Movie star car now in limelight at museum

23:24, Dec 12 2012
Ed Taylor
IT'S A DUESY! Warbirds and Wheels manager Ed Taylor, left, with director Robert Duncan and the 1934 Duesenberg Model J – originally owned by Hollywood star Carole Lombard and unveiled at the classic car and warbirds collection at Wanaka Airport last night.

A car that was once the pride and joy of Hollywood star Carole Lombard and her husband Clark Gable now holds pride of place in Wanaka's Warbirds and Wheels museum.

The 1934 Duesenberg Model J is the latest addition to the collection of 28 classic cars and motorcycles and five warbirds at Wanaka Airport.

It was unveiled by Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Vanessa van Uden last night and can be seen by the public from today.

The car is the only one of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

Warbirds and Wheels director Robert Duncan said records show its first owner was Lombard, who paid US$17,000 for it. Before her death in a plane crash in 1942, Lombard was Hollywood's highest paid actress, earning US$500,000 a year - five times the American president's salary at the time.

Mr Duncan declined to say how much it cost to bring the Duesenberg to New Zealand, but a 1931 Duesenberg Model J long-wheel base coupe sold in the United States last year for US$10.34 million (NZ$12.3m), one of the five highest prices ever paid for a motor vehicle.

It took Wanaka craftsmen a year to restore the car. "I had a vision for how the car could look and I've got to admit that the restoration team have surpassed my expectations - it is simply stunning," said Mr Duncan.

When it was first built, the Duesenberg had the most powerful production car motor in the world. Nearly 380 of the original 481 Model J Duesenbergs built still exist, with all but a few in the United States. The straight 8 motor puts out 265 horsepower and has a top speed of 200 kilometres an hour.

The Duesenberg's colourful history includes making its mark on American slang. The expression "it's a Duesy" - meaning something is excellent or extraordinary - was first coined in the US in the 1920s and demonstrated people's admiration for the vehicle.


The Southland Times