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.
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
liter) 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
J”. The car was launched in 1928 and featured
a massive straight-eight 420cu.in (6.9 liter) 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
– 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: Lost Marques: Duesenberg