An unwarranted law suit? Perhaps. Here are the details:
According to the Associated Press, Wendy Lubin, daughter of John W. Straus, the grandson of the founder of
the Macy’s department store chain, has sued
Jay Leno and others over the value of cars sold by Straus when he was ill. Among those cars sold was the F.R. Wood & Son-bodied town car sold to Leno and featured elsewhere on this site and a 1930 Rolls-Royce. The famous unrestored Bugatti Atalante coupe that has been making the concours rounds was also part of the Strauss collection and was sold around the same time, but it’s unclear if that car was included in the law suit. The law suite contends the “Tonight Show” host was
illegally sold the scion’s 1931 Duesenberg automobile. All of the cars were garaged in Manhattan for more
than 50 years.
Court papers say Straus paid all that was owed to store the cars,
but they were auctioned off in 2005. They say Leno bought the
Duesenberg and someone else bought the Rolls-Royce.
The lawsuit says the two cars were worth $1.7 million. It says
the auction was a sham designed to illegally take the cars while
Straus was ill. Straus died May 18 at age 88.
A Leno spokeswoman did not immediately return a call for
My opinion: Some sources state Leno bought the car for around $200,000, which was fair market value in 2005 for a Duesenberg with this extremely conservative body style in this condition (Number 4 to Number 5, according to the Old Cars Price Guide standards). The car had been poorly stored in a New York City parking garage, and although it was initially thought the car had 7,000 miles, upon tear-down, the car’s mechanical parts made it clear the odometer had rolled over at least once. The upholstery in the rear was not original, and needed replacement due to the condition. At least one fender had rusted completely through due to the poor storage conditions.
This particular town car carried a rather stodgy and formal body style, an important element (and in this case, detriment) to Duesenberg pricing, and its lack of a supercharger made it a mechanically basic Model J. To reach the million-dollar mark in Duesenberg land, the car needs to be a completely open model, or an extremely rakish closed model, and this car was neither.
Unfortunately, when many people both in and out of the hobby hear the word “Duesenberg,” they picture seven figures with lots of zeros. That’s simply not the case. In this instance, even restored, the one-of-a-kind car probably wouldn’t fetch $1 million, and if it did, you can credit Leno’s ownership to the selling price. And you can bet Leno will have more than $1 million into the car after buying it and having it restored — way more than it’s worth.
It’s important to note that, since the economic roller coaster began, Duesenberg prices have been going up as more people take their assets and put them into Classic cars, which tend to have more stable prices. As a result, prices have gone up in the past three years, and the car would likely sell for more than the $200,000 paid three years ago. This is also happening with fine art.
The law suit does not separate how much of the total $1.7 million is attributed to the value of the Duesenberg and how much goes to the Rolls-Royce. Regardless, Duesenbergs tend to be worth more than Rolls-Royces, so it’s a fair guess to say that at least half of that money in the law suit is slated for the Duesenberg.
By the way, here are some prices:
2004: The restored Derham phaeton, an attractive open body and a car driven by Elvis in the movie “Spinout,” sold for $540,000.
2004: A handsome, restored Murphy convertible sedan, another attractive open body, sold for $600,000.
2005: A very desirable and restored LaGrande phaeton, sold for $650,000.
2005: A handsome and very presentable Rollston town car sold for $550,000.
2008: An old restoration on a Murphy convertible coupe, one of the most desirable body styles on a Duesenberg chassis, sold for $680,000.
All of the cars above were in MUCH better condition, and were MUCH more attractive and desirable cars.
My judgment: For the defendant. A fair price for a fair car at the time it was sold, and to believe otherwise shows a clear misunderstanding for the collector car market. This case should be immediately thrown out of court with apologies to Mr. Leno.
Catch the original article here.