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Updated: Actor Gary Cooper’s 1935 Duesenberg SSJ Masterpiece Offered at Gooding & Co. Pebble Beach Auction

Updated with Video:

By Melanie Stevens: Gooding & Company, the official auction house of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance®, is honored to present one of the greatest American classic cars ever offered for public sale (Estimate: In Excess of $10,000,000)

“This incredible car embodies everything that is exciting about an automotive masterpiece: beauty, rarity, provenance, and sheer power. This SSJ is one of the all-time greatest classics and is poised to set an auction record for pre-war American cars,” says David Gooding, Founder, and President of Gooding & Company.

The SSJ is a 1930s Hollywood star’s dream car, a glamorous icon, symbolic of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Imagine this gorgeous Duesenberg SSJ, tearing along Mulholland Drive, or Laurel Canyon Boulevard with legendary actor Gary Cooper at the wheel.

Collier comments: “Many vehicles are billed as “speedsters” or “racers,” but the Duesenberg SSJ really was. Peaking at 140mph in 1935 it was simply an unbeatable performer, matched by unbeatable style.

“And believe me, it is not easy to part with this wonderful car. It symbolizes so much in our history and has so much glamour and speed. But my mission is bigger than just one car. In today’s world, the automobile’s continued ability to be meaningful is under threat. Will the personal car be part of people’s lives in the future? Will people understand, and remember that the automobile is the most important invention of our age? That it shaped the world as we know it? I want to ensure the legacy of skills, appreciation, and care for the importance of motorcars is not lost.”

Proceeds from the sale will be used to support Collier’s mission to create a substantial, and self-sustaining automotive knowledge legacy for future generations.

With his wife Parker J. Collier, he is putting together a new team of leaders and thinkers to create Revs 2.0, an idea-driven, not object-centered, new, non-profit initiative to provide the meaningful car community with insights and expertise they couldn’t find anywhere else. Alongside Revs 2.0, Parker Collier’s new company, Meaningful Ventures will create profitable, self-sustaining enterprises to carry the cultural legacy of the car to future communities.

Work has begun, with friends, colleagues and like-minded people, to build Meaningful Ventures which reflect this vision. Collier Car Clubs will set up communities of meaningful car owners. Collier AutoMedia will educate, entertain, provoke and inform digital visitors and readers. The Panzer Project uses a vintage, Mercedes 540K Action Panzer as a reminder of the realities of evil. Collecting Arts is the creator of a revolutionizing curation software system for virtually any kind of collection.

1935 Duesenberg (Estimate: In Excess of $10,000,000)

The example presented here is one of only two Duesenberg SSJ models ever built and was constructed on a specially shortened 125-inch wheelbase. The two cars were immediately destined for Hollywood’s biggest superstars of the day – this SSJ, chassis J-563, went to Gary Cooper and the other SSJ, chassis J-567, went to Clark Gable. Gary Cooper had a lifelong love of cars – particularly fast ones. The SSJ is not a car for the faint of heart, as a 400-hp supercharged twin-cam inline 8-cylinder engine lies beneath its impressive hood. With an ultra-rare twin-carburetor intake, this car produced 80 hp more than the standard Duesenberg SJ, which was already the most powerful and one of the fastest production cars of its day. The SSJ Speedsters sported a gorgeous lightweight open-roadster bob-tail body produced by LaGrande (Central Manufacturing Company), an Auburn subsidiary in Connersville, Indiana. Quite simply, it is widely regarded as the ultimate Duesenberg.

One of only two ever built, this handmade classic was created especially for Cooper. Its sibling was made for fellow Hollywood legend, Clark Gable.

Following Cooper’s ownership, the SSJ then passed through a string of fascinating California owners, from a 20-year-old millionaire in Los Angeles to an industrial designer in San Francisco. In 1949, the SSJ was acquired by pioneering collector D. Cameron Peck of Evanston, Illinois. Peck, sold the SSJ Duesenberg to fellow collector and famed sportsman Briggs Swift Cunningham, who immediately jumped at the opportunity to acquire this car.

When Cunningham moved to California in the early 1960s, he founded the Cunningham Automotive Museum in Costa Mesa, to share his magnificent car collection with fellow enthusiasts. The Cunningham Museum immediately established a reputation as one of the finest automobile museums in the world. Over the next two decades, the SSJ Duesenberg was a standout in a museum that included some of the finest sports, racing, and luxury automobiles.

On December 31, 1986, Miles Collier acquired the collection of Briggs Cunningham, who was a close family friend of the Collier family since the 1930s. Mr. Collier has since added to the collection, and is known for having one of the world’s finest automobile collections and is widely recognized for his unwavering commitment to the importance of the automobile. Although he has owned some of the most significant automobiles in existence, the SSJ has been one of Mr. Collier’s prized possessions and has been prominently displayed at The Revs Institute in Naples, Florida for the last 32 years. Since 1949, J-567 has been in the hands of just two caretakers – Briggs Swift Cunningham and Miles Collier, among the greatest names in car collecting.

