Joseph Gerard Kirchhoff, was born in Austria about 1882, and came to New York at
Collected facts about Joseph Gerard
Kirchhoff, Coachbuilder who created the bodywork for Duesenberg J-186 [work in
b. c1882, d. 10 Jan 1964, Pasadena, CA; Arrived in New York from Austria at age
18 (from Dad's notes)
b. 1885, New York (from coachbuilt.com)
m. 1907, Eleonora.
Served in the U. S. Army, 1917-1918.
worked for Sterling Mfg. Co.,
Walter M. Murphy Motors Co. as superintendent (1920?-1926),
then formed Kirchhoff Coach Builders, USA in Pasadena (1926-1932).
He built seven custom bodies bearing his name:
One Miller V8 Roadster with the first disappearing top; two Packards, at least
one similar to Bourne's Model J; 2 Model J Duesenbergs (1929 Convertible Berline,
2208 J-186 and 1932 Town Car for Anna E. Ingraham, 2514 J-497); 2 other cars,
one might have been a Ford.
His entire family worked on the cars; his wife and daughters upholstered,
son-in-law painted and supervised.
After finishing the Ingraham car, he took the car to Europe and drove it to her
place in Austria. She then hired him to chauffeur her around Europe and Russia
in 1934, 1936 and 1937.
Foreman at Gulf Cars with Miller
The Manhattan Project; he designed and built the high-speed cameras used
in the experiments
FROM COACHBUILDER.COM (Some facts here conflict with what was learned from
J. Gerard Kirchhoff Body Works - 1926-1932 - Pasadena, California
Joseph Gerard Kirchhoff (1885-1964) was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1885. He
married in 1907, and he and his young wife Eleonora headed west to California.
Draft records indicate Kirchhoff, then a resident of Los Angeles, served in the
US Army from 1917-1918.
Following the war, Kirchhoff worked for a number of local body shops and
developed an expertise in metal fabrication. When Walter M Murphy started hiring
craftsmen for his new Pasadena coachbuilding enterprise, Kirchhoff was hired by
the shop manager, George R. Fredericks.
After Fredericks was accidentally killed at a shop-sponsored beach outing in
1925, Kirchhoff became Murphy’s shop supervisor. At about the same time, Murphy
ran into Frank S. Spring, a pilot and professional efficiency expert. Spring was
a graduate of Paris’ famed Ecole des Ponts et Chausses Polytechnic Institute,
and offered to take a look at Murphy’s Pasadena operations and make some
Murphy hired Spring to take over Frederick’s position as shop manager, and
Spring and Kirchhoff soon discovered they were neighbors and stayed friends for
a number of years thereafter. For reasons that remain unclear, Kirchhoff left
Murphy during 1926 and opened a small shop of his own.
Kirchhoff also built a few bodies for the legendary racecar builder Harry
Miller, the most memorable being the ‘Terraplane’ roadster built in the late
twenties for wealthy Santa Barbara sportsman Philip Chancellor. The
four-wheel-drive Miller speedster was featured in the June, 1930 issue of
A Disappearing-Top Roadster for Front-Drive Chassis
This interesting 2-passenger roadster was built to-order for a wealthy Santa
Barbara sportsman by the J. Gerard Kirchhoff Body Works, of Pasadena, Calif. It
is mounted on a front-drive chassis personally engineered by Harry A. Miller,
the well-known-builder of racing cars. The car is powered with an 8-cylinder, V
-type engine equipped with supercharger and capable of developing 325 hp,
sufficient to drive the car at a speed of 135 mi. per hr. Because of the high
speed of which this car is capable, the body, bonnet and fenders were of special
design and construction.
Throughout the whole construction, weight was cut without sacrificing strength:
The fenders are of aluminum; one front fender weighs only a little more than 11
lb. All body braces are of duralumin, instead of the customary steel. The car is
finished in Ditzler's Ivory Jet Black, set off by polished metal. There is a
chromium-plated molding running from radiator to rear, and the entire chassis
is, plated. Fender braces are of polished duralumin.
Wind resistance has been cut to a minimum, streamlining having been applied to
the radiator shell, bonnet louvers and general outline of the car body. There
are no outside door handles and even the bonnet is unlocked and raised by
special removable handles. The disappearing top is of novel construction; there
is no overhang at the windshield, the top ending in a metal nose that holds it
securely to the windshield and eliminates eddy resistance at this point. With
the top erected, the height of the car is only 4 ft. 10 in. overall. When it is
not desired to use the top, it is stowed in the tail, the entire rear deck being
raised as shown in the view below. When the deck is down, there is no trace of a
top nor of a break in the deck. The latter is locked securely at three points by
one handle. - To operate this handle, however, it is necessary to pull the
seatback forward. The seatback cannot be restored to its position without
locking the rear deck. Hence the car cannot be driven when the deck is not in
proper position. This and several other features of the body are being covered
by patents. The seat is trimmed in a special plaited- style, with Eagle Ottawa
black seal-grain leather. The extra cap shown on the radiator is for water to
cool the supercharger which operates at a speed of 36,000 revolutions per
After Kirchhoff’s friend and neighbor Frank S. Spring went to work for Hudson,
he recalled the innovative ’Terraplane’ body built by Kirchhoff and suggest it
as a replacement for the resurrected low-priced Essex line that reappeared in
Burton K. Chalmers, a well-known Pasadena luxury automobile salesman who worked
for Pasadena’s Cadillac, Citroen and Renault distributor would occasionally
place custom work with Kirchhoff. That’s where Chalmers met his future
Coachcraft partner, Rudy Stoessel who was hired by Kirchhoff when he left
Pierce-Arrow in 1929.
When Murphy closed down in 1932, Kirchhoff inherited some of their Duesenberg
business. When William Randolph Hearst’s Hibbard & Darrin Town body was rebuilt
following a tour of Europe, Kirchhoff was hired to complete the work. He
installed a custom-built oversized trunk as well as a new top which included
removable rear quarters that featured a small oval opera window.
Kirchhoff also built a Duesenberg town car (engine #J-497L chassis # 2514) for
Ingraham Watch Co. heiress Anne Ingraham. The clever body was designed as a
sedan and town car body-in-one and was commissioned to accompany her on an
extended European tour.
The car was fitted with a British-style crank-back sunroof over the driver’s
seat and also included removable quarter panels similar to those Kirchhoff
installed on the Hearst Town Car. The passenger compartment was trimmed in
imported floral-pattern silk brocade and included gold-plated hardware and
bird's-eye maple cabinets and a concealed jewelry box. The vehicle’s most unique
feature was a built-in commode which required an 85-gallon combination water
supply and holding tank that was mounted at the rear of the chassis.
Apparently Mrs. Ingraham was very compelling individual, as she convinced
Kirchhoff to close down his Pasadena coachbuilding operations during 1932 and
become her personal chauffeur. Kirchhoff accompanied her on a number of trips to
the Continent, North Africa and the Middle East during the mid-thirties.
When he returned from his world travels, Kirchhoff kept his hand in the body
fabrication business and produced an occasional racecar body for Harry Miller
into the late 30s. Kirchhoff worked on the bodies of the Gulf-Miller Sixes that
competed at Indianapolis in 1938 and 1939.
Kirchhoff remained in Pasadena for the rest of his life, passing away soon after
celebrating his 56th wedding anniversary in 1964.