Gary Cooper's Duesenberg Could be Most Expensive American Car Ever Sold 

After Cooper's ownership, the car passed through a number of rich but somewhat less famous owners in California.

classic cars, dusenburg, pebble beach

The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance brings out some of the most beautiful, important, rare, and expensive cars from around the world. And the auctions that take place around the event are no different. One of the most significant for sale this year is a Duesenberg originally owned by actor Gary Cooper. It could end up as one of the most expensive American cars ever sold.

This Duesenberg SSJ is one of just two ever built. The SSJ was a special short-wheelbase version of the SJ. It was just 3,200 mm between the wheels, as opposed to the 3,6200 mm of the SJ.

The cars used a supercharged twin-cam inline eight-cylinder engine. Thanks to a special dual-carburettor intake, the SSJs made 80 hp more than the standard SJ. The SJ was already one of the most powerful production cars of the time, and the 400 hp SSJ flew past it.

The cars wore a lightweight – for the time at least – bob-tail body with an open roadster cabin. The body was built by Auburn subsidiary LaGrande, and the car was seen as the ultimate Duesenberg.

Fittingly, both went to celebrity owners. The first was this car, sold to actor Gary Cooper. The second was sold the following year to Clark Gable. The two were reported at the time to race each other in the Hollywood Hills in these 220 km/h+ roadsters.

After Cooper’s ownership, the car passed through a number of rich but somewhat less famous owners in California. In 1949, it was purchased by Chicago banker D. Cameron Peck. Peck was one of the first American car collectors, with one of the most superb collections of the time.

From there, it was sold to entrepreneur, yachtsman, and auto racer, Briggs Cunningham. It remained in the Cunningham collection until 1986, when the collection was acquired by Miles Collier.

With the rarity of this car, along with the string of famous owners and prominent collections in its history, the US $10 million (approx. CA $13.2 million) auction estimate from Gooding and Company is little surprise. Compared with the classic Ferraris that can trade hands for north of $50 million, that auction estimate isn’t quite as impressive. But it would make it one of the highest selling American cars of all time.

If the car sells at the auction estimate, it would be third on that list. After US $13.75-million for the very first Shelby Cobra and US $11 million for the 1968 Ford GT40 that Steve McQueen used as the camera car in the film Le Mans. It would also put it right on top of another Duesenberg, the 1931 Model J designed by famed designer Frank Hershey.

The Pebble Beach Auctions take place August 24 and 25.

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