5-6 October 2017

The Thomas F. Derro Collection

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Lot 259

1932 Duesenberg Model J Town Car by Kirchhoff

  • Chassis no. 2514
  • Engine no. J-497

Sold for $594,000

  • Offered from The Thomas F. Derro Collection
  • The famed, world-traveling “Countess Anna Ingraham” Duesenberg
  • One of the most expensive Model Js ever produced
  • Elaborately trimmed one-off coachwork by J. Gerald Kirchoff
  • Original chassis, engine, and body
  • Only six owners from new

The famed ads may have said “She Drives a Duesenberg,” but Countess Anna Ingraham, heiress to the American clock and watch fortune, did not drive herself. For that, she had J. Gerald Kirchhoff, the man who had built her automobile’s body with his own two hands, carefully crafting its unique coachwork at a cost of $25,000. Obviously he was impressed with his employer, and why shouldn’t he have been? Photographs of her depict a white-haired lady of impressive, almost intimidating bearing, with clear dark eyes appraising the world from beneath a fur toque. She would have looked at home on the sun deck of a Cunarder or strolling through the lobby of the Plaza.

Kirchhoff had been given free rein to build the Countess an automobile full of pomp and circumstance. To use a cliché, it was built with bank vault-like quality, and indeed it contained a vault’s worth of treasures, including hand-embroidered silk brocade upholstery, cabinetry of inlaid Birdseye maple as fine as any piece of antique furniture, and brass hardware plated in 24-karat gold. A color postcard of the 1960s shows the car still wearing its original finish, a bright metallic aqua! A massive trunk and rooftop luggage rack were installed to accommodate the vast quantities of luggage for planned European travels; a tank for potable water and solid disc wheels were fitted, for rough terrain and distant lands.

Yes, J. Gerald Kirchhoff was impressed with Anna Ingraham, and with the writing on the wall for custom coachbuilders, he accepted her invitation to become her chauffeur. Together they traveled the world with the Model J, which crossed the Atlantic by ocean liner and proceeded to tour Europe. A full list of its destinations is not known, though at least one photograph survives of it in the shadow of Stonehenge.

As World War II began to rage, Kirchhoff, Ingraham, and the Model J returned stateside in 1940. The car’s travels, for then, were over, and after the Countess’ passing in 1944, the Duesenberg was put into storage. It would eventually be sold in 1962 to the Powers Museum, near its original owner’s Bristol, Connecticut, home, then several years later to early collector Anthony Pascucci.

Pascucci, in turn, sold the Duesenberg in 1982 to Bernard Wajer of Maryland, who commissioned its restoration by the noted Al Pruett & Sons of Glen Rocks, Pennsylvania. Mr. Pruett displayed the car at numerous Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) meets, as well as several times in Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) and Auburn Cord Duesenberg (ACD) Club events, winning numerous awards. After 17 years of enjoyment, the car was purchased by Thomas Derro in 1999, and has now remained in his wonderful collection, with only occasional concours outings, for another 18 years.

Having been conscientiously well-maintained by its owners and never allowed to decay, the Kirchhoff town car is remarkably intact, including all of its priceless original trim hardware; even enough of the original upholstery survived to enable patterns for its recreation, in Italy. Its drivetrain is fully original and “matching,” and the body remains in its original configuration, aside from skirted fenders added later in the 1930s and a set of more elegant wire wheels. Accompanying the car are numerous original Kirchhoff delivery photographs acquired from the coachbuilder’s estate, a sample of the original interior fabric, and even a framed photograph of the Countess, as well as period luggage.

Well known to Duesenberg cognoscenti, the Kirchoff town car has appeared in such works as Don Butler’s Auburn Cord Duesenberg (p. 273), Josh B. Malks’ Illustrated Duesenberg Buyer’s Guide (p. 99), and Fred Roe’s Duesenberg: The Pursuit of Perfection (p. 138).

Whether or not it was the most expensive Duesenberg ever built is perhaps up for debate, but no other Model J packs the sheer visual force of Countess Anna Ingraham’s J-497. It is a car purpose-built for grand entrances at the end of long journeys. One imagines that Countess Anna, wherever she might be, and her coachbuilder-cum-chauffeur would like that very much.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver


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California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat


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United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht


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Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig


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California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose


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United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould


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Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff


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Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach


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California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry


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California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut


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California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire


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United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn


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Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin


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United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill


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United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher


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Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers


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California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden


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United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more