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Year: 1933

Manufacturer: Duesenberg

Model: Model SJ Speedster

Engine Number: J-508

Chassis Number: 2537

Country: USA

Anne Brockinton Lee / Robert M. Lee Automobile Collection

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1933 Duesenberg Model SJ Speedster

Known as the Whittell Speedster, J508 was first exhibited at the New York Automobile Show of 1933 and was first owned by the wealthy San Francisco heir George Whittell, Jr. It is said Whittell assisted Gordon Buehrig in this extra long fishtail speedster design, one of only two.

George Whittell, Jr. cashed in the family’s stockmarket holdings shortly before the big crash of 1929. He had tens of millions from the fortunes of both his father and mother. Whittell was larger than life, and his story fascinating: from being born into great wealth, to running away to join the circus, to volunteering as an ambulance driver in WWI and recognition for that distinguished service, to his retreat in Lake Tahoe, the Thunderbird Lodge. 

Whittell had bought up much of the Nevada shore and areas inland of Lake Tahoe, resulting in its more pristine and less developed state compared to much of the lake and its environs (including portions now known as the Whittell Forest and Wildlife Area, land gifted for study to the University of Nevada Reno by Whittell in 1959). Here he retreated, surrounded by his friends, and keeping exotic animals. Bill, his pet lion from a cub, was well-known. Bill was often the passenger during car rides. 

Whittell once bought five  Duesenbergs at one time, including J508. He could afford the best, and Duesenbergs could attain speeds other luxury marks did not. He liked speed and the designs of things. In fact, one of his attorneys had stated he was more interested in the designs of things than their use. Regarding speed, legend has it that the reason the fire siren was given to Whittell was due to his driving being like he was rushing to a fire!

J508, with its sleek, graceful, and aerodynamic styling, with contributions by Whittell, and its supercharged engine, must have been a glorious sight to see roaring around Lake Tahoe, especially if Bill was a passenger alongside Whittell. It’s a supercharged version of the Duesenberg J and was built on an extra-long wheelbase chassis, with crank-up windows, special front springs and adjustments to door and steering wheel to accommodate Whittell.

The body was by coachbuilder the Weymann American Body Company of Indianapolis, USA, and it’s said that the Auburn Speedster was based on Buehrig’s fishtail design. The top speed given for supercharged models in top gear was 130 mph and the price when new was approximately $17,500 (the chassis alone was approx. $11,750).

The car is 100% original – from its parts, paint, chrome, upholstery, engine, glass, and windshield wipers, to its tyres! The fire siren on the front was a gift of the local fire district. There were just two owners between Whittell and Robert M. Lee: William Harrah and General William Lyon. The mileage to date is 2197. The car hasn’t changed one bit.


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