Miscellaneous Rumbles

What a car! Duesenberg content, paging Proteus!

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Stumbled upon this doing the youtube rabbit hole thing...

2

I've seen a better Duesenberg.

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I remember the first time I saw a duesenberg at a car show in the 70s. I had never seen a car that large. It was a freekin’ aircraft carrier.

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One of my wife's Aunts has a shop that restored classic cars and they always seemed to have at least one Duesenberg in the shop.

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Yeahman! Thanks for that heads-up. That was a relaxing and pleasurable watch. I like Leno when he's not being "on," and in this one-on-one format, all DIY, just Jay and the car, it was like visiting the garage with him. No show biz. A guy who loves, enjoys, and - best - knows his cars, telling the stories.

I've been fortunate to be up-close and personal with dozens/hundreds of Duesenbergs over the years - always at car shows and auctions, but with nose-close access. I even crawled under a couple at a museum when no one was looking. I've been all around the engine and exhaust when they're run, from idle to full-bore. There's nothing like the sound, and I even love the smell of the exhaust. The complex synchronized mechanical symphony of the engine and tranny...there's just nothing like it.

As Jay said, it's impossible to convey the magnitude of the thing, its dignity and grandeur. It is to "car" like Devil's Tower is to anthill.

But the ones I've seen and been around...you never, ever touch. 100-point show cars, fresh ridiculously expensive restorations, dead-level supernaturally high-gloss finishes which literally disappear into the sensation of a reflecting pool - nary a buff mark or swirl to be seen, from any angle...the buttery leather plush interiors, chrome like dipped in mercury...but even ones with a few years on their resto, or the very occasional un-restored and degraded original...

If you're a poor man who's only allowed that close to the cars because you pay the membership fee to the ACD Club - and you don't know any of the owners personally (and I don't) - you just don't touch them. It's not that signs are posted or anyone says anything. You just know. It's like there's a force field around them. Sit in or ride in one, much less get behind the wheel? Be still my beating! Never happen.

I've read every book Jay mentioned (and one true Duesy of a giant plush leather-bound 300.00 limited edition he didn't mention), pored over the pictures, built the big-scale model with all the engine parts, so I pretty much recognized most of what he pointed out, and could recite some of the specs before he got to them. So his tour around the car had, surprisingly, a kind of old-home feel. But obviously he's far more intimately familiar with all the bits, and it was engrossing to be with him as he went through the car in both its fabulous and more mundane details. I learned a lot. The details of the locking hub and its fitted wrench, and separate keys for every access door were cool. (Also the closeup of the duct tape on the inside surfaces of the hub wrench. So homey, so practical, so Duesenberg.)

And that's one of the magical aspects of the car. It was wildly overengineered and overbuilt for its time, and it had all that advanced technology (for the day) - but none of that is hidden away. It's still very much a mechanical device, perfectly straightforward and honest in its conception and execution, in engineering and build such a direct reflection of the earnest, honest, straightforward hands-on craftsmen who designed and put it together. Al Leamy created the instantly recognizable and powerfully graceful radiator shell and fender line, the best designers and carriage-builders created stunning bodywork for the car (not so much Jay's!), and it was marketed and sold to the most flamboyant of those who were rich enough to buy it.

But it's more like they were patrons of Fred & Augie's art. No one consulted with focus groups or did market research when the car was in development. Entrepreneur/industrialist EL Cord, who owned the parent corporation, gave the Duesenbrothers the brief to build the best, strongest, fastest, most reliable chassis they could imagine, with the very best of their engineering and technical imagination. Cost was not a factor. I don't think there was a target price when the project began: build it, we'll put gorgeous bodywork on it, and then we'll see what it costs.

Fred & Augie were from the humblest of immigrant backgrounds, had engineered and raced their way from maintaining farm equipment to racing and selling bicycles to the earliest fast cars and eventually to success at Indy and LeMans - but they never cared about the money, plowing it back into products. Days late and dollars short, working bare-armed up to the starting flag at Indy - and when they built a product for sale, it provided full honest value for its cost. That they packed so much into the product that it had to sell for premium prices was just a by-product of refusal to compromise. "Built to a standard, not to a price" was a common advertising come-on for expensive products at the time, but the brothers didn't even think about the price. If they'd had a bean-counter in either of their characters, they wouldn't have needed Cord to save them from the business failure of their first passenger-car venture (the older dowdier cars Leno referred to).

Maybe it took Cord to see that if only the rich could afford the kind of engineering the brothers did, then the cars would have to look as stunning as the machinery under the skin. In the mid-20s, the Duesenberg name was well known and universally respected from their run of success at Indy. Cord knew he could leverage that.

