Site hosted by Build your free website today!


The "Original" Muscle Car

"They were a Duesy"

Duesenberg was an Auburn, Indiana based luxury automobile company active in various forms from 1913 to 1937, most famous for its high-quality passenger cars and record-breaking roadsters. In 1913, brothers Fred and August Duesenberg founded Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company, Inc. on 915 Grand Avenue in Des Moines, Iowa to build sports cars. Born in 1876 and 1879 respectively in Kirchheide (Lemgo), Germany, the two brothers were self-taught engineers and built many experimental cars. Duesenberg cars were considered some of the very best cars of the time, and were built entirely by hand. In 1914, Eddie Rickenbacker drove a "Duesy" to finish in 10th place at the Indianapolis 500, and a Duesenberg won the race in 1924, 1925, and 1927. 1923 saw the only use of a Duesenberg as the pace car at the Indianapolis 500. In 1921, Jimmy Murphy became the first American to win the French Grand Prix when he drove a Duesenberg to victory at the Le Mans racetrack.

Home of Fred & Augie Duesenberg

At the end of World War I, they ceased building aviation and marine engines in Elizabeth, New Jersey. In 1919 the Duesenberg brothers sold their Minnesota and New Jersey factories to John Willys and moved to a new headquarters and factory in Indianapolis, where the Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company was established in 1920 to begin production of passenger cars. Fred was the manager and chief engineer and later president. Although the Duesenberg brothers were world-class engineers, they were unable to sell all the units of their first passenger car, the Model A. This was the first "mass-produced" straight eight engine in the U.S., just 667 were ever made. It was an extremely advanced and expensive automobile, offering features such as dual overhead camshafts, four-valve cylinder heads, and the first four wheels hydraulic brakes offered on a passenger car in the U. S. The Model A was a lighter and smaller vehicle than the competition but more powerful and the fastest car of its time. Among the celebrities who purchased this model was Rudolph Valentino. Nevertheless only 650 Model A's were sold throughout six years and competitions never were profitable, so the two brothers, to stay afloat the company, handed over its control to two investors; Rankin and Van Sant who took all the money and then disappeared. Fred and August struggled to keep the company but they did not get enough capital, Duesenberg had troubles to make ends meet and creditors called for receivership.

1935 Duesenberg Print Ad

E.L. Cord, the owner of Cord Automobile, Auburn Automobile, and other transportation firms, bought the company on the 26th October 1926 for the brothers' engineering skills, talent and the brand name in order to produce luxury cars. He challenged Fred Duesenberg to design an automobile that should be the best in the world. Indeed, Cord wanted the biggest, fastest and most expensive car ever made, he also ordered a large chassis to be able to compete with the biggest and most luxurious European cars of the era, such as Hispano-Suiza, Isotta-Fraschini, Mercedes-Benz or Rolls-Royce. It took Fred 27 months to bring the Model J to fruition. The first true Model J prototype, created in February 1927, was the Model Y. Two such cars were built with engines of 320 cubic inches. One of these engines had single overhead cam and the other had a double overhead cam. It was Fred's thinking that lighter, smaller cars with higher rpm engines would be the ideal configuration for an auto. Cord did not agree, and as it was his dream, he nixed the prototype Model Ys after road-testing them. The next prototype was the Model H, which exists only on paper and varies only slightly from the later Model J. In February 1928 the Model J designation was born.

Clark Gabel and his 1935 Duesenberg J

The newly revived Duesenberg company set about to produce the Model J, which debuted in December at the New York Car Show of 1928. In unsupercharged form, it produced a whopping 265 horsepower (198 kW) from a dual overhead camshaft straight 8 and was capable of a top speed of 119 mph (192 km/h), and 94 mph (151 km/h) in 2nd gear. Other cars featured a bigger engine but none of them surpassed its power which was three times bigger and was also both the fastest and most expensive automobile in the market. All these unique features, glamour and style found an inspiration in the expression; "It's a Duesy" When the Depression hit in October 1929, only some 200 cars had been built. An additional 100 orders were filled in 1930. Thus, the Model J fell short of the original goal to sell 500 cars a year. Only the chassis and engine were displayed at New York, since the interior and body of the car would be custom-made by an experienced coachbuilder to the owner's specifications. The bodyworks for the Duisenberg's came from both North America and Europe, and the finished cars comprised some of the largest, grandest, most beautiful, and most elegant cars ever created. Many custom coachworks were done directly for customers, but others went to Duesenberg branches in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Florida and Denver, as well as to smaller dealers. The chassis cost $8,500 ($9,500 after 1932); the completed base model cost $13,500; and a top-of-the-line model could reach $25,000 (with coachwork) at a time when the average U.S. physician earned less than $3,000 a year.

