Founded by Fred Duesenberg, an aspiring car designer who had played a big part in the design of the “Mason” automobile
in 1906, after which he set up his own racing engine business with brother August. Together, the pair built and supplied their race engines to Mason in 1912, and then established the Duesenberg Motor Co. the following year. As their business expanded, Duesenberg began manufacturing a wide variety of engines including racing, road car, airplane and marine varieties.
A special 16-cylinder unit powered a Land Speed Record contender up to 158mph (254.3 km/h) in 1919, and in 1921 a Duesenberg won the prestigious French Grand Prix. The first Duesenberg production car followed in late 1921; called the Model A, it had a straight eight-cylinder 260cu.in (4.25 litre) engine, and was the first-ever North American car to use hydraulic brakes. Less than 500 cars were sold up to 1926, at which point the company was taken over by the colorful entrepreneur Erret Lobban Cord – founder of the Cord Automobile Company
Cord kept Fred Duesenberg on as an employee, and soon had him developing the wonderful “Model J”. The car was launched in 1928 and featured a massive straight-eight 420cu.in (6.9 litre) engine built by Lycoming - another company in the Cord group. The engine had twin chain-driven overhead camshafts, four valves
per cylinder and a (claimed) power output of 265bhp – almost twice that of any other American built car of the time.
The open four-seater “J” was good for a top speed of around 116mph (186.7 km/h) – quite literally awesome for the time! Cord did not allow the Depression to thwart his grandiose plans for the car, and continued development of a supercharged version. In 1932 his dreams were realized when the “SJ” was released. The celebrations were short lived, Fred Duesenberg having a bad accident during testing of the car – he would later die from resultant complications. Financial difficulty at Cord would have dire consequences for Duesenberg, and neither company would survive past the late 1930’s.
Also see: The History of Duesenberg
| Fred and August Duesenberg
| The Duesenberg Story (USA Edition)