Classic cars from European marques selling in the tens of millions will barely get an eyelid to bat these days, and soon that may be true of American cars, too, judging by the auction activity in Monterey, California over the weekend.
A 1935 Duesenberg SSJ sold at a Gooding & Company auction on Saturday for $22 million. That makes it the most expensive American car ever sold at auction, smashing the previous record of $13.75 million bid in 2016 for the CSX 2000, the first Shelby Cobra built by Carroll Shelby.
However, unlike the Cobra, which had British roots, the Duesenberg is all-American. It was built during dark days at Duesenberg, as the company was struggling from the combined effects of the Great Depression as well as the death of Duesenberg co-founder Fred Duesenberg just a few years prior.
The company was being run by Errett Cord at the time. He hoped that building two special Duesenbergs and placing them in the hands of Gary Cooper and Clark Gable, the most famous celebrities of the day, would generate enough publicity to turn around the brand's fortunes. The two cars were “special speedsters” to be built on the shortened platform of a Duesenberg J, and with the donor car's most powerful engine available: a 7.0-liter supercharged inline-8 delivering 400 horsepower. The result were the world's only two SSJs.
This one, chassis number 2594, was originally owned by Cooper, who paid the factory cost of approximately $5,000, a bargain considering regular Duesenberg Js were selling for triple the amount. It isn't clear how long he kept the car but there are photos of it taken in Los Angeles during the late 1930s.
It then traded hands a number of times before it ended up in the hands of collector D. Cameron Peck, who already owned the SSJ that was delivered to Gable. Peck bought the car with the intention of passing it on to none other than American sportsman Briggs Cunningham, which he did in 1949. It stayed in the Cunningham collection, which was sold to Miles C. Collier in 1986. Collier has now sold the car onto a new owner with very deep pockets it seems.
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