Proceeds from the sale will be used to support Collier’s mission to create a substantial, and self-sustaining automotive knowledge legacy for future generations.

In short, the sale of this car out of the Miles Collier Collections is a significant move, a sign that he is elevating his mission to focus, steadfastly, on leaving a legacy of knowledge that anchors the automobile as the most important technological artifact of our age.

The Miles Collier Collections are housed in Revs Institute in Naples, Florida. This is a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit organization, founded by Miles and Parker Collier in 2008. Revs presents the Collier Collection of over one hundred significant automobiles built between 1896 and 1995. The automobiles on display at Revs are some of the rarest and most important cars ever built at anytime, anywhere. They are the ones that variously blazed technical pathways, redefined aesthetic standards, made history, and changed the world.

Attended to by a staff of full time restoration technicians, these meticulously selected rare vestiges of automotive history remain operational and continue to demonstrate their engineering prowess on race tracks and roadways the world over. The Institute primarily serves as a haven for scholars, preservationists and passionate connoisseurs of automotive history. In keeping with Mr. Collier’s vision to embolden the legacy of the transformative impact the automobile had on 20th century society, The Revs Institute is also one of the leading repositories of historical automotive documents, photographs and ephemera.

View more photos and learn more about the Gary Cooper Duesenberg at Gooding & Company. Visit and learn more about the Revs Institute here. View the entire Collier Collection of exceptional automobiles.

Editors Note: I was very fortunate to drive and examine this legendary automobile in detail at the Revs Institute, in Naples, Florida a few years ago while working there on the Collier Collection 1914 Simplex. I can attest to just how special this car is, it runs very well, drives, handles, and accelerates better than any other pre-WWII road car driven yet. The time spent behind the wheel of this car truly was the thrill of a lifetime.

Images copyrighted & courtesy of Gooding & Company. Photos by Mathieu Heurtault.

35 responses to “Updated: Actor Gary Cooper’s 1935 Duesenberg SSJ Masterpiece Offered at Gooding & Co. Pebble Beach Auction

  1. Incredible car and one I will miss seeing on my visits to the Collier Collection. Glad you had a chance to drive it, David.

  2. I recall a story of Gary Cooper driving his Duesenberg on the winding roads of Beverly Hills and being out-run by some kid in a hot rod. He was said to have been amazed and disappointed. If the story is true it might be explained by the heavy weight and handling limitations of his Duesenberg on those narrow hillside roads. Regardless, a magnificent car under any circumstances.

    • You do know that Cooper also had other Dusenbergs and that it might not be the same car. You can see him all over the internet posing next to a Model J four-door touring car. Maybe that was the one that he was shut out in.

    • I recall a similar story in “The American Hot Rod” by Dean Batchelor, at one time the editor of Road & Track Magazine. However, I think some of the details may differ. If you’re interested you may want to find the book somewhere (library?).

    • Gary Cooper used to race Groucho Marx . Marx had a Mercedes SSK, and always won. Cooper went to Duesenberg and contracted ( twisted their arms) to build the short wheelbase high horsepower car , as they only built luxury cars. After the car was completed ,he was able to meet Groucho in the desert and win.

  3. An American automotive icon. and there are darned few of those. With so many other great cars to choose from, I’m a little surprised that the Colliers chose this one to sell.

  4. I have always liked any Duesenberg but more so the supercharged models for their outboard chrome flex pipes . However there is a couple of things that I noticed on this car. The head on view shows that this car has mechanical brakes and I find that puzzling considering the engineering prowess of the Duesenberg brothers and the availability of hydraulic brake systems at the time of build. Also one other thing that I noticed and this stands out to me on other great cars of the past and that is the tire size. I realize that the tires used were deemed appropriate for the time but when compared to the width used on todays automobiles the look anemic.

    • And I play around with cars of the ’10s and ’20s. To me? Those tires look massive. It is all perspective. And boils down to what you become used to.

    • The Duesenberg brothers were one of the pioneers of hydraulic brakes. Their first passenger car the Model A (1921 to 1925) was the first US production car which came standard with 4-wheel Lockheed hydraulic brakes. All models that followed also used this brake system.

    • I think technology had a big part to play in tire size. Bias ply, tubes, sidewall strength, etc. limited what could be done. Also, roads were a lot worse on those days, so a tire had to be stout. Rubber compounds were also a developing science. Remember, even Grand Prix racers used similar tires for years, even after WWII. Another related point is the idea of Coop flying along Mulholland Drive, an informal driving school for years. What seem to be gravel traps on the carbs would not have that much ‘validity’ in protecting the engine from all that dust that is up there. Especially true if they went to the unpaved sections of the highway (like I use to in the ’60’s). Wonder how many times they replaced piston rings, etc.?

