©Elite Heritage Motors Corp., Elroy, Wisconsin
Bodies for the Duesenberg J were supplied by some of the nation's leading coachbuilders: Murphy, Holbrook, Derham, LeBaron, Willoughby, and Weymann, to name but a few. Then as the Duesenberg's fame spread, coachwork came from overseas. Fernandez et Darrin, Franay, Gurney Nutting, Saoutchik, and other top-ranking firms were represented.
And then there were the LaGrande bodies, most of them phaetons and all of them gorgeous. The late Gordon Buehrig, Duesenberg's chief stylist from 1929 to 1933, explained: "The LaGrande Phaeton was a product of the Depression, and it exemplifies the struggle [Duesenberg vice-president] Harold Ames made to keep the Duesenberg company in business.
"The Union City Body Company of Union City, Indiana, who built the body shells for the LaGrande phaeton, was not a prestige carriage builder. They had built some bodies for Auburn, but they also built seats for movie theatres and other non-automotive products. However, they could build bodies and they had a low wage scale. Ames was able to buy phaeton bodies from them for less than he could from LeBaron or Derham.
"At the Duesenberg factory we had good trimmers and painters, equal in fact to those in the prestige custom shops. Thus, the LaGrande bodies were purchased 'in the white,' then decked trimmed and painted at Duesenberg. This arrangement had the extra advantage of keeping our own craftsmen busy.
"LaGrande, incidentally, was a name coined by Harold Ames to be a prestige body nameplate because Union City ... was not a recognized carriage builder. The LaGrande name was also used later for all bodies received at the factory 'in the white,' which included unfinished bodies from Weymann, Walker, Brunn and others. While a LaGrande body plate was struck, it was not normally used, and these vehicles were usually delivered with no body plate affixed as they were referred to as Duesenberg's own coachbuilder. They are credited with producing twenty-one bodies, of which nineteen were LaGrande phaetons."
In fact, the LaGrande phaeton was basically Gordon Buehrig's adaptation of the LeBaron design that had appeared on Duesenberg J-101, though Buehrig incorporated some of the features of the later Derham Tourster, a body he had personally designed. The LaGrand version was suitable for use on either the 142.5-or 153.5-inch chassis, though most of them appeared on the shorter wheelbase.
On the next page, find out how Duesenberg faired during the Depression.