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Concours poster car: 1931 Duesenberg


Beaverton man says auto, one of 25 in his collection, is quite rare

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Beaverton resident Clifford Stranberg takes a rag to a car part inside his home garage as his 1931 Duesenberg Phantom Model J Phaeton sits behind him. Its the poster car for Sundays Concours dElegance in Forest Grove.The automobile featured on this year’s Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance Classic Car Show poster is no stranger to fame.

Box office phenomenon Bruce Willis lounged in the back seat of the 1931 Duesenberg Model J Phaeton on the first poster, an advertisement for the film “Sunset.” Co-star James Garner rested his hand on the car’s hood.

Beaverton resident Clifford Stranberg let the production use his convertible Duesenberg for the 1988 action comedy flick.

“The Duesenberg has been charted as the mightiest American motor car,” said Stranberg, a part-time urologist in McMinnville and part-time car collector.

The Concours committee originally came to Stranberg’s house to photograph his Cadillac — one of his 25 cars — but members quickly realized they had options.

“One guy said ‘Gosh, we could do several show posters from all the cars here!’” said Stranberg.

Instead of the Cadillac, Stranberg’s Duesenberg caught their attention — and they haven’t been the only ones.

Stranberg purchased the car in 1972. It’s a custom car with a body constructed by Derham Body Company. Like other models, his car holds a 450-cubic-inch engine and can reach speeds of 120 mph with 165 horsepower. There were only five cars ever made in this style and only four exist today, Stranberg explained.

“It needed complete restoration,” Stranberg said. “Every nut and bolt is taken apart or fixed and put right back.”

He couldn’t drive the car back, but had to haul the 6,000 pound Duesenberg on a trailer from Portland to his house in Washington County.

“The car was so heavy it broke the trailer,” said Stranberg who used fishing line to hold parts together for the rest of the ride home.

In 1985, after two years of restoration, it was complete.

Now when people see his car, Stranberg said, Duesenberg fanatics tell him, “This car is how a Duesenberg should look, very sleek and well designed.”

He has shown his cars by request from California to Oregon.  

At one show in California, the staff placed the Duesenberg on a bank near water. Stranberg requested chocks to place under the wheels to make sure the car wouldn’t roll away. A staff member scoffed and asked if that wasn’t a little overkill.

“With a car we put this much time into, it’s under-kill,” Stranberg retorted.

When the Duesenberg first went on the market in 1931 it would have cost around $17,000, or the price of three houses then. After all the memories they’ve shared, Stranberg has no plans of giving the car up.

“If I was going to sell it, I’d have to find a bigger fool than me,” joked Stranberg, who said Duesenbergs have been auctioned off for millions. “You can’t put an exact price on it.”

While some renovated car owners refuse to drive their cars, Stanberg enjoys the ride. He’s driven his 1930 Franklin from coast to coast several times.

“The nice thing about driving an old open car is you experience the wind. You breathe,” said Stranberg. “In modern cars you’re [in] a cocoon, but in these old cars you experience things you normally wouldn’t.”

Stranberg grew up as a “redneck child” in upstate New York. He joined the Navy at 17 and after that and graduating from college he came to Oregon in 1965 to attend medical school. Now Stranberg has 34 years as a urologist under his belt, but he said his fascination with cars has been constant.

He bought his first car, a 1936 Cord, in 1971.

“I’ve always called my cars an over-compensation,” he laughed.

His most recent project is his ninth restoration, a Franklin custom motorcar with a Dietrich body — one of three in existence.

The Duesenberg has shown at many Concours events and even won awards. Stranberg will drive out with a friend to the event on Pacific University’s campus this Sunday, July 21.

For a history buff like Stranberg, it doesn’t get old.

“These cars have been rolling sculptures that are more art than a method of transportation,” said Stranberg. “I enjoy the conversations with other enthusiasts. It’s like a show and tell.”