History of Famous Automobiles The Dusenberg Part 2

About the history of the Dusenberg a luxury racing or sports car, some of the features explained.


THE DUESENBERG (1920-1937)

E.L. got his money's worth. Three years later, the Duesenberg's era of magnificence began with the Model J. In 1932 the company introduced the spectacular supercharged Model SJ. Duesenberg quickly became the most prestigious car in the world. European royalty, formerly accustomed to English Rolls-Royces and German Daimlers, actually bought American cars. New York's Mayor Jimmy Walker purchased a "cheap" $20,000 Model J. The popular evangelist Father Divine used one as his "Throne Car." Show business stars snapped them up. As one critic said, "To own a Duesenberg was almost required of a film star who wanted to prove that he had reached the top." Tyrone Power and Paul Whiteman had them; Mae West owned a stable of Duesies; Clark Gable and Gary Cooper ordered the only two special smaller-sized models, as their second Duesises. To own a Duesie was to be SOMEBODY.

What made Duesenbergs so prized was a combination of factors. They were gorgeous, they were unbelievably fast, and they were expensive. The small Indianapolis factory built only the chassis. Engines were provided by another of E. L. Cord's companies, Lycoming of Pennsylvania, who put together wonderfully strong power plants to the brothers' specifications. Bodies, selected either by the customer or the factory, were constructed by any of 19 of the world's finest coachbuilders, such as Murphy, Le Baron, Weymann, Le Tourneur, and Rollston. As a result, each Duesenberg has its own particular appearance. No single picture can adequately explain what a Duesenberg looks like.

Of all the Duesenberg's incredible qualities, perhaps the most impressive, still, is the speed. The engines had to push up to 7,000 lb. of car, an extraordinary weight even today. Wheelbases were generally a gigantic 153 1/2 in. or a merely huge 142 1/2 in. So Fred created 420-cu.-in. monster motors which produced nearly 400 hp. The motors, handcrafted like jewelry, moved the massive cars from a stop to 100 mph in 17 seconds flat. In only second gear, a Duesie could exceed 100 mph. The metal mountain zipped past 135 mph without strain. Duesenberg speedometers stopped at 150 mph, so their potential top speed is unknown.

Luxury was a Duesenberg keynote. A typical control panel nearly required a pilot's license, or a chauffeur, to figure out. Handworked metal, ivory, and wood dashboards caressed a bewildering array of instruments. They included a tachometer, speedometer, split-second stop-clock, ammeter, oil-pressure gauge, brake-pressure gauge, fuel gauge, altimeter, barometer, water-temperature gauge, sometimes even a compass; there were lights to warn the driver of the need to drain and refill oil and to add water to the battery; other controls confirmed that the chassis lubricator was operating and that there was still oil in the reservoir; there were separate controls to start the car, adjust the carburetor, start the ignition, and even adjust brake pressure for "dry-rain-snow-ice." Some of these instruments were duplicated in the back seat so that a passenger could check on the driver's performance. In fact, Duesenberg back seats contained more instruments than most other cars' front seats.

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