1932 Duesenberg Model J Dual Cowl Phaeton

• Engine No. J-463, Chassis No. 2480
• Upgraded to Model SJ specifications
• Dual Cowl Phaeton coachwork built in the style of LaGrande
• Factory fitted with a Rollston limousine body on a long wheelbase chassis
• Early in life it was converted to open configuration with a Dietrich Convertible Berline body
• The Dietrich body was No. 1946 from car J-389
• Dietrich Body No. 1946 was lost in garage fire, but the original chassis and engine survived
• Upgraded to current coachwork in the 1970s
• SJ centrifugal supercharger
• 420 CI 32 valve DOHC straight 8 engine
• 3-speed transmission
• Adjustable power brakes
• Automatic chassis lubrication
• Formerly part of the Al Wiseman Collection

A Brief History of Duesenberg

It took less than a quarter century for two immigrant brothers to change the face of American automobile companies forever. Fred and August Duesenberg, self-taught engineers, founded the Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company, Inc. in 1913 to build sports cars. But what began as the cultivation of a powerful race car evolved into the production of the finest luxury automobile in America. The Duesenberg holds the unique distinction of being associated with performance and styling, and with American ingenuity and the American Dream.

The two brothers built many experimental cars by hand before founding their company and they kept with that tradition when building their Duesenbergs. The engineering prowess of the brothers was proven quickly when Eddie Rickenbacker, the famed World War I flying ace and Medal of Honor recipient, drove a Duesenberg to a 10th place finish at the 1914 Indianapolis 500. A Duesenberg would go on to win the race in 1924, 1925, and 1927. American autos reached the apex of the international racing world when Jimmy Murphy became the first American to win the French Grand Prix; he drove a Duesenberg to victory at the famed Le Mans racetrack.

Having proved their sporting acumen, the Duesenberg Automobiles and Motors Company moved to a new headquarters and factory in Indianapolis in July of 1921 to begin production of passenger vehicles. Although the Duesenberg brothers were world-class engineers, they were unable to sell their Model A car, their first "mass-produced" vehicle (just 667 were ever made). Considered extremely advanced, offering features such as dual overhead cams, four-valve cylinder heads and the first hydraulic brakes offered on a passenger car, the Model A unfortunately lacked the modern styling to match its state-of-the-art machinery.

It wasn’t until Errett Lobban Cord, the owner of Cord and Auburn Automobiles, bought the company in 1926 that Duesenberg would know commercial success. Cord bought the company for the Duesenberg Brothers' engineering skills and the brand name. His vision was to allow Fred and August to engineer the best possible engine and put it in the worlds’ best luxury car. After a transitional Model X (13 were built), which sported a more powerful engine but unremarkable styling, Duesenberg produced the automobile that would place them at the forefront of the luxury automobile industry.

The Model J Duesenberg was first shown at the New York Car Show of 1928. The engine produced a whopping 265 horsepower (198 kW) from a straight-8 engine with dual overhead camshafts, and was capable of a top speed of 119 mph (192 km/h), and 94 mph (151 km/h) in 2nd gear. The supercharged version of the Model J, the SJ, was reputed to do 104 mph in second and have a top speed 135-140 mph in third. At a time when even the best cars of the era were not inclined to exceed 100 mph, the SJ ran from 0-60 in around eight seconds and 0-100in about 17 seconds. Duesenbergs generally weighed around two and a half to three tons depending on the custom coachwork of the individual car.

A new Duesenberg was purchased in two pieces, the chassis and motor coming from Duesenberg and the coachwork coming from a coachbuilding firm. The cost of the rolling chassis (a chassis without a body) was $8,500, and the entire 481 Duesenberg Model J’s produced had custom body work created by either domestic or European coachbuilding firms. The finished cars comprised some of the largest, grandest, most beautiful and elegant cars ever created. The cost of a completed base model was around $13,500 and a top-of-the-line model ran around $25,000. This was an extreme amount of money for that time, when the average US physician was reported to earn less than $3,000 per year.

With this staggering price tag, ownership of a Duesenberg was an instant indication of affluence. The rich and the famous of the day could showcase their wealth simply by owning a Duesenberg, and demonstrate their good taste with the custom coachwork they commissioned. Clark Gable and Gary Cooper each owned one of the two very rare SSJ 125" short-wheelbase convertibles and were said to continual modify the designs while the coachwork was being built. Though most of the coachwork was produced in the United States, chassis were sent overseas to be fitted with coachwork from some of the finer European coachbuilders. Duesenberg advertising claimed that it was the best car in the world, and their world-beating performance and extreme opulence tended to back that up.

There was a gradual evolution up to the 1937 model that preserved the "stately lines" while moving into a more integrated mode of styling. The final evolution of the Duesenberg engine was ram-air intakes added to some of the last supercharged models to produce 400 horsepower, referred to as 'SSJ' (a name never used by the factory). Of the 481 Model Js and SJs produced between 1928 and 1937, 384 are still accounted for. Duesenberg ceased production in 1937 after Cord's financial empire collapsed, but the Duesenberg left an indelible mark on the automotive industry and culture.