Remembering Joe Kaufmann, restorer of Auburns, Cords and Duesenbergs

The hobby has lost restorer Merlyn Kaufmann, better known to his friends as Joe, on June 11 following a heart attack. He was 90.

There were many who knew Kaufmann as “Joe,” because he was simply the type of man who was easy to befriend. Although he had an imposing frame, Joe was as gentle and friendly as a man can be. I met him several years ago when he graciously welcomed John Gunnell and I to his shop for an interview to be published in Old Cars Weekly‘s annual Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club Reunion issue. We went to Joe’s base of operations in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, where he restored many different types of cars, including his well-known work on the “King of Classics,” the Duesenberg Model J. Joe had a string of Duesenbergs in his shop over the last 60-plus years and in his own garage, and he was most proud of his work on the famous Duesenbergs owned by Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Marion Davies and Greta Garbo.

Meeting with Joe at his shop in 2010.

John and I spent the day with Joe talking about these cars and Joe’s other favorites, his early Fords. Although our interview was supposed to be a team effort, I spent the day with pen and paper aside, trying to absorb every word I heard Joe speak as I immersed myself in his stories while John’s recorder spun away. It was a day that I knew I would never forget, and when it had to end, I didn’t think I would need to drive home — I figured I could simply float back to Iola.

Whenever an editor or writer publishes an interview with one of their heroes,  they worry whether the subject will enjoy the story. Following publication of the interview, Joe was as gracious as he could be when I saw him at the ACD Club Reunion in Auburn, Ind. Such graciousness is not unusual after a story appears, and certainly a good indication we didn’t offend the interviewee. I knew we went one better and truly made Joe proud the moment  Joe and I saw each other across the crowd gathered in the town square at Auburn during the reunion. There were many vying for Joe’s attention, as they always did during the reunion, but when Joe caught a glimpse of me, he smiled and gave me a wink. And that’s how I will always remember Joe — not in his shop, talking Duesenbergs and Fords while surrounded by history, but by that wink on the Auburn town square.

Godspeed, Joe. Auburn and our hobby won’t be the same without you.

Read about Joe’s “Quest for Quality” as the caretaker of ACD cars.

Read about Joe’s connection to the “Duesenberg in the castle”

2 thoughts on “Remembering Joe Kaufmann, restorer of Auburns, Cords and Duesenbergs

  1. Loren Bussewitz

    I read your article on Joe Kaufman and it brought back many memories. I used to restore cars for Ray Wolf in the seventies and Ray introduced me to Joe at an AACA meet at the Allstate show in Northbrooke Ill. Great person and great sense of humor as he liked to kid me about my Corvette. I have many pictures of cars I did for Ray Wolf and a ton of stories to go with them. He was like a grandfather to my kids and I remember telling him to go to the honoring of him in Vegas when he and Leo Hitt went there. Unfortunately Ray passed away after supper there. He was in his glory. If you are interested in any information I have as well as a collection of Deusenberg pictures and information he gave me, please contact me. This would be a great time for me to honor him and Elma as they were like family to me. My number is (414) 353-0720. I also have the article and poster he gave me of a MG YT tourister I restored for him in Automotive Quarterly, as well as pictures of him in his Garry Cooper Duesie when it was original. Hope you are interested. It would be a great tribute to the Auburn, Cord, Deusenberg historian and the great times we had.
    Loren Bussewitz , or as he knew me, (Buzz)

  2. Auburn Burt

    My name is Auburn Burt, I am Paul Kaufmann’s (one of Joe Kaufmann’s two sons) eldest daughter, and yes I was named after the Auburn car in which I take great pride in. My mom told me about the article you had written and just now read it. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. My grandfather was known for many things, but above all his love for the Auburns, Cords, and Duesenbergs. I had the honor of attending the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club Reunion back in 2008 with my father, Grandpa Joe, and Dan Pankratz. Let me tell you, it was an experience all in itself, especially being that I received the honor of sharing the Presidential Suite with my grandfather. That is one of the few precious memories I have of my Grandpa Joe, and I treasure with all of my heart. It wasn’t until that ACD Reunion that I fully realized the legend my grandfather was. The old classic car industry has lost a true legend. God bless Grandpa Joe.

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