04/29/2017: LECC XIV ANNOUNCED! JAY LENO'S DUESENBERG WALKER COUPE
Posted by Zone News
The 1934 Duesenberg Aerodynamic Walker Coupe in 1:24 Scale
LECCXIV 14th model from the Diecast Car Collectors Club (D4C)
Click Here to order: Jay Leno's Duesenberg Aerodynamic Walker Coupe
The authentic finishes and perfectly scaled instrumented dashboard feature micro-decals in the gauges and foiled chrome for trim. The front door side windows are down so that you can view the detailed dash and interior. The body is sealed with no moving parts. The intricate seats and detailed interior side panels can all be viewed through the clear side and rear glass.
Jay Leno himself is quite pleased that we are replicating his Duesenberg Walker Coupe as this year’s club car! The Club sent him last year's LECC model, the '41 Packard Woody Wagon Deluxe and he loved it. He is really looking forward to us sending him this one when it is complete!
Excerpt from JOHN NIKAS Vintage Roadcar Story about the car: “The aristocracy of automobile marques in the days before the Great Depression was comprised almost exclusively of products from European manufacturers: Hispano-Suiza, Isotta Fraschini, Minerva, Mercedes-Benz and Rolls-Royce. American buyers who wanted the finest luxury car that money could buy inevitably chose vehicles that were imported from the Old World until the debut of the Model J Duesenberg at the New York Salon in 1928. For anyone familiar with American-built cars, the introduction of the Model J was an absolute revelation.
Eli Lilly & Company’s Chairman, Eli Lilly II ordered this car directly from Duesenberg. Herb Newport went to work and created a shape that would be evocative of the baby Duesenberg project – a shape that would soon become the Cord 810 – but was much grander in scale and better able to cheat the wind with its pontoon fenders and flowing lines. The order for the Lilly body was placed with the A.H. Walker Body Company, also located in Indianapolis, on May 19, 1934, and at $6,750 (exclusive of the grill and radiator which were handcrafted for an additional $1,200) would be the most expensive coachwork ever fitted to a Duesenberg chassis. With the additional expense for painting, trim and other amenities, the price for the finished car was reportedly an astounding $25,000, with the vehicle weighing in at an equally lofty three tons.
The car, number 2569, was delivered on Lilly’s birthday, September 25, 1934, mounted on its short wheelbase chassis and powered by engine number J-554. The car was painted in dark blue, and featured a dramatic low roof that was covered in matching leather. The waterfall grill was art itself and was a complete departure from the traditional Duesenberg upright radiator. Headlights faired into the full pontoon fenders allowed them to pierce the wind and the body was distinctive for its lack of chrome. The flat-blade bumpers reduced air resistance, the windshield was raked to lessen drag and the fender skirts and full wheel discs increased the aerodynamic efficiency of the overall design. It was exactly what Lilly had asked for – distinctive and functional.
Typically, a car such as the Walker coupe would have started its life on the salon circuit to display its dynamic lines to a world that had never seen its like before. Remember that, although Lilly possessed great vision, he was also prone to an intense desire for privacy. As soon as he took delivery, it was secreted away from public view and thus no contemporary accounts of the car exist. Lilly is rumored to have never driven the car himself, choosing instead to ride in it while a chauffer took the wheel.
Although the car expressed Lilly’s design ethos as much as it represented the combined efforts of Duesenberg and Walker in fulfilling it, the Walker coupe was far too flamboyant for the traditional executive, and Lilly traded it to Hilton Motors in Manhattan.
The day after the car was traded in it was transferred to the Duesenberg Sales Corporation for consignment where it was purchased almost immediately by Mrs. Rita LeMay and it Eventually, Morgan French purchased the car and left it with Herb Guthrie who spent 20 years working on its restoration.
Enter Jay Leno.
Eventually, in 1993, after years of hoping to lay eyes on the elusive Walker, Randy Ema, Duesenberg historian and restorer non-pareil, was invited by Guthrie to see the car at his house in Long Island. A year passed before Ema was able to make good on the offer and view the enigmatic coupe. Ema was shocked by what he saw, “the car had a lot more presence to it and made a bolder statement than I had realized.” Even though he had seen the factory photos, Ema was now aware “they never did the car justice” and even in the deplorable condition it was in was a sight to behold.