And so the whole package came together, right on the eve of the Depression.

But everything it meant is right there when you experience the car in person - the integrity of the design and the build reflecting the men who built it, its timeless lines testifying to the rightness of its designers' vision, and its presence reflecting the wealth and flamboyant taste of those who bought the things.

Designed in 1927-28, it is a little upright and formal for modern tastes. It does look "like an old car." It's a shame the Depressed market couldn't support the company's original plans for it; it would have been great to see how the cars would have evolved at least into the late 40s, when there was considerably more streamlining. (The Phantom Corsair which crow posted was a one-off built by/for ketchup-heir Russ Heinz in the late 30s, I believe on a Duesenberg chassis. Like Raymond Loewy's streamlined locomotive designs, it's a re-skin rather than a ground-up project - and from other angles not nearly as sleek as the picture suggests. Had the Duesenberg project thrived, the brothers would have kept innovating mechanically, and Cord's designers would have created more completely realized marvels.)

But Fred had died in 1932 (wrecked in a Duesenberg), and Cord's empire crumbled by 1937 anyway. (Though not without leaving the fabulous Cord 810/812 - which actually began life as the Next Duesenberg.)

So anyway. Apologies for the ramble.

The Duesenberg Jay showed has a fabulous story, and is obviously special in its survival as a complete car. But, especially with the top down, it's not my favorite body style. Jay has sleekier, sexier Duesies in his paddock.

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Some things that I appreciate about Jay are that he actually drives his cars, and he can actually work on them. I think he now owns the Duesenberg archives. He's likely got the largest collection now. I was lucky enough to get to drive one once---a whole 10 miles, from Homer Fitterling's place to the Studebaker Proving Grounds and back, My wife grew up three doors from Fitterling, a collector from the '40s and '50s. He didn't restore them well, and didn't store them well, but he had 28 of them. My wife went to school with his daughter, and took me over once. He was really proud of his collection---which also included a few fire trucks and 30 head of bison. I don't know how many of his cars Jay actually acquired.

Duesenbergs, along with Cords and Auburns, were built in Indiana, along with over 120 different makers, like Studebaker and Stutz. We still build cars and trucks here, but now it's Subaru and Toyota and such. One reason so many cars were made here in the early days was that the Indy 500 racetrack was one of the few places cars could be tested on pavement without having to dodge other cars. The Indy 500 was really a stock car race back then. They'd take the fenders and extra pieces off of the car and just let them rip.

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Oh yes. The legendary Fitterling collection! A barn full of Duesenbergs. I've read the story, maybe in an old issue of the now-defunct Automobile Quarterly. Sure would like to have seen that!

How'd it drive? I'm told if they're not well maintained, especially with nylon cord tires and indifferent lubrication, they have a lot in common with a truck.

Fitterling bought and collected the cars before their value went stratospheric - which really only started in the 70s. Before that they were just old cars - old cars the owners knew were special, but the market hadn't overheated. Restorations were DIY operations.

The first ACD Festival in Auburn was held in 1972, I think. The ACD Club had been gathering informally there since the mid-50s, when the town was ambivalent at best about seeing the streets full of Auburns, Cords, and Duesenbergs. (There was still resentment from the 1937 shutdown of the company and the loss of jobs. They'd felt abandoned.)

For whatever reason, the Club decided to make more of the event in 1972, with more public access and promotion. Part of the package was a collector car auction at the local high school football field, run by the Kruse Brothers - a local farm/estate auction firm. It was their first foray into the field, and the beginning of a short-lived but glorious and colorful automotive auction empire that did much to promote the growth of the market over the next 40 years or so.

After that first one, a story ran in the Ft Wayne paper the following week, making human interest of the event; the headline went Two Fools Met On The Football Field in Auburn Saturday, with the subhead One of them offered 10,000.00 for an old car. The other turned him down. (The old car in question was, of course, a Duesenberg.)

Now I don't think you get in under 250,000.00 - which is why I don't get to touch them or drive them.

And yessir, Indiana's automotive heritage is one of the reasons I don't mind having blown in here from Ohio. The notion of all the world-class fabulous cars - ACD, Stutz, Marmon, Studebaker - having grown from these humble cornfields and small towns is just pretty special. The splendrous restored pleasure dome in French Lick has hosted exhibits where they fill that marble terrazzo floor with all Indiana-built marques. It's pretty glittery.

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Well, it did drive like a truck. Huge steering wheel due to no power steering, mile high old school tires, not restored or maintained well, BUT, probably the best engine made in the US before the MOPAR Hemi. Like Leno mentioned---ALL Duesies were built in 1928. It just took them ten years or so to sell them all. Still, when Fords were selling for under $300, a basic Duesenbergs chassis and running gear started at $5K, and then you had a body built. There was no comparison to anything else on the road.