    • Once you have changed one of those tires and wrestled with the rim, lock ring, and tube you will not think they are anemic.

    • You might be looking at the links for the dampers. This and all other J Duesey certainly had hydraulic brakes. It isn’t a Bugatti!!

  5. I was very fortunate to see this car back in the early seventies. A days trip to Costa Mesa with my girl friend to visit Briggs Cunningham’s Museum. I was stunned to see this automobile and another vehicle of stature , the Kellner bodied Bugatti Royale. Wonderful to see but somewhat wasted on a punk kid such as myself. Oh to see them again and to ask a hundred questions! They did make a impression though, I can close my eyes and see that chrome and the deep blue of the Bugatti. Art at its purist!!!

  6. I’d love to hear more about the experience of driving it. It must have been a thrill. All history aside, just to have that much power and artistry under your control.

  7. Just curious – what does a Duesenberg straight eight engine weigh? I know the weights of a couple of Buick engines; the smaller series 40 is about the same as a big block Chev and the early 1931-35 344 is around 1100 lb fan to clutch. That 427(?) twin cam 8 must be up around the same – or more? With all that weight up front maybe that old hot rod would out handle the big D?

  8. I’m echoing David King s sentiment. I want a paragraph or two of the behind the wheel s sensation. And incidentally, what else you have on your bucket list?

    • Actually, David Gooding, a second generation and true old car enthusiast said about what I would have mentioned about the driving experience. One thing I will add however is the seating position is excellent and the cushions are very comfortable.

      During my career I have been extremely fortunate to be able drive many fine automobiles that range all the way from an early single-cylinder car on up to a few 16-cylinder models and a number of cars that have raced in the Indy 500.

      Two cars that quickly come to mind that I would like to drive on the road and race track: Locomobile “Old” 16 the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup race winner: and a short wheelbase V-16 Ferrari Competition Berlinetta:

      • Indeed, you have been very fortunate to enjoy these fine rolling milestones of motoring history however I’d doubt you have had the opportunity to sit behind the wheel of an V16 – powered SWB Ferrari berlinetta. So far.

  9. David: Driving this gem had to be the most exciting and somewhat terrifying experience all at the same time. In order to focus on the amazing intrinsic qualities, one must put the extreme value out of one’s mind. You have to be a cool cookie to do that!

  10. I think I’d do a Wayne Carini and repaint the car before selling.

    In some of the pictures, the paint looks “tired and dull” maybe it’s just the photography. (Of course if that was the color when Cooper owned it, I would understand why they left it.

  11. Indeed, you have been very fortunate to enjoy these fine rolling milestones of motoring history however I’d doubt you have had the opportunity to sit behind the wheel of an V16 – powered SWB Ferrari berlinetta. So far.

  12. Miles Collier is well known as a die-hard Porsche collector; if Collier’s Duesenberg steers anything like the long wheelbase model (the second “S” in SSJ denotes a short wheelbase model) I once drove in Los Angeles, it’s little wonder that the legendary Florida car collector is willing to see his movie star Duesenberg go down the road despite what we must assume is his little need for additional capital to fund his collecting or philanthropic interests. Admittedly, the Model J I drove had a separate compartment to enable it to be driven by a chauffeur. I remember that the bench seat was ‘hard’ and the space between the back of the seat and the steering wheel was limited; I actually felt cramped against the steering wheel and to this day remember feeling that steering that “monster” was a chore. I can’t imagine that the SSJ with its shorter wheelbase would have been much better. I think these cars were better for photographs than for driving fast on the twisty narrow roads of their day.

    • In case you missed it I was fortunate to be able to drive the Collier SSJ and steers almost as easy as a modern car with power steering. These cars are very easy to steer when in good condition. The “J” you drove must have needed either a lube job or front end work.

  13. P.S. The Duesenberg I had the ‘pleasure’ of driving was a 1931 Model J Tourster, body by Derham, built originally for the comedian Joe E. Brown. I have a vague memory of the owner telling me that Brown’s chauffeur was a man of small stature and the reason why the driver’s compartment was so narrow was that it had been constructed with that chauffeur’s stature in mind. Still, it was very hard to steer that automobile.

    • Thanks, David, for reiterating your driving experience of the SSJ; what a wonderful experience for you to have had. I take your word for it that the car drove “almost as easy as a modern car with power steering.” My friend who owned the Joe E. Brown Tourster was a big man and was even more cramped in that car than me. I accompanied him to the auction when he sold the car although later he did buy another Duesenberg which I never had an opportunity to drive before he passed away. That’s probably the closest I’ll ever come to driving one of those landmark automobiles. I will admit, even though the experience of driving that car was a bit of a chore, I enjoyed the thought that I was driving a car that had once belonged to Howard Hughes, even though Hughes had only used it to tow his gliders.

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