The car had been hastily repainted in metallic blue with black fenders which were butchered to allow for the fitment of Volkswagen Beetle headlamps in place of the faired-in lights that were designed by Newport; and although it ran (the engine had purportedly been rebuilt) – it ran poorly. Ema, however, was impressed and contacted his client, comedian Jay Leno, about the car. Although the car wasn’t offered for sale, Leno contacted French and began the year long process of negotiating for its purchase.
Finally, an agreement was reached to sell the car late in 1995 and Leno had the car shipped to Randy Ema, Inc., in Orange, California, for restoration. Despite the fact that the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance was less than a year out, Leno had decided that he wanted the car completely restored and ready to display at Monterey. After Ema caught his breath, he removed the body and began to repair almost six decades of wastage and neglect. The body framing required new wood, the steel fenders and aluminum body skin required extensive repairs and replacement and countless parts needed to be crafted from scratch.
The engine was worn out and required a complete rebuild; as did the transmission, rear axle and braking system. Soon after the New Year came, the body shell was repaired and in bare metal. A new interior in tan broadcloth (crafted on the original patterns using identical materials) was fitted, as was a new leather roof. The body, chassis and mechanical components were primed and painted; and with three weeks left before Pebble Beach the process of assembly began. The engine was run for the first time on the day before it was loaded onto its trailer for the trip to Northern California and the entire shop staff went along for the ride to deal with the five-page punch list that identified the work that remained before the car was ready for display.
Work on the car continued, unabated, throughout the weekend and the Walker coupe was the last car to take its place on the show field. The punch list was shorter than it was, but at three pages it was clear that there were items left undone due to want of time. Despite the uncleared items, the car was judged second in class (which begs the question of how it would have fared given more time) and crowds gathered around the imposing car for the first time ever. Reaction was even stronger than Ema had expected, with the consensus on the fairway that “the car was an absolute knockout.” Spectators loved the car for its looks and for the sophistication that it represented when it was designed. J.K. Lilly would have been proud, albeit somewhat surprised at the positive reaction.
The Duesenberg returned to Ema for completion following its public debut at Pebble Beach and work was completed that October when it went to its new home at Leno’s Big Dog Garage. The next day, Leno drove the car to work at NBC’s Studio One. The Walker coupe could not have encountered more disparate personalities than with its bookend owners; in Lilly’s hands the car was scarcely driven (and rarely, if ever, by him) while Leno is delighted to drive the car in modern day traffic and on city streets. As technically and stylistically advanced as the car was when first built, it is as distinctive and modern today; even more so for the years that it spent in labor and seclusion.
Approaching the car at rest on the tarmac at Bob Hope International Airport in Burbank, it becomes apparent that the Walker coupe cannot be truly appreciated in photographs. Perhaps it is an issue of scale, as it needs to be placed next to something else to get a sense of how grand and majestic the Duesenberg is in person. Maybe it is because the car is so devoid of excess ornamentation that it appears almost subdued in appearance (despite what Lilly must have thought). Had Bruce Wayne and his Batman alter ego existed in 1934, surely this would have been his car of choice as it portends action even while standing still.
The ignominy of a past that includes the embarrassment of its initial purchaser, use by a crooked politician’s moll, service as a tow truck and then a long period of neglect are forgotten when the Walker coupe is seen today. It positively shines, even under cloudy skies, and every last component has been impeccably restored to ‘as new’ condition. The Duesenberg seems impossibly long and the roof incredibly low given the dimensions of the car. The lines of the pontoon fenders are clearly evocative of the “coffin-nose” Cord, while the rear skirts and sweeping rear deck contribute to the sense of unbroken, flowing lines that represented a sea change in automotive design.
With Jay Leno seated beside me in the passenger seat (fearful of crowding him my body presses against the door panel to allow him space). Legroom, however, even for my 6-foot, 3-inch frame is more than adequate. The dashboard is exquisite and contains instruments that are more akin to jewels than gauges. The compass, altimeter and chronograph are easily read and it seems ironic that this car was equipped with more instrumentation than most contemporary aircraft.
The emergency brake lever is long and divides the cockpit in half (it operates directly on the transmission) and the gracefully curved gearshift lever is located several inches to the left. The pedals are huge, brake and clutch each are more than six inches wide, while the gas pedal is almost a match for my size 14 shoes. With a much thicker rim than I would have thought fashionable for the thirties, the steering wheel has three spokes that are placed perfectly to see the gauges on the instrument panel. In fact, without having even started the car, I realize what seems so appealing – this is a driver’s car. The seating position, pedal placement and location of the gearshift are all placed to allow the car to be driven safely, comfortably and rapidly.