1930 Duesenberg J

The J was available in two versions of chassis with a different wheelbase; a long one (153.54 in (3.90 m)) and a short one (about 141.73 in (3.60 m)). There were also other special sizes; like the only two SSJ's with a wheelbase of 125 in (3.18 m) and a couple of cars with the wheelbase extended to 4 m (160 in) and over. Despite being very robust the chassis of the Model J was, along with the inflexible axis of suspensions, perhaps the weakest part of the car. The rigidity of this simple chassis was constantly put to the test as it had to support a unit of over 5 meters long with the weight normally exceeding two tons. The Model J had just the drum brakes and although equipped with an excellent hydraulic control, they experienced problems with such a heavy and strong car. While in 1929 these imperfections were still acceptable, in 1937, the last year of Duesenberg production, they presented a burden that could hardly be ignored comparing to the already more advanced competitors. A series of minor modifications were carried out during the production life, but most of the design remained the same up until the factory closed in 1937. First to go was the four-speed gearbox, which proved unable to handle the engine's power. It was replaced by a unsynchronized 3-speed gearbox, which was fitted to all Duisenberg's to come. Unlike almost all American manufacturers Duesenberg did not switch to a fully synchronized gearbox in the mid-1930s, which made the Model J difficult to drive and outdated. By 1937 the chassis and gearbox were ancient compared to the competition. Regarding this model, it is necessary to emphasize that most of them (engine and chassis) were made in 1929 and 1930, but due to the Great Depression, high price, etc., were sold throughout the next years. To date a certain J it is taken the year a car was bodied, even though the chassis were made in 1929, 1930, etc.

1935 Duesenberg SJ LA Grand Dual-Cowl Phaeton. The supercharged version, often referred to as "SJ", was reputed to do 104 miles per hour (167 km/h) in second and have a top speed of 135C140 mph (217C225 km/h) in third. Zero-to-60 mph (100 km/h) times of around eight seconds and 0-to-100 mph (160 km/h) times of 17 seconds were reported for the SJ in spite of the unsynchronized transmissions, at a time when even the best cars of the era were not likely to reach 100 mph (160 km/h). Duesenberg's generally weighed around two and a half tons; up to three tons was not unusual, considering the wide array of custom coachwork available.

1935 Duesenberg SJ Phaeton

This rare supercharged Model J version, with 320 hp (239 kW) was introduced in 1932 and only 36 units were built. Special-bodied models, such as the later "Mormon Meteor" chassis, achieved an average speed of over 135 mph (217 km/h) and a one-hour average of over 152 mph (245 km/h) at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah. The SJ's supercharger was located beside the engine; to make room for it, the exhaust pipes were creased so they could be bent easily and extended through the side panel of the hood. These supercharged cars can be recognized by these shiny creased tubes, which Cord registered as a trademark and used in his other supercharged cars from Cord and Auburn. It was said, "The only car that could pass a Duesenberg was another Duesenberg and that was with the first owner's consent." A month after the SJ's debut, Fred Duesenberg died of pneumonia and his brother, Augie, took over Fred's duties as chief engineer. With regard to the SSJ, is the SJ version but with a horsepower close to 400 hp (298 kW). The only two examples built in 1935, the SSJ Speedsters sported a lightweight open-roadster body produced by Central Manufacturing Company, an Auburn subsidiary in Connersville, Indiana. One of them belonged to the actor Gary Cooper, the other one was leant by the company to Clark Gable who already owned a Duesenberg J. The inscription SSJ (same goes for SJ) has never been officially used by the company but it eventually became commonly used among the car lovers. The second "S" stands for "short wheelbase" as the two SSJ are the only Duesenberg to have a chassis with the wheelbase shortened to 125 (3,18m). The 420-cubic-inch straight eight engine of both SSJ models is equipped by two special carburetors and inlet ports of a special shape called "ram's horn", which was used in other SJ's as well. Unlike the normal port, the "ram's horn" is composed of two horns and each of these then splits in two again. At the rear, the SSJ sported an external spare tire and smaller "later-style" round taillights. The external exhaust pipes sprouting out of the hood were an indication it was the "supercharged" version but this registered device were optional on J models as well.

1935 Clark Gable's Duesenberg JN. There is another version of the model J known as the Duesenberg JN (a name never used by the company either), all JN's were sold with Rollston coachwork and only 10 were produced in 1935.It was an attempt to give a more-modern look to an aging design, the JN was equipped with smaller 17-inch-diameter wheels (versus 19 inches), skirted fenders, bullet-shaped taillights, and bodies set on the frame rails for a lower look. The battery box and tool box were redesigned slightly so that the doors could close over the frame. Supercharged JNs gained the logical SJN designation.

