It’s A Duesy!!


When you see that, usually misspelled, it means that something is over the top, as good as it gets.  Most people have forgotten that that once meant a car.  A car that still touches the soul with it’s power and elegance. Many people think that the Duesenberg was the best car that America ever produced.

Recently I started playing with Pinterest as a way of cataloging pictures for future blog posts and setup a board for cars, naturally.  Suddenly it seemed like every other picture was a Duesenberg.  All wonderful huge cars.  Here are some examples.

And especially this car.

Here’s a short history of the Duesenbergs from Duesenberg

 From 1906 to 1913, Fred and August Duesenberg were associated with the Mason racing cars of Des Moines, Iowa. In 1913 the brothers opened a small plant in St. Paul, Minnesota, where they built complete racing cars, marine engines, and aircraft engines during World War I.

In 1920 they began producing automobiles under their own name when they formed the Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company, Inc. in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Duesenberg was the first successful American racing car designed and built exclusively for speedway competition. Capitalizing on their racing successes, they advertised as “The World’s Champion Automobile – Built to Outclass, Outrun, and Outlast Any Car on the Road.”

Duesenberg cars had a straight-eight engine with a single overhead camshaft and hydraulic four-wheel brakes, both firsts in an American production automobile. Fleetwood, Rubay, and Millspaugh & Irish bodies were ordered by Duesenberg for the Model A chassis and custom bodies could be built by Brunn, Judkins, Murphy and others.

Model A production continued until 1926 and its successor, the Model X, was introduced, but only 12 of the new model were built. A little more than 600 Duesenberg Model A cars were built.

Late in 1926, E. L. Cord purchased the Duesenberg firm and a new company, Duesenberg, Inc., was formed. From this reorganization came the famous Duesenberg J and SJ models. A total of 480 Model J Duesenberg car built. Of this small number, only 37 were SJ (supercharged).

In 1937, the Cord empire collapsed and the Cord-owned companies were sold off. Several attempts have been made to revive the Duesenberg name.

Duesenberg Model J

The Model J Duesenberg has long been regarded as the most outstanding example of design and engineering of the Classic Era. Introduced in 1929, trading was halted on the New York Stock Exchange for the announcement. At $8,500 for the chassis alone, it was by far the most expensive car in America. With coachwork, the delivered price of many Duesenbergs approached $20,000, a staggering sum at a time when a typical new family car cost around $500.

The Mighty Model J

The story of Fred and August Duesenberg and E.L. Cord is among the most fascinating in automotive history. The Duesenbergs were self-taught mechanics and car builders whose careers started in the Midwest at the beginning of the twentieth century with the manufacture of cars bearing the Mason and Maytag names. Fred, the older brother by five years, was the tinkerer and designer of the pair. Augie made Fred’s ingenious and creative things work.

The Duesenbergs’ skill and creativity affected many other early American auto manufacturers. Their four-cylinder engine produced by Rochester powered half a dozen marques. Eddie Rickenbacker, Rex Mays, Peter DePaolo, Tommy Milton, Albert Guyot, Ralph DePalma, Fred Frame, Deacon Litz, Joe Russo, Stubby Stubblefield, Jimmy Murphy, Ralph Mulford and Ab Jenkins drove their racing cars.

In 15 consecutive Indianapolis 500s, starting with their first appearance in 1913, 70 Duesenbergs competed. Thirty-two – an amazing 46 percent of them – finished in the top 10. Fred and Augie became masters of supercharging and of reliability. Their engines, because engines were Fred’s specialty, were beautiful and performed on a par with the best of Miller, Peugeot and Ballot.

In 1921, Jimmy Murphy’s Duesenberg won the most important race on the international calendar, the French GP at Le Mans. It was the first car with hydraulic brakes to start a Grand Prix. Duesenberg backed up this performance at Indianapolis in 1922 – eight of the top 10 cars were Duesenberg powered, including Jimmy Murphy’s winner.

In 1925, Errett Lobban Cord added the Duesenberg Motors Company to his rapidly growing enterprise, the Auburn Automobile Company. Cord’s vision was to create an automobile that would surpass the great marques of Europe and America. Cadillac, Isotta Fraschini, Bugatti, Rolls-Royce and Hispano-Suiza were his targets and Duesenberg was his chosen instrument. He presented Fred Duesenberg with the opportunity to create the greatest car in the world, and Fred obliged with the Duesenberg Model J.

