1936 Duesenberg J-303 Rollston Convertible Berline

  • J-303/2241
  • ACD Category No. 1 – Certified Original Car, certificate no. 648811707-2
  • CCCA approval letter concurring with ACD.
  • One of the last complete cars ordered and sold by Duesenberg while it was still a manufacturer.
  • Featured at the November, 1936 New York Auto Show.
  • Purchased new in 1936 by F. H. Furst Jr. of Long Island. Subsequent owners were: Alonzo White II in 1945, Don Flower 1950, Frank Heiss early 1950s and Bill Patton in 1987.
  • Comprehensive historical research and restoration supervised and guided by Randy Ema 1987-2020.
  • Packard style bullet headlights differed from standard Duesenberg based designs.
  • Pontoon fenders.
  • Full rear fender skirts.
  • Sloping rear deck.
  • Glass partition that disappears into the back of the front seat.
  • 420/265 HP inline 8-cylinder engine.
  • 3-speed manual transmission.
  • 153 1/2 inch wheelbase.

Fred Duesenberg shocked the automotive industry in 1928 when he announced that his new motorcar, simply called the J, would be powered by a dual overhead cam 420 cubic inch straight-8 engine generating an astounding 265 horsepower. This came at a time when other luxury manufacturers were still struggling to break 100 horsepower in their top-of-the-line cars, and it was nothing less than earth-shattering news to the rest of the industry. In the years that followed, many would chase Duesenberg, but none would catch them. There is simply no other manufacturer in American motoring history that can match Duesenberg’s legendary combination of brute power, technical sophistication, and all-out luxury.

When the Model J Duesenberg was first introduced it was expected that at least 500 new chassis would be sold in short order. With only 202 cars completed by the end of 1929, it took until September 1937 for the last Model J Duesenbergs to be sold and accomplish a production total of only 481 chassis. By the late 1930s, with the Great Depression in full swing, the market for 6000-pound, 120 MPH luxury cars just didn’t exist like it had in the late 1920s.

This Rollston Convertible Berline was one of the final completed Duesenbergs to leave the factory showroom and one of the last Rollston bodies produced. Upon completion, this car was featured at the 1936 New York Auto Show and was, at $17,000, the most expensive vehicle on display, and would be the final Duesenberg show car.

With the successful restoration by Randy Ema for Bill Patton of another J Duesenberg, a Rollston Convertible Torpedo Victoria J-409, ultimately winning Best of Class and design awards at the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance, Bill asked Randy to search for another open bodied Duesenberg restoration project. Randy found this Rollston Convertible Berline body #600 leading to Bill’s 1986 purchase of its major components. In 1950 a fired had started in the back seat, fortunately the body was not a total loss and survived through several owner/enthusiasts until Bill’s acquisition. Although the chassis was sold off and the body distressed, most of its important components were intact.

In 1987 Randy and Bill traveled to Indiana to inspect and purchase Chassis #2241 and Engine #303 from Duesenberg collector, Homer Fitterling.
Randy extensively researched its full history (originally J-581), and we know exactly where the components were located its entire life. Randy located the son of Rudy Creteur, the original Rollston designer of this car, who had retained some of his father’s drawings and original plans, and we acquired the original 1:1 full scale drawings to insure its authentic restoration.

Under Randy’s direction and guidance, this Rolston Convertible Berline project was authenticated by the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club as a Category No. 1 – Certified Original Car issuing a Certificate to this effect.

The Classic Car Club of America followed suit and issued a letter confirming it as an authentic Duesenberg with an original 3-speed manual transmission.

When it’s similarly designed Rollston Convertible Berline J-586 underwent restoration in the 1990s, Randy visited it in Colorado and secured its complete original interior for our use as templates for J-303. Over the next thirty years, Randy directed and Bill committed moving forward with its restoration.

The Convertible Berline is now ready for paint, upholstery, assembly and mechanical completion. We have the interior from J-586 to use as patterns, and a dozen professional colored renderings showing possible color choices. It is massive, but also elegant, well-proportioned, and sleek, which easily masks its great size. Originally ho-hum black with a tan top and interior, the proposed colors will be both elegant and eye-catching, and give this coach built car a sporty flair. With more than a million dollars and 30+ years invested so far, the work to date is near perfection in every way. All work to date has been done under Randy Ema’s supervision and by top professionals. The doors open and close with expected precision, the convertible top is in place ready for final adjustment and upholstery.

Classics of this era are renowned for their attention to detail, and J-303 has the most impressive design elements. From the famous stylized Duesenberg “bird” hood ornament, to the upright Duesenberg grille, to the slender and well-proportioned bumpers. Duesenberg continued to use chrome wire wheels when other manufacturers were moving to steel discs and artillery style wheels. It has been Bill’s intention to cover the standard steel-spoke wheels by the addition of full-width disc wheel covers further distinguishing it from its similar J-586 cousin. Dual side mounts feature chrome trim bands. Polished rub strips protect the sculpted running boards.

The heart of J-303 is an original Duesenberg 420 cubic inch DOHC straight-8 power plant. A symphony of Duesenberg green paint and polished aluminum castings, there’s clear indication that Fred Duesenberg and E.L. Cord and the engineers at Lycoming knew that they were building something very special. The polished intake manifold is topped by an original Stromberg carburetor. Polished aluminum covers hide the twin chain-driven camshafts. The polished cast aluminum firewall houses items like the Bijur system, which will automatically lubricate several dozen points throughout the chassis every 60 miles or so.

The Rollston Convertible Berline coachwork is one of the most modern and well-executed designs ever placed on a J Duesenberg and features pontoon-style front and rear fenders with full skirts covering the rear wheel wells. The unique engine hood extends all the way to the windshield frame. The sloping rear deck blends perfectly into the lines of the fabric folding roof and enhances the aerodynamic styling of the car. The front and rear bumpers are the standard chrome-plated Duesenberg, but the bullet Packard style headlamps lend a decidedly European theme. The wide front doors are rear hinged and share original massive hinges with the front-hinged rear doors. The interior is equipped with a glass partition that disappears into the back of the front seat.

A longtime friend, an expert “colorist” and artist produced a dozen or more renderings with various colors for Bill’s consideration. Bill has his favorite, but the color choice remains with the next owner.

However, Randy’s primary long time staffers retired for various reasons in late 2020 and he decided to focus on his own outstanding car collection and cease restorations.

The bottom line is Bill Patton does not wish to start over with someone new, having worked with Randy as a trusted expert and friend for so many years, so J-303 will find a new home.

Salute to Mr. Duesenberg, Randy Ema: