Back when Henry Ford started to put the world behind the wheel, cars were slowly evolving from luxurious accessories to new means of transport. Even though the Model T was popular among “ordinary” people, wealthy people didn’t really wanted to be seen in one. The rich had their eyes on a proper luxury beast-the Duesenberg.
Duesenberg SJ. Credit: Autocentre.ua
The Duesenberg Motor Company was founded in 1913 by two brothers August and Fred Duesenberg. Fred already had some experience in car making, so he decided to come up with his own brand. Initially, the company’s plans were to make racecars and engines for trains and airplanes. Everything that came out of the factory was completely hand-made to the last bolt.
Duesenberg Indy race car. Credit: Favcars.com
Couple of racing Duesenbergs won the 1924, 1925 and 1927 Indianapolis 500. Later, a car powered by a Duesenberg engine broke the land speed record, reaching 251 km/h. The popularity caused the company to make their own road cars.
Duesenberg Model A Speedster. Credit: FavCars.com
The first Duesenberg was presented in 1921, and was called Model A. It had many innovations, such as hydraulic brakes and it was the first American car to have a straight-8 engine. The whole luxury look of the car became popular among celebrities, but due to all innovations, it was quite expensive to repair. This took a tool on its production, and only 650 units were made, causing the company to file for bankruptcy in 1925.
Duesnberg Model A Phaeton. Credit: FavCars.com
However, help came from Errett Lobban Cord, the founder of Cord Automobiles. He wanted to give Duesenberg a second chance, and challenged the two brothers to make the fastest and the most luxurious car in the world. It took Duesenberg brothers 3 years to do that, and on 1st December 1921, they revealed the Model J.
Model J Dual Cowl Phaeton. Credit: Supercars.net
The new car had a straight-8 with 265 HP, but Cord thought that wasn’t enough. So, August Duesenberg realized how to make the car better. He made one of the world’s first superchargers and stuck it in the Model J. Thanks to that, the output was now increased to 320 HP. The power was sent to the rear wheels and its top speed was 225 km/h.
Model J LeBaron Phaeton. Credit: CarStyling.ru
After that, the company presented their new motto: “The only car that could pass a Duesenberg was another Duesenberg.” The company was only making the engine, front grille and the chassis, leaving the bodywork to coachbuilders. But, only the wealthy ones could get their hands on this masterpiece, since its price (without the bodywork) was around $10.000 (that’s around $120.000 in today’s value).
Model J by Judkins Limousine Coachwork. Credit: Supercars.net
Unfortunately, the Great Depression soon struck, and not a lot people wanted to buy fancy luxurious cars. In 1929, only 300 units were made, and only 100 the next year. In total, around 1.000 Model Js saw the light of day, and the company went bust in 1937. There were few attempts to bring the brand back, but it seems that Duesenberg name will never become a part of modern automotive world.
Model J Convertible Roadster. Credit: Supercars.net
Famous Model J owners were Greta Garbo, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Al Capone, Howard Hughes, William Randolph Hearst, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, Queen Marie of Yugoslavia and many others. One of the biggest petrolheads in the world Jay Leno currently has 3 Duesenbergs.
Model J Convertible Victoria. Credit: Supercars.net