The Duesenberg Model J was conceived and executed to be superlative in all aspects. Its short wheelbase chassis was 142.5 inches, nearly 12 feet. The double overhead camshaft straight eight-cylinder engine had four valves per cylinder and displaced 420 cubic inches. It made 265 horsepower. The finest materials were used throughout and fit and finish were to tool room standards. Each chassis was driven at speed for 100 miles at Indianapolis.

The Duesenberg Model J’s introduction on December 1, 1928 at the New York Auto Salon was front page news. The combination of the Duesenberg reputation with the Model J’s grand concept and execution made it the star of the show and the year. Duesenberg ordered enough components to build 500 Model Js while development continued for six months after the Model J’s introduction to ensure its close approximation of perfection. The first customer delivery came in May 1929, barely five months before Black Tuesday. Unfortunately, the Model J Duesenberg lacked financing and support from E.L. Cord and Auburn Corporation, which were both struggling to stay afloat in the decimated middle market.

The effect of the Duesenberg J on America cannot be minimized. Even in the misery of the Depression this paragon of power illustrated the continued existence of wealth and the upper class. Duesenberg’s advertising became a benchmark, featuring the wealthy and privileged in opulent surroundings with only a single line of copy: “He drives a Duesenberg.” The outside exhaust pipes inspired generations of auto designers and remain, 60 years later, a symbol of power and performance. “She’s a real Duesy,” still means a slick, quick, smooth and desirable possession of the highest quality.

Duesenbergs were expensive cars, and only men or women of means could afford them. At a time when a perfectly good new family sedan could be purchased for $500 or so, a coachbuilt Duesenberg often cost $20,000 or more. If a full-sized family sedan sells for $30,000 today, that is the equivalent of more than $1 million dollars now. Such extravagance was born of an era of unbridled capitalism – a time when a man with vision and ability could make – and keep – a fortune of staggering size.

These were the men who could afford the very best, and there was absolutely no doubt that when it came to automobiles, E. L. Cord’s magnificent Duesenberg was the best that money could buy.

The new Duesenberg was tailor-made for the custom body industry. It had the power and stance to carry imposing coachwork, and the style and grace of the factory sheet metal was ideally suited for the execution of elegant custom coachwork. The Murphy Body Company of Pasadena, California is generally recognized as the most successful coachbuilder on the Duesenberg Model J chassis.

Here’s the wiki for the Duesenberg car company.

The early history of the Duesenberg brothers is typical of the story of young people in a startup industry that strike out on their own.  In the early part of the 20th Century the auto industry was a hotbed of little startups moving out from various garages run by people with bigger dreams than pocketbooks and ad hoc engineering.

The Duesenbergs were able to use their racing engine expertise to good use in WW1 to develop advanced for the day aircraft engines. Here’s some pages from Page’s Aviation engines from 1918.

After the war the aviation industry more or less collapsed and the Duesenberg brothers went back to building and racing cars.  With great success through the 1920’s. Though Duesenberg would never build cars in any large numbers.  The factory floor was truly small compared to that of Ford or Chevy.

All of the Duesenbergs were built individually by hand, in a production cell, much like a modern supercar is today.  Parts were purchased from vendors and finished machined in Duesenberg’s obviously well equipped machine shop.  This was a huge part the $8500 preinflation price tag.  When you only make parts in small quantities the part cost eat you alive.

Duesenberg became part of the Auburn Cord car company and the company shut it’s doors in the late 1930’s, as demand for the ultraluxury cars disappeared with the new sensibilities of the Great Depression.  All that ‘s left is the factory building, which is a museum and most of the cars themselves.  Here’s the link to the Duesenber Auburn Cord Museum.

Here’s some videos with noted Duesenberg lover and owner Jay Leno and what it takes to keep the cars alive.  Because Jay believes in driving and keeping his cars alive and not just sitting in a garage all the time.




Well that’s it for now on these wonderful cars. My dad said that he had the chance to own one once and passed it up.  So much for lost opportunities.  Google Duesenberg and there will be more of these wonderful cars.



  1. penneyvanderbilt · January 3, 2017

    Reblogged this on KCJones.


  2. Pingback: Research Odds And Ends | The Arts Mechanical

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