The 1935 “Gary Cooper Duesenberg SSJ” — presumed to be one of the world’s most valuable cars — will cross the Gooding & Co. auction block during its Pebble Beach Auctions sale, to be held Aug. 24-25 during “Monterey Car Week” in Pebble Beach, Calif.
Ownership of this Duesenberg two-seat roadster last transferred when C. Miles Collier privately purchased family friend Briggs Swift Cunningham’s entire car collection when it closed in December 1986. The last recorded sale of a Special Speedster, the name Duesenberg gave to the two short-wheelbase supercharged Model Js it specifically built for Clark Gable and Gary Cooper, was in 1963. That year, Duesenberg collector Al Ferrara of Gates Mills, Ohio, purchased the near-twin “Clark Gable SSJ” for $12,000 — a princely sum at the time. That figure caused scorn among other Duesenberg collectors who said Ferrara was driving up the price of all Duesenbergs. The Ferrara family still owns that SSJ.
Predicting a priceless car’s sale price at auction is speculative, at best. The SSJs may be the most valuable Duesenbergs, which are the most valuable American cars, and the chance to own one of them has proven to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That said, the Old Cars Weekly staff expects the Gary Cooper SSJ sale price to be in the $15-40 million range — perhaps more in this market where a Ferrari 250 GTO recently sold for $70 million.
Several features make the two SSJs unique. They were the only two cars built upon a shortened Model J wheelbase of 125 inches, and were each originally fitted with one of the 38 superchargers Duesenberg built for the Model J straight-eight. The SSJ roadsters were also unique for being built specifically to market Duesenberg cars to the wealthy in Hollywood; by building the SSJs specifically to loan them to Cooper and Gable — who were each at the top of Hollywood’s elite — Duesenberg, Inc. hoped to sell out its remaining inventory of cars.
When the six-month loans of the SSJs were up, Cooper traded in his Duesenberg Model J Tourster and purchased his SSJ. Gable somehow extended his loan another three months before he turned in the car, whereupon Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer music director Georgie Stoll bought it.
The SSJs are also among the very few supercharged Model J’s that are fitted with ram’s horn intake manifolds and dual carburetors that were first famously fit to the Duesenberg Special (aka “Mormon Meteor”). This carburetor setup on the supercharged engine is estimated to provide around 400 hp — an astonishing figure for a street car in the mid 1930s, and even several decades later.
The “Cooper SSJ” has always been lovingly maintained by a known string of owners, yet has never received a nut-and-bolt restoration. As such, it presents as an intact example of history from America’s golden age of automobiles and Hollywood with a lovely patina that, in some areas, still goes back to Cooper’s ownership.
The “Gary Cooper SSJ” is being sold by the Revs Institute in order to help ensure its longevity.