Gorgeous Gordon Buehrig-Designed Duesenberg Wins La Jolla Concours

duesenberg wins best in show at la jolla
World’s Most Beautiful DuesenbergRoyce Rumsey

There was quite a field of Duesenbergs at the La Jolla Concours d’Elegance last weekend, spread out between two classes. Consider that a good number of these classic American cars live in the Southern California area, and that their owners are happy to bring them out to shows like this, and you see that the competition among them was strong this year.

And yet it was fairly clear to almost all present which car should win: the William Lyon family’s 1931 Duesenberg Model J Weymann “TaperTail” Speedster.

“It’s pretty stunning in person,” said the concours’ co-emcee and local television newsman Dave Kunz. “The whole place erupted in applause when it rolled up as we announced it as Best In Show.”


“It’s a lovely car,” said author, historian, and museum curator Ken Gross, when he was forwarded a photo.

The Lyon Family Duesenberg Speedster is one of two speedster designs by Gordon Buehrig , done for the Weymann coachbuilding firm of Indianapolis.

duesenberg wins best in show at la jolla
The concours winner was quite the hot rod in its day.Royce Rumsey

“Hired by Duesenberg in 1929, Buehrig designed the signature ‘J’ model Duesenbergs and spearheaded a new era of autotmotive design, of dramatic and sweeping lines—replacing the prior, Edwardian/gothic ‘carriage’ ornate ‘box’ genre, and the 1931 Speedster is arguably the most stunning and pioneering example of this new aesthetic,” said industrial designer and automotive photographer Royce Rumsey, whose photos you see here. “Based on the shorter of two Duesenberg chassis (in this case, chassis #2450) Buerhig jettisoned both the running boards and step plates and shaped a teardrop form flowing from the cowl that he dubbed the ‘taper tail’ (assisting in the taper was a single-passenger rumble seat instead of the usual two-seat rear rumble). The dramatic addition of the vermillion sweep panel completed the jaunty and powerful/sporting aesthetics that became a signature tone for the Duesenberg marque.”

It was quite the performance car for 1931.

Duesenbergs were known as ‘hot rods’ for their amazing performance,” said co-emcee of the event Ed Justice Jr., president and CEO of Justice Brothers. “The Model J Weymann Taper Tail has the look to go with that: no running boards, no door handles, no hinges, those are all features that would later define a ‘hot rod.’ Add the taper tail, and this is a standout in the history of Duesenberg. Considering that the display of Duesenbergs at the La Jolla Concours was one of the biggest in quite a while, winning the Best In Show speaks volumes.”

Rumsey continued: “At the heart of the ‘TaperTail’ was the famous 6.9-liter straight-eight Duesenberg engine—replete with its 4-valve removable head and 265 horsepower, an output that exceeded the metrics of most dynos at the time. This remarkable engine (built by Lycoming—which became part of the E.L Cord empire) was part of the total ‘J’ model offering that was a tour-de-force of innovation. The chassis was a simple ladder frame with 6 cross members with solid front and rear axles. Twist and flex was not to be experienced. An ingenious automated lubrication system was installed that started lubricating various parts of the chassis after 60 to 80 miles. Two lights on the dashboard indicated the lubrication progress, and two others lit up at 750 and 1500 miles, indicating the need for an oil change and a battery check.”

It’s quite the package.

“This car lives up to the marketing slogan for the Model J, ‘The only car that could pass a Duesenberg is another Duesenberg, and that was with the first owner’s consent,” said Justice.

duesenberg wins best in show at la jolla
The Singleton Collection’s 1935 Duesenberg J Convertible Roadster.La Jolla Concours

La Jolla doesn’t list runners-up for Best In Show, but several other Duesenbergs won awards there, including:

  • The Nethercutt Collection’s 1933 Duesenberg SJ Arlington Torpedo Sedan, which won for Most Outstanding Pre-War

  • The Singleton Collection’s 1935 Duesenberg J Convertible Roadster, winner of the LPL Summit Best of Marque Award

  • Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty Award, which went to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum’s 1921 Duesenberg Straight Eight/Model A Coupé

  • The William Lyon Family also won the Phillip Wichard Excellence in Design Award for its 1935 Duesenberg Model J Fernandez & Darrin Victoria Convertible.

So, no matter how you look at it, La Jolla was a Duesy of a concours.