch of 100 until the problems could be rectified. Unfortunately
were the units that were to be installed on the cars needed for the
new car shows. This presented Auburn with a seemingly unsurmountable
The future of the firm rested with the new cars’ debut, and if the 810
appear at the upcoming fall/winter car shows, the firm faced certain
bankruptcy. Auburn’s accelerated production schedule simply did not
time to correct the transmission’s numerous problems, so the Cord 810s
at the 1936 auto shows (the New York and Los Angeles shows commenced
2, 1935) were not "drivable", although they were fitted with
transmissions, contrary to legend and popular belief.*
(*During his lifetime Cord historian Josh
Malks conducted extensive
research on whether the 1936 Cord show cars were equipped with working
transmissions or not. As I had always suspected, he discovered actual
evidence they were
indeed fitted with transmissions / transaxles; however, like the
engines, they were not filled with lubricant, and thus were not
"drivable". Due to the numerous problems which still remained unsolved,
Cord management didn't want risk having another failure as the cars
were being driven in and out of the show, and elected to play it safe.)
Other last minute problems associated with the Cord’s accelerated debut had to do with getting the 25 bodies for the showcars ready by the Snow’s October 15th deadline. Although the wooden die models for the front drive sedan had been completed, there was no possibility, in that short period, of having all of the permanent metal tooling required to stamp out all of the body panels. Many of the show vehicles’ components were made, assembled and welded together completely by hand, the task being divided between Auburn’s own body shop and the Central Manufacturing Co. in Connersville, another E.L. Cord-controlled enterprise.
Of the first 100 bodies, 70 were 4-door sedans, 15 convertibles and 15 phaetons. The Convertible and phaeton body shells were assembled in Auburn and trucked to Connersville for final assembly at Central Mfg., who were also in charge of assembling the 4-door sedans. For some parts, the creation of permanent tooling would take only a little longer than making the parts by hand. Making the permanent tools now would keep down the cost of the parts for the showcars, and provide a head start toward the beginning of actual production after the shows. These parts would be made in Connersville, since that's where the production cars would be built. So the showcars were assembled of a combination of handmade and production parts. Among the latter were the rear floor pan, instrument panel, rocker panels and glove box doors.
The major body panels for the showcars were fabricated in Auburn. Cowls for all the cars and the roof panels for the sedans were stamped out on Auburn's Artz press. Parts for the front and rear fenders were hammered out in Auburn too. Fender halves were tack welded to hold them together, then shipped to Connersville for completion. Hood, louver assembly and transmission cover were made in Auburn, as were some smaller sheet metal pieces for the body and chassis. Panels and parts were trucked to Connersville, where all metal finishing and painting were done.
Although the panels were hand-checked against the wooden bucks by Roy Weisheit's crew there was enough variation from panel to panel, that certain panels would only fit the exact car it had been made for. One Connersville employee named Porter Gorton developed a quick-and-easy system for coding the parts so they ended up on the correct car.
All wood parts were made in Connersville. So were the steel doors floor pan rear deck lid and door center pillar. All were fashioned by hand. From outside vendors came seat back assemblies, cowl ventilator, hood latch and props, and the headlamp mechanisms.
Gordon Buehrig remembered that someone in management decided that the Cord exhibit at the New York show would be enhanced by the display of the quarter-scale red model. Since the "Gentlemen's Speedster" model was to be displayed as well, it's a good bet that the originator of the idea was Harold Ames. Vince Gardner and Dale Cosper designed and built cases for the models. The front, top and one end of each case was glass. On the back, bottom and other end were drawn the side, top and end views of the car. In other words, as Buehrig later said, the cars sat on their own body drafts, and illustrated how the design work had been done.
Lloyd ‘Slim’ Davidson was supervisor of Central's Experimental Garage, and overseer of the showcar project. At two o'clock in the early morning of October 29, Davidson looked out over the collection of nearly-completed cars. His educated eye told him that eleven of them were close enough to completion to be exhibited to the public. He selected those that would make up the Cord exhibit at the Los Angeles show. The shows in New York and Los Angeles both started on the same date, November 2. Since train time to the west coast was two days longer than to the east, the Los Angeles cars had to start on their way first. The way freight still waited on the siding in back of the Connersville plant, with the string of empty double-door automobile cars. A short time later, six Cords were pushed out of the 18th street door of the Central plant, then up the hill to the rail siding. It was two more hours before they were loaded into automobile cars. These special long freight cars could each accommodate four automobiles in the "half-deck" position; that is, tilted up at a 45 degree angle by a loading mechanism in the rail car. The car's engines and transmissions were not filled with oil as it may have leaked out and ruined the pristine interiors and exteriors, especially when placed in such an unnatural postion. The local freight pulled away, hauling its load to the interchange point where they would be coupled into a fast freight headed for Los Angeles. The 6 cars destined for the New York show would leave two days later, and luckily the Chicago show didn't start for another 2 weeks (Nov. 16, 1935).
The display cases for the quarter-scale models destined for the New York show were not ready until just after midnight of October 31. As Buehrig was expected to show up to represent Auburn at the show, he was assigned the task of transporting the two clay models and their cases in the rear compartment of a 1936 Auburn hearse that was also slated to appear at the New York show.
