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Duesenberg was a United States-based luxury automobile company active in various forms from 1913 to 1937.

In 1913 the Duesenberg Brothers, Fred and August, founded Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company, Inc. in Des Moines, Iowa, at 8th and Grand Ave, to build sports cars. Born in 1876 and 1879 in Germany, the two brothers were self-taught engineers and built many experimental cars. Duesenberg cars were considered some of the very best cars built at the time, and were built entirely by hand. In 1914 Eddie Rickenbacker drove a "Duesy" to finish in 10th place at the Indianapolis 500 and a Duesenberg car won the race in 1924, 1925, and 1927.

1923 saw the only use of the Duesenberg as the pace car at the Indianapolis 500. In 1921, Jimmy Murphy became the first American to win the French Grand Prix when he piloted a Duesenberg to victory at the Le Mans racetrack.

Duesenberg Automobiles and Motors Company moved from New Jersey 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), which was considered very advanced, offering such features as dual overhead cams, four-valve cylinder heads and the first hydraulic brakes ever offered on a passenger car. The company fell into receivership in 1922, finally being acquired from creditors by a Fred Duesenberg led investor group in 1925 forming the Duesenberg Motors Company.

Errett Lobban Cord, the owner of Cord Automobile, Auburn Automobile and many other transportation companies, bought the company for the Duesenberg Brothers' engineering skills in 1926 and the brand name to produce luxury cars. Hiring Fred Duesenberg to design the chassis and an engine that would be the best in the world, the newly revived Duesenberg company set about to produce the Model J. The Model J Duesenberg was first available at the New York Car Show of 1928. In unsupercharged form it boasted a whopping 265 horsepower (198 kW), 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 SJ was reputed to do 104 mph in second and a top speed 135-140 mph in third; 0-60 times of around eight seconds and 0-100 times of 17 seconds were reported for the SJ, all at a time when even the best cars of the era were not inclined to exceed 100 mph and in spite of the unsynchronized transmissions. Duesenbergs generally weighed around two and a half tons and up to three tons was not unusual, considering the wide array of custom coachwork available.

Only the chassis and engine were displayed at the 1928 New York Car Show, since the interior and body of the car would be custom-made by an experienced coachbuilder to the owner's specifications. The bodywork made for Duesenbergs came from coachbuilders in both North America and Europe, and the finished cars comprised some of the largest, grandest, most beautiful and elegant cars ever created. The chassis cost $8,500 ($9500 after 1932), the completed base model cost $13,500, and you could have top of the line model for for $25,000 (an extreme amount of money for the time, when the average US physician was reported to earn less than $3000 per annum).

In 2005, $25,000.00 from 1932 is worth:[1]
$358,282.21 using the Consumer Price Index.
$309,046.05 using the GDP deflator.
$1,107,042.25 using the unskilled wage.
$2,237,326.96 using the nominal GDP per capita.
$5,304,855.20 using the relative share of GDP.

Introduced in 1932 was the supercharged Model J with 320 HP (often referred to as 'SJ'), which had a top speed of 135-140 mph. Special bodied models, such as the later-named "Mormon Meteor" chassis achieved an average speed of over 135 mph and a one hour sprint of over 152 mph at Bonneville. The SJ's supercharger was located beside the engine; however, to make room for it, the exhaust pipes were creased so they could be bent easily and extended through the side panel of the hood. These supercharged cars can be recognized by these shiny creased tubes, which E. L. Cord registered as a trademark and used in his other supercharged cars from Cord and Auburn.

Quickly the Duesenberg became one of the most popular in America, owned by the rich and famous, among them Clark Gable, Gary Cooper (Each owning one of the two very rare SSJ 125" short-wheelbase convertibles) and the Duke of Windsor. Duesenberg advertising claimed that it was the best car in the world, and their world-beating performance and extreme opulence tend 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 were ram-air intakes added to some of the last supercharged models to produce 400 horsepower and are referred to as 'SSJ' (also a name never used by the factory). Of the 481 Model Js and SJs produced between 1928 and 1937, 384 are still extant, 4 of them now owned by Jay Leno. Duesenberg ceased production in 1937 after Cord's financial empire collapsed.