One other aspect about Leno---he's only had two Studebakers on his show, a '57 Hawk and a '63 Wagoneer on the short segments with Donald Osborne. He's never featured a Stude, and I don't think he even has one. Considering that their vehicle building history goes from Conestoga wagons in the 1790s to their final demise in the 1960s, they had a heck of a history as the world's largest producer of wheeled vehicles.

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About 15 years ago, I came out of the little branch post office up the street, and there was a Duesenberg parked next to my Honda CRX. I think that was only time I ever saw one in the wild. An old woman was driving it, and she happy to talk to me about it. She said she & her late husband had driven it to Indianapolis and back in 1959, where it was used as the pace car. It was a very Sunset Blvd sort of encounter. My dad had Cord and an Auburn, so I knew what a Duesy was. It had one of those bodies where the rear passenger compartment is enclosed, the Chauffeur had to sit in the open. Dad's Cord caught fire before I was born, but I do remember the Auburn 653.

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Youre right....Jay should do some Studebakers, At least a Lowey Coupe. BTW, If you're driving through Indianna, both Duesenberg & Studebaker have pretty cool museums....Cord, Auburn, Duesenberg in Auburn Indianna, and Studebaker in West Bend.

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I've seen Duesenbergs on the open road a couple of times - both in and around Auburn during the festival. The weirdest sighting was as we left the fest and were on I-65 somewhere south of Ft Wayne, well out of the immediate area of Auburn where you expect to see exotic stuff during that time.

To be tooling along the interstate, in and among suburban strip malls, light industry, and fields in a minivan, then to be passed by an open Duesenberg...is weird. It's weird. (In the usual course of things, here in southern Indiana, I get excited when I see a Tesla in the real. I apparently have the most exotic cars regular driven around.)

Lots of Auburn 653s at the ACD Fest - as well as every other variety, not to mention both L-29 and 810/12 Cords. Best place to take them in is Eckhart Park, Saturday morning, when the Club has their official meet. Depending on the class in which cars are competing for honors, some have to pass an operations test: start, run, accelerate, brake, prove they're roadworthy. That can be interesting to watch. Many are, of course, trailer queens - and some owners even admit it. (The others provide entertainment during the operating test. It can be instructive to remember that, no matter how better-than-new some look, they're just durn old cars.)

Otherwise, just all those cars, parked in and around the trees of the park. It never rains, and the morning is usually mild and sun-dappled. A couple hundred of the cars, I suppose, arranged by make. I've seen incredible things. Any 810/812 Cord is a favorite, but real standouts have been the Mormon Meteor Duesenberg Salt Flats record car and the L-29 Hayes-bodied Alexis deSakhnoffsky-designed custom.

Every sufficiently serious car guy should do Labor Day in Auburn, IN some year. There's the ACD Festival as well as incredible auctions at the auction park the Kruse Bros built - hundreds to thousands of cars, of every kind - as well as a huge parts and automobilia swap meet, a for-sale-by-owner paddock, automotive art show, and a midway of carnival food.

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Youre right....Jay should do some Studebakers, At least a Lowey Coupe. BTW, If you're driving through Indianna, both Duesenberg & Studebaker have pretty cool museums....Cord, Auburn, Duesenberg in Auburn Indianna, and Studebaker in West Bend.

– Billy Zoom

BZ, my home town is South Bend. West Bend is in Wisconsin. There are some cool auto museums in Southern Michigan as well, like the Henry Ford/Greenfield Village in Dearborn. Also, while in Indiana, check out the Indianapolis 500 museum.

As you said, the Loewy coupe is highly worth reviewing. That basic body shell lasted from 1953 till Stude stopped operations in Dec. '63. It was the basis for all of the Hawks.

Leno did a segment on the Mormon Meteor, Ab Jenkins. He became mayor of Salt Lake City. He'd do 12 and 24 hour high speed runs/endurance tests on the Salt Flats. That led to the Salt Flats being used for the Speed Week top speed runs that we have now. That car was an absolute beast, blue and orange, with an enclosed cockpit. The yellow one pictured is a tribute, and quite a beauty on it's own.

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That car was an absolute beast, blue and orange, with an enclosed cockpit. The yellow one pictured is a tribute, and quite a beauty on it's own.

Well no, not exactly. The yellow is the original, though it was run in two different versions, one with the 1935 Duesenberg SJ chassis and Straight 8, the other with an aircraft engine and other modifications. Both set ridiculous 24- and 48-hour speed records in the mid-30s.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wi...


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