Duesenberg Model J

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Duesenberg Model J

1929 - 1937
In-line 8
6882 cc
265 bhp @ 4200 rpm
3 spd. man
Top Speed:
187 km/h
Number Built:
5 star
Dodge Viper
Duesenberg Model J
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5


Fred and Augie Duesenberg were arguably the most gifted automobile designers through the 1920's, however design brilliance did not translate into sound business acumen. However the Dusenberg brothers should not be singled out here, as many automobile manufacturers were to encounter financial difficulty during this time.

Enter Erret L. Cord, director of the Auburn, who entertained grand plans to create automobiles the equal, if not better than the likes of such European marques as Hispano-Suiza, Isotta-Fraschini, Rolls Royce and Mercedes. After buying out the Duesenberg operation, Cord also enlisted the help of Harry Miller to help design the Model J, the brief being that this new car would be the best in the world, no small feat!

Introduced in December 1928 at the New York fair, commentators of the day were immediately impressed by the daring techniques used in the new Duesenberg's creation, along with the enormous capacity of the engine. The only down-side seemed to be the asking price, $5800 US dollars being quite a sum for 1929. The status of the car was further enhanced when Hollywood screen greats Clark Gable and Gary Cooper took delivery of theirs.

It's a Duzy

"It's a Duzy!" became a parlance of the late twenties, used to denote something great. Announced late in 1928, the new Duesenberg J met with spontaneous enthusiasm from the rich people. Here was an automobile to end them all; better than even Cord - the optimistic imagined. The J delivered its race-bred twin OHC straight-eight delivered 197kW and 507Nm of torque at just 2000rpm. Redline was 4,200rpm.

Four valves were used per cylinder and the connecting rods, pistons and intake manifold were aluminium alloy while the five bearing crankshaft was forged out of heat-treated chrome nickel steel. Valves were of silchrome steel and the cylinder block was cast from "selected" cast iron. The three-speed gears were heat treated alloy steel while the case was aluminium.

The Duesenberg's top speed was in the reign of 187 km/h (116mph) and 10 mph to 80 mph took 22 seconds. For the size of the car (wheelbase 3899mm, unladen weight 3050kg) its performance was impressive. Few, if any other stock auto could pass it - except perhaps the lighter, smaller Duesie model weighing only 2381.3. No cost was spared on luxury appointments in the Duesenbergs. Only the finest leathers were used for the upholstery and the driver faced one of the most complete instrument panels ever put in a car. The instruments were set in a panel of engine-turned oxidized nickel, and consisted of brake pressure gauge, oil pressure, ammeter, tachometer, split second stop clock, speedo, petrol gauge, temperature, altimeter and barometer gauges.

Warning lights (there were warning lights in 1929, leastwise on a Duesenberg) told you when the car needed an oil change, chassis lubrication or a battery change. The frame, tank-like, was made of heavy alloy steel. Bracing was provided by six tubular cross members riveted and welded to the frame. The engine was rubber mounted to the chassis - a chassis of strength and rigidity unheard of in a production car. Naturally the Duesenberg came with four-wheel hydraulic brakes.

Murphy, Willoughby and Gurney Nutting Bodies

Duesenberg coachwork was a story of its own. On the J and later SJ there was no such thing as a "factory installed body". Coach work was commissioned from no less than 14 coach builders. It is estimated that the Duesenberg factory ordered 380 bodies, while about 90 were specially ordered by customers. The most popular was the Murphy body styles; around 125 Duesies were Murphy bodied while Willoughby built fifty bodies, Rollston provided forty-four and Le Baron (well known for their Chrysler Imperial coachwork) styled thirty-three. Others included Walker, Brunn, Judkins, Locke, Hibbard & Darrin and La Granda. La Granda was part of Cord's empire and supplied nineteen phaeton bodies and five others.

One of the most attractive body styles was the special one-off by Britain's Gurney Nutting. Reputed to be the last Duesenberg, it was a special commission for the Maharajah of Indore, and must rank as one of the most beautiful Duesenbergs. A true Rembrandt on wheels, the fabulous red and black coachwork was the design of A. F. McNeill, Nutting's great stylist. The car did not remain in India, being purchased and shipped back to the USA, where it was placed in the Ellenville Motor Museum. Other European body designs found their way into Duesie chassis. Barker did a couple of rather formal - though elegant - limousines, and French coach builder Franay styled two, one of which is in America while the other (built for Queen Marie Of Yugoslavia) disappeared.

The World's Finest Motorcars

The Duesenberg J and SJ were, as their advertising said, "The World's Finest Motorcars". It is true that many of the fine European cars of the time had similar features, but the Duesenberg incorporated them all in one car. The SJ was the supercharged, J that appeared in 1932. August Duesenberg designed the supercharger, which upped the Duesie's power to 240kW giving the car a top speed of 210km/h. In convertible form, the Duesenberg ran from 0-160 km/h in a staggering 17 seconds and could do 167 km/h in second gear. Not only probably world's finest motorcar, but the world's most powerful as well.

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The History of Duesenberg
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