Fred Roe, who wrote the definitive book Duesenberg, the Pursuit of Perfection, photographed Leno's car covered in dust in the corner where he found it. "Wood made cars from 1904 to 1930, but in very limited numbers," says Roe, a sprightly 86-year-old. "Their main business was building bodies for commercial cars and trucks, so their car bodies came from contacts with store owners."
The only Duesenberg known to be bodied by Woods, this one, was purchased new at the 1931 New York Auto Show by a New York department store owner, was parked in a New York City garage in 1933 by the wealthy owner who didn't like it.
"The car has covered 7,085 miles," says Ema. "It's the last original-owner, original-condition Duesenberg to be found. There's one other in the original family's hands, but it's been reupholstered."
It Leno heard about it and decided to track it down one day while his wife went shopping. Leno says he paid a fair price for his car, considering it will cost $200,000 to restore. He shipped it to Ema in California, and was thrilled by the expert's condition report.
"I figured it was one of those rumors I heard when I was a kid, like the $300 Corvette somebody died in and they couldn't get the smell out, or the Hemi Road Runner where the guy went to Vietnam and never came back," he says.
"I hit about 16 parking garages and asked if they had any old cars upstairs. Then I found this Duesenberg sitting next to a 1932 Rolls-Royce. It was a situation where a great deal of money was owed for parking. The guy was wealthy but wouldn't pay the parking, a lien sale ensued, and I got the car," he recalls.
What Leno bought was the only Duesenberg bodied by F.R. Wood and Sons, a small New York body shop. It's a square, formal Town Sedan, most of which were converted over the years to more valuable open cars.
Duesenberg's New York service department maintained the Woods car until 1937, then it sat until the owner's son inherited it in 1953 and got it running. "He went to a classic car meet, but he didn't like them, so he took it home and parked it," said Ema.
Leno has been quoted as saying it was stuck on the second floor of the garage because the elevator had been remodeled and it was now too long to fit. "No, that's not true," he admits. "I exaggerated so people would think it would have to be dismantled. Hey, it chased people away for ten years."
Although they shared the same surname, Frederick R. Wood was not directly related to Bridgeport, Connecticut's Frederick Wood, a principal of the famous Bridgeport and Manhattan carriagebuilding house of Wood Bros. that operated a number of large warerooms along Broadway from the late 1840s into the early 1880s.