Gear Head Tuesday – Mike’s New “Toy”

Gear Head

Duesenberg f3/4

Mike’s new “toy” – a 1932 Duesenberg SJ
That’s his ’55 Packard Caribbean on the lift next to the “Doosey.”

About 3 weeks ago, I got a call from local car collector Mike: “Come see my new toy!” A few days later, I visited his shop. My jaw dropped when I walked in and saw his new “toy” – a magnificent 1932 Duesenberg Model SJ.

August and Fred Duesenberg

The brothers Duesenberg: August (left) and Frederick (right)

German-born brothers August and Frederick Duesenberg were natural and self-taught engineers. They began by building bicycles and sports cars in Des Moines, Iowa. In 1913 they moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, home of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 1914, Eddie Rickenbacker drove a Duesenberg to 10th place at the Indianapolis 500. In 1921 Fred Duesenberg drove one of his cars as the Pace Car for the 500. American Jimmy Murphy drove a Duesenberg to victory in the 1923 French Grand Prix at Le Mans. Duesenbergs won the Indianapolis 500 in 1924, 1925 and 1927.

E.L. Cord purchased Duesenberg in 1926, adding the marque to his investment portfolio which included another Indiana-based car builder, Auburn. Duesenbergs were built entirely by hand and were considered to be among the very best cars available at the time. The company only built running chassis fitted with radiator shell, fenders, headlights and instrument panel. The customer had to contract with a coach builder for a body for the car, although using the design talents of Gordon Buehrig, Duesenberg built bodies in-house under the name LaGrande.

Duesenberg r3/4

Mike’s SJ is fitted with a Gordon Buehrig-designed LaGrande body.
It was Buehrig who designed the Cord 810/812.
To the right is another of Mike’s projects, restoring a ’60 T-Bird convertible.

Cord instructed Fred Duesenberg to create “the best car in the world,” aiming at the top European makes of the time – Hispano-Suiza, Isotta-Fraschini, Mercedes-Benz and Rolls Royce. Cord, having put Fred in charge of the development of the new car, didn’t want August involved. Shunted to the side, August continued building race cars and doing other engineering work in a building apart from the main Duesenberg factory. It was August who developed the supercharger that Duesenberg used on their storied SJ models.

The new Model J debuted in December, 1928 at the New York Car Show.

The Model J was powered by a straight eight engine built for Duesenberg by another Cord subsidiary, Lycoming. The unsupercharged engine made an impressive-for-the-time 265 horsepower. The Duesenberg eights had dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder, commonplace now, but very rare at the time.

It's a Duesenberg!

Duesenberg Eight

Dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder – almost unheard of in 1932.

The supercharged SJ version, developing 320 horsepower, was introduced in May, 1932. Only 36 SJs were built. The exhaust pipes were routed outside of the engine compartment and encased in shiny metal tubing that Cord registered as a trademark and used on the supercharged versions of his Auburn and Cord automobiles.

Duesenberg exhaust pipes

The supercharged SJ models were fitted with these exhaust pipes – but the pipes were available as an option on the non-supercharged Model S.

Fred Duesenberg died of pneumonia on 26 July, 1932. The pneumonia developed in his lungs as a result of injuries sustained in an accident while driving a Murphy-bodied SJ. August took over Fred’s engineering duties and Cord anointed Harold Ames president of Duesenberg.

The Duesenberg Models S and SJ (and their variants) became THE car of celebrities in the U.S., particularly among the  Hollywood glitterati and was popular in Europe as well. Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, James Cagney, Greta Garbo and Mae West are among the stars who owned “Doosies.” Al Capone was another Duesenberg owner. Duesenberg sold cars “across the pond” to the Duke of Windsor, Prince Nicholas of Romania, Queen Maria of Yugoslavia, and the Kings Victor Emmanuel III of Italy and Alfonso XIII of Spain.

She drives a Duesenberg

Despite Duesenberg’s success in attracting well-to-do and famous customers, only 481 examples of the Model J and its variants were produced before Cord’s empire collapsed in 1937, taking Duesenberg down with it.

Chassis lubrication pump

The chassis lubrication is supplied from this pump on the driver’s side of the engine.

Mike’s Duesenberg is fitted with a factory LaGrande body. A chassis lubrication system is fitted to the car as is a rudimentary form of an anti-lock braking system! On the instrument panel is a brake pressure gauge and a switch that allows the driver to adjust brake pressure according to dry, rainy or snowy driving conditions. His Duesenberg craving now satisfied, Mike told me that he is now looking for a Packard Twelve.

Duesenberg brake pressure gauge

This switch is a rudimentary form of ABS. It allows the driver to adjust brake pressure according to road conditions.

Below: details of this marvelous machine.

Duesenberg - pin striping on the fenders

Duesenberg details

Duesenberg details

•     •     •     •

The Classic Car Collection Hidden in a Brooklyn Garage

(Hat tip: “Woody”)

A delightful 3:42 video of rare cars in an unexpected locale.

Lenny's Brooklyn Garage

One Comment

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  1. christofear 29/09/2015 — 09:01

    What a wonderful bit of industrial art! The only fly in the ointment is the modern hose clamp under the hood. I trust that will be corrected in the near future.


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