What happened to Duesenberg?
The American Rolls-Royce that went under over 80 years ago
This summer, I visited a family friend and his awesome car collection. He had a '61 corvette in baby blue, a '64 (I think) corvette with side piping, a Ferrari 458, several Eldorado's, and a classic Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow in a unique pink that matched the candy that made the previous owner famous (pictured below). However, none of these cars (or any of the others) could stand next to his 1935 Duesenberg Model SJ (pictures in comments). If the Cadillac's were land yachts, this was a aircraft carrier. It was imposing just to stand next to it, and looking down that hood was like aiming the barrel of a tank. The car was over eighty years older than the Ferrari, but it stirred the emotions like nothing else in that over 20 car garage.
This got me thinking, what happened to Duesenberg? How could a company that made something so beautiful and so timeless, and then just fade into oblivion?
Duesenberg Motor Company was founded in 1913 by two self taught engineers to build race cars and engines, and they were some of the best in the world at that. In just their second year in operation, a Duesenberg placed 10th in the Indianapolis 500, and then in the five year span between 1922-1927, they won four times. The cars were not only successful in the U.S, in 1921, Jimmy Murphy became the first American to win Le Mans when he drove his Duesenberg to victory.
The Model J, Duesenberg's final model, stood out beyond its beautiful looks. Duesenberg made a performance version dubbed the SJ that made over 300 HP, was able to achieve speeds of between 135-140 mph, and got to 60 mph in around eight seconds, in 1930!!! For comparison, the current VW Golf TSI gets to 60 in about the same amount of time, and has a lower top speed.
Now to get to why Duesenberg failed, and there is actually a simple answer, the Great Depression. The Duesenberg Model J could cost up to $25k, or over $385k today. Duesenberg released the Model J in 1928, and had hoped to sell 500 models a year, but by the Great Depression hit in 1929, Duesenberg had only built 200 Model J's. The company that owned Duesenberg, Cord Corporation, collapsed in 1937, signaling the end for Duesenberg.
There have been attempts to revive the company, the closest of which was by a company called Elite Heritage Motor Corporation that made nearly 100 replica Duesenberg's before they too failed in 2000.
Duesenberg could've been great, it was a American car manufacturer that made beautiful, fast, and comfortable cars with an emphasis in innovation. Instead, they have been lost to the history books. Fewer than 400 Duesenberg's are still around, and the name is so unrecognizable that my computer is convinced i'm spelling it wrong. I want to preserve the name, and make sure that car enthusiasts in the future don't forget their contributions to the auto industry.