In the May, 1957 issue of Motor Trend, ex-Auburn stylist Richard H. Robinson discussed the rush to build Cord 810 prototypes that appeared at the shows:
On November 2, 1935, what had originally started out as the ‘Baby Duesenberg’ made its public debut as the Model 810 Cord, Buehrig recalling the event in his biography:
Buehrig's statements above in regards to the transmissions were just not accurate - the transmissions had been designed, management just didn't trust them as they still had bugs that needed to be worked out. As stated earlier, Cord 810 historian Josh Malks has proved conclusively that the show cars were, in fact, fitted with transmissions - they were just not "drivable" as they were not filled with lubricant.
In a later interview with Irwin, Buehrig "guesses" the Cord 810 showcars were in fact fitted with transmissions. Irwin asked:
To which Buehrig replied:
In his interview with Crippen, Buehrig recalled that by the end of 1937 the Cord 812's coming out of the factory were 'pretty good cars' when compared to the early Cord 810's:
The Automobile Manufacturers Association,
the organizers of the
national automobile shows, had a strict requirement that in order for a
manufacturer to have an exhibit at one of its shows, a minimum of 100
cars must have been produced prior to the start of the first show of
the season - November 2, 1935 in the case of the Cord.
As the production tooling was not yet ready, many of the stamped sheet-metal parts required for those 100 cars did not exist, and had to be created by hand. The power hammer operators and welders at Auburn and Central Manufacturing worked as many hours overtime as they could stand, and the third-party suppliers were forced to work miracles. It was common knowledge that Auburn's financial position was less than ideal, so a party for the Cord 810's outside suppliers was held at Auburn's administration building so that they could see the prototype in person, hoping the sight of the car would instill sufficient faith in the project for them to continue to extend Auburn credit.
The ploy worked, and the Cord was the hit of the show, Buehrig recalling:
Columnist George A. Brewster in an item titled "Body Design at the New York Show," dated December 1935, stated:
Another accolade, titled "The Body Beautiful," continued:
On November 4, 1935 Roman LaPica, United Press' staff correspondent, commented:
Another reporter at the show mentioned that:
And yet another:
Buehrig recalled that at the New York Show the Cords were on the floor rather than on the raised platforms that some of the larger manufacturers used. Despite their low height, it was easy to find the Cords due to the crowd standing around it - several show-goers even used the bumpers of an adjoining Chrysler to get a better look.
The November 3, 1935 edition of The Salt Lake City Tribune published the following item, which was most-likely furnished by the automaker:
Although local distributors took numerous orders for Christmas delivery at the November-December national auto shows, company brass soon realized that fullfilling those orders by December 25 was impossible. To help keep orders from getting cancelled Ames came up with a short-term solution. Back in October he had looked into getting some bronze replicas of the Cord 810 manufactured by the Rotary Co. of Buffalo, New York to be presented to large Auburn dealers and company executives. Once it became apparent that Auburn was going to have quite a few unhappy customers come Christmas Day, he ordered 100 of the 1:32 scale bronze replicas from Rotary's William Weiss, complete with a marble base, that would be presented to those customers in lieu of the real thing. Mounted on a marble base, the remaining examples command significant ($5,000+) asking prices today. They became so scarce and expensive that the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Owners' Club commissioned another 100 replicas to commemorate the Cord 810's 70th anniversary in 2006.
On September 1, 1963 Harold T. Ames covered the birth of the Cord 810/812 in a speech before members of the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club:
Cord's competitors took advantage of the delayed delivery and spread vicious rumors regarding the car's bad transmissions, delayed delivery and uncertain future. Although time proved all three rumours to be true, many of its purchasers liked the car so much that they they disregarded the naysayers, and period newspaper articles reveal that regular deliveries of the Cord began to take place in March of 1936. By the time the 1937 Model 812 debuted, most of the 810's problems had been rectified, including the common complaint that the rear legroom in the sedans was insufficient, a subject that Buehrig addressed in his 1966 interview with Ron Irwin:
Prior to leaving Auburn, Buehrig was involved in developing the design of the stillborn 1938 Auburn and Duesenberg automobiles, of which a dozen or so concepts were constructed in Connersville. Duesenberg historian John Baeke owns one of the cars and recently covered the subject on the official ACD Club blog:
Buehrig's resignation was announced in the October 3, 1936 issue of Automotive Industries:
In 1966 Buehrig spoke to Ron Irwin about the three Cord 810/812s* he had owned up until that time (*Buehrig was later presented with one of Glenn Pray's Cord 8/10 Corvair-based continuations - it's unclear if he actually owned it):
More recently, Paul Bryant restored
copper-bronze Cord and donated it to the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum
(see appendix 2).
The remainder of Buehrig's career - from his next position as head of the Edward G. Budd Mfg. Co.'s design studio in Detroit to his final position as instructor at Pasadena's Art Center College for Design, will be published in the near future.
Continental Mk II historian Barry Wolk
recently sent me several photos of Buehrig during his time at the Ford
Motor Co. Included is a letter from Buehrig acknowledging he was
responsible for the body engineering of the 1956-1957 Continental Mk
II, but not the styling.
© 2015 Mark
Theobald for Coachbuilt.com with special thanks to Barry Wolk and The Henry Ford Museum
Appendix 1 Patents:
Appendix 2 – Coppertone Cord