Model X Duesenbergs are very rare. According to Randy Ema, the country's top Duesenberg authority, only 13 Model X's were built. They fit in between the Duesenberg Model A and the famous Models J and SJ, which were built from 1929 to 1937. Only four known X's survive.


After World War II, August Duesenberg tried to revive the Duesenberg name, but was unsuccessful. Several later attempts were also unsuccessful. The closest came in the mid-1960s with Fritz Duesenberg, August's son, at the helm and Virgil Exner as the stylist by using the chassis of a 1966 Imperial with a Chrysler engine. One of Exner's Duesenberg designs was later produced as the modern Stutz Bearcat.

A 1970s Duesenberg was also created, based off a Cadillac and with modern styling, although its production was not high.

Beginning with its introduction in 1975 at the ACD Festival in Auburn Indiana, the reproduction Duesenberg II automobile was produced and sold through mid 2000. Five models of the original Duesenbergs were made, each one carefully copied from an original and visually identical, with a modern Ford V8 driveline and modern comfort features. These exacting reproductions sold for up to $225,000 US. The Murphy Roadster model is currently being revised and will be on the market in early 2007. Details are available on the Duesenberg Custom Coach website.

Currently, there is another attempt to revive the Duesenberg name with the "Duesenberg Torpedo Coupe" slated for introduction in January 2007 at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. This vehicle will have a Mercedes CL 500 as a chassis-donor, and offer an air-cooled, self-lubricating, supercharged, 12 cylinder rotating engine with a calculated 70 MPG and 300 horsepower (see link below).

The Duesenberg name still lives on as an object of opulence and luxury. It is estimated that approximately 50%, or roughly 600, of the originally manufactured Duesenbergs are still on the road (as of 2006) as classic cars or "Oldtimers." Today Duesenberg Model J's and SJ's are among the most desired collectible classic cars in the world, and it is not uncommon today for a Duesenberg in good condition to sell for over $1 million, and a few into a multi-million selling price.

Etymological note

The origin of the American slang word "doozy", meaning something excellent or powerful, is either the Duesenberg's nickname "Duesy", or an older term (derived from earlier slang "daisy"). describes the origins of the term as unknown, and lists it as possibly a blend of the terms "daisy" and "Duesenberg". lists it as "1903 (adj.), 1916 (n.), perhaps an alteration of daisy, or from popular It. actress Eleonora Duse (1859–1924). In either case, reinforced by Duesenberg, expensive, classy make of automobile 1920s–30s."



  • Jay Leno owns multiple Duesenberg SJ's, one of which is Murphy-bodied.
  • In the musical Annie the character Daddy Warbucks has a line ordering his butler to get the Duesenberg ready.
  • Likewise, in the musical High Society, Bing Crosby's character comments on something being 'a doozy.'
  • On the television show The Simpsons, Mr. Burns' car is a Duesenberg, model unspecified.
  • In the novel Pimp: The Story of My Life, the author witnesses a pimp by the name "Sweet Jones" riding in the backseat of a Duesenberg.
  • In the cartoon Rugrats, Grandpa loses Tommy in the backseat of a Duesenberg Phaeton at a grocery store.
  • "Boys, the only difference between me and everybody else is that everybody else drives around in a Volkswagen, and Minnesota Fats drives around in a Duesenberg," a quote by Rudolph Wanderone, Jr., "Minnesota Fats."


See also

image (between 170-190 pixels)


Auburn | Cord | Duesenberg

Model Lines: Model A · Model J · Model SJ · Model SSJ · Model X

One Offs: Twenty Grand · Mormon Meteor · II Royalton · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·

Racing: · · · · · · · · · · · ·

Concept: Coupe Simone · Model D by Virgil Exner · · · · · · · · · · ·

Duesenberg Torpedo Coupe

Fred Duesenberg and August Duesenberg [ Corporate website] A division of Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg

External links