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Resource Guide
Auction Central
By Larry Edsall
Back to Community

Hershey auction features Duesie that beat the Marx brothers' Mercedes
By Larry Edsall

Duesenberg Model J Dual Windshield Barrelside Phaeton by LeBaron_Historic picture_Credit unknown Auction houses like to talk about a classic car's provenance. Well, here's provenance that's hard to trump:

In 1932, there was a card game at actor Al Jolson's house on Los Angeles' Sunset Boulevard. Among those sitting around the table were Zeppo and Chico, two of the famed Marx brothers, and Phil Berg, a Hollywood agent whose clients included Clark Gable, Olivia DeHavilland, Sonja Heine, Buster Keaton, Edward G. Robinson and, presumably, his wife, actress Leila Hyams.

Berg owned a Duesenberg (his neighbor was E.L. Cord who ran the Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg companies) and had convinced several of his clients to buy Duesie's as well. Jolson also known for his love of expensive cars, and the Marx brothers had arrived in their supercharged Mercedes-Benz with sleek boattail bodywork.

At some point in the evening, Chico Marx challenged Berg to a race, a midnight race from Jolson's house to the Santa Monica beach, and was so confident of his Mercedes' capabilities that he backed his challenge with $10,000.

Berg apparently was ready to go, but his wife halted such foolishness. Well, she didn't stop it so much as postpone it, because instead of making a mad dash through the darkness, the parties agreed to a more appropriate setting, a five-mile circular circuit on the Muroc dry desert lakebed, and between them and others, the prize pot swelled to $25,000.

Duesenberg Model J Dual Windshield Barrelside Phaeton by LeBaron_Photo Credit Darin Schnabel Courtesy of RM Auctions Both sides recruited ringer racers to prep and drive their cars, which would have fenders and other unnecessary bodywork removed for the occasion.

The race became a Hollywood event, with Gable, Jolson, Gary Cooper, Carole Lombard, Mae West and others in attendance.

Actor Ben Lyon used his 12-cylinder Lincoln as pace car for a rolling start to the 15-mile race. The cars ran side-by-side for the first five-mile lap, but the Duesenberg pulled away, winning by a substantial margin. The Los Angeles Times covered the event and reported the winning car had averaged 102.5 miles per hour.

The Marx Mercedes, which resides in the JWR Automobile Museum in Frackville, Pa. , recently was on the lawn at the Concours d'Elegance of America in Michigan. The Duesenberg also will be in Pennsylvania next week for RM Auction's sale in conjunction with the Antique Automobile Club of America's annual autumn gathering at Hershey.

The Duesie, technically the 1931 Duesenberg Model J dual windshield "barrelside" phaeton by LeBaron, will be one of 10 vehicles crossing the block from the Ray Bowersox collection. It is one of only seven such cars built and one of only six that remain.

Duesenberg Model J Dual Windshield Barrelside Phaeton by LeBaron_Photo Credit Darin Schnabel Courtesy of RM Auctions Also being offered are nine cars from the George Grew collection of brass-era vehicles, several from the Raymond Carr collection, a 1903 Ford Model a rear-entry tonneau documented as the oldest surviving vehicle from Ford Motor Co. and a 1915 Peerless 48-hp seven-passenger touring (see photo) that not only is the only survivor of its type but which has been owned since new by the same family.

Several 19th Century fire-fighting wagons also will be offered, as will 1920s and ‘30s-era motorcycles and wooden boats.

Visit to see the digital version of the catalog for the auction, which is October 11-12. (RM's Auction America division is in Pennsylvania this week for its sale at the Carlisle Fairgrounds.)

Simeone museum stresses preservation vs. restoration A few days before the Hershey events, the Simeone Automotive Museum in Philadelphia hosts an auction and a book launch aimed at preserving rather than restoring classic vehicles.

Bonhams' "Preserving the Automobile" auction October 8 will feature original vehicles that have been either "sympathetically restored or recently unearthed" as well as the spares and accessories that might be used in "accurate" restoration of such vehicles.

"Our interest is to support the concept that there is another alternative in treating historic cars which have survived the test of time in decent condition: preservation rather than fancy restoration," said Frederick Simeone, executive director of the museum and editor of the new book, "The Stewardship of Historically Important Automobiles," which was written by the likes of Miles Collier, Ed Gilbertson, Leigh and Leslie Keno, and others.

Click here for event calendar.


Click here for more articles by Larry Edsall.

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