1929 Duesenberg D Dual Cowl Phaeton

The Duesenberg quickly became one of the most popular luxury cars as well as a status symbol in America and also in Europe, driven by the nobility, rich and famous, among them Clark Gable, Gary Cooper (each driving one of the two very rare SSJ 125 short-wheelbase convertibles), Al Capone, Evalyn Walsh McLean, Greta Garbo, Howard Hughes, Mae West, Marion Davies, Tyrone Power, William Randolph Hearst, the families Mars, Whitney, Wrigley, members of the European royalty such as the Duke of Windsor, Prince Nicholas of Romania, the Queen Maria of Yugoslavia, the Kings Victor Emmanuel III of Italy and Alfonso XIII of Spain, the latter was very keen on motoring and chose his now missing Duesenberg J, among his cars, to go to exile after the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic.

Originally it was New York that supported the Model J. New York was the financial capital of the United States in 1929 and many of its people could afford such a very expensive car. But as the Depression deepened power shifted, and ultimately it was newly wealthy Hollywood that kept Duesenberg alive through much of the 1930s.It was so reputed and imposing that even though some Hollywood stars did not own a Duesenberg they posed next to the car to promote their careers.

Duesenberg advertising claimed it was the best car in the world, in their ads an elegant man or woman were seen together with a concise sentence; "He/She drives a Duesenberg", it did not mention its features and there was not even a picture of the automobile, they were so confident they almost never showed the car and the campaign was a success.

There was a gradual evolution (up to the 1937 model) to preserve the "stately lines" while moving into a more integrated mode of styling. The final evolution of the Duesenberg engine was ram-air intakes, which were added to some of the last supercharged models to produce 400 hp (298 kW), referred to as SSJ. Of the 481 Model Js (including all its versions) produced between 1928 and 1937, about 378 are extant.

1929 Duesenberg J Dual Cowl Phaeton

Duesenberg ceased production in 1937 after Cord's financial empire collapsed, however between 1937 and 1940 two automobiles put the final touch to this historical marquee: the first one was delivered by the coachbuilder Rollson to the German artist Rudolf Bauer in April 1940, it is both the longest Duesenberg and the last one delivered; and finally the last one ever made, which was assembled from leftover parts.

Model X Duesenberg's are very rare. According to Randy Ema, the top Duesenberg authority in the United States, only 13 were built. They fit in between the Duesenberg Model A and the famous J; only four are known to survive.

Duesenberg fell into oblivion during the Second World War and a few Model J's were sold for only $100 or $200, but about the middle of 1950s collectors began to get interested in vintage cars and to keep them.

After World War II, August Duesenberg tried to revive the Duesenberg name, but was unsuccessful; several later attempts were also unsuccessful. The closest came in the mid-1960s, with Fritz (Augusts' son) at the helm and Virgil Exner as the stylist, using the chassis of a 1966 Imperial and a Chrysler engine. One of Exner's Duesenberg designs was later produced as the modern Stutz Bearcat. A 1970s Duesenberg was also created, based on a Cadillac Fleetwood and with modern styling, although its production was not high.

1929 Duesenberg J Cabriolet

Beginning with its introduction in 1975 at the ACD Festival in Auburn, Indiana, the reproduction Duesenberg II automobile was produced and sold through mid-2000. Five models of the original Duesenberg's were made, each one carefully copied from an original and visually identical, with a modern Ford V8 driveline and modern comfort features. These exacting reproductions sold for up to US$225,000.

The Duesenberg name still lives on as an object of opulence and luxury. It is estimated that as of 2006, approximately 50% (or roughly 600) of the originally manufactured Duesenberg's are still on the road as classic cars or "old-timers". Today, Duesenberg Model Js and SJs are among the most desired collectible classic cars in the world. It is not uncommon today for a Duesenberg in good condition to sell for over one million dollars, and a few sell for multimillion-dollar figures. At the Barrett-Jackson auction in January 2008, a Duesenberg J went for more than $1,000,000.Some of the World's most expensive Duesenberg's have been sold at auction by Dean Kruse including: Greta Garbo's J for $1,400,000 and a 1932 Duesenberg Murphy Disappearing Top for $1,700,000.

Etymological Note

The origin of the American slang word "doozy" meaning something excellent or powerful, is either the Duesenberg's nickname, "Duesy", or an older term (derived from earlier slang, "daisy". In either case, reinforced by Duesenberg, an expensive, classy make of automobile, 1920sC30s.


1929 Duesenberg J

Home | About Me | G.M Muscle | Ford Power | MOPAR | American Motors | Scavenger Hunt | Duesenberg | Buick Y Job | Hood Art | Voki | Ben Franklin Web Quest | Slide Show | Educational Resource Page