Finally, with a glance to my right at Leno (who thankfully nods approvingly) I reach for the key and pull the starter button. The engine starts immediately, and while it makes audible mechanical noises, it does so in a subtle fashion that masks the power underneath the bonnet. Thanks to Ron Reynolds at Million Air in Burbank we have been allowed to conduct our road test on the runway apron, which removes the fear of operating this prohibitively expensive car in traffic. First gear engages positively, and with my right foot pressing down on the throttle pedal the car accelerates smoothly with surprising force. The immediacy of the torque is surprising regardless of engine speed. Jay urges me to feed in more throttle and the car surges forward smoothly. A firm tug of the gearshift finds second gear and the car continues to move forward with a haste that belies the great weight of the car. The car continues to accelerate as I bring the lever towards me in third and it becomes patently clear that this car must have been without peer.
An approaching fence dictates application of the hydraulic brakes that haul down the speed quickly and without drama. The brake pedal travel is linear and much firmer than one would expect in a prewar car with drum brakes. As advertised, the steering is incredibly light and allows the car to be turned with little effort (albeit accompanied by a fair degree of body roll) with good feel. Following a change in direction, the wheel returns to center with positive action and Leno explains that the Duesenberg’s racing heritage was very much in evidence in every passenger car. Conversation is possible at normal volume levels and the engine note is attractive rather than intrusive.
Feeling more comfortable behind the wheel, each successive run down the apron is made at higher speeds. The car responds to the throttle almost delicately, no doubt due to the impressive amount of torque on hand, and it seems as if the Duesenberg will accelerate crisply regardless of the gear selected. Looking around, however, it is also clear that the stylish roof is a detriment to good visibility to the rear and sides as a Gulfstream disappears quickly from the brief view afforded by the small rear backlight.
The brakes continue to impress as they are applied at progressively greater speeds and Leno explains that the adjustment for brake pressure allowed the car to be safely driven in varying weather conditions and the vacuum assist provided for sure braking by smaller drivers (such as women) who did not need the strength of Samson to stop the car. Although surrounded by instruments, knobs and control levers that appear almost delicate, engaging anything reveals that beauty does not imply fragility. Every component of the car has an underlying strength that speaks to the genius of Fred Duesenberg’s designs and the quality with which those designs were manufactured.
In order to accommodate the photographer we begin to weave behind the camera car to allow different angles to be captured. During this brief period, the Walker coupe really starts to shine. The steering is light, the brakes firm, and the suspension responsive such that my focus shifts entirely to enjoying the car. The engine is so tractable and the transmission so easy to operate that I begin to shift up and down the gears just for the sake of doing so and the task is so enjoyable that my mind forgets that I’m driving an almost priceless, one-off, Duesenberg Model J with Jay Leno (!) seated next to me. It is an utterly modern (albeit 80 year-old) car that, as Jay explains, “if it weren’t for the value, you could drive it anywhere.”
All too soon, the road test is over and we pull over to a stop. Scanning the instruments shows that all systems are nominal and the car is none the worse for wear. After thanking Jay as profusely as possible (while retaining whatever sense of dignity that I can muster) I walk away and stop to look back at the car sitting on the runway. The only thought running through my mind is that Leno is the perfect custodian for this Duesenberg today – regular and vigorous exercise on the road, an opportunity to showcase the most advanced car that the designers could design and the factory and coachworks could build, and the chance for adoration by the common man. This is what the car undoubtedly would have wanted all along. Well, that and the singular belief that J.K. Lilly was crazy—you would have had to pry the steering wheel away from my cold, dead fingers—I would have driven this car every day of my life.”
$75 Deposit is charged to Reserve. Before release:
$275 for D4C members – plus S & H
$305 for non-members – plus S & H
$325 – plus S & H
Limit of 2 models
Like so many of the previous LECC models, the LECC XIV is being designed and developed by the brilliant scale model designer Raffi Minasian. Raffi has been the leader in developing 1:24 scale models for over 20 years.
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Jay Leno's Duesenberg Aerodynamic Walker Coupe
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