DELAGE Cars 1905 – 1953 Levallois-Perret, France

Delage     

Founded 1905
Founder Louis Delage
Defunct 1953
Headquarters Levallois-Perret, France
Products Cars
Website www.delage.org
Delage D8-120

Delage was a French luxury automobile and racecar company founded in 1905 by Louis Delage in Levallois-Perret near Paris; it was acquired by Delahaye in 1935 and ceased operation in 1953.

Early history

The company was founded in 1905 by Louis Delage, who borrowed Fr 35,000, giving up a salary of Fr 600 a month to do so.

Its first location was on the Rue Cormeilles in Levallois-Perret. The company at first had just two lathes and three employees, one of them Peugeot‘s former chief designer. Delage initially produced parts for Helbé, with the De Dion-Bouton engine and chassis assembled by Helbé; Delage added only the body.

The first model was the Type A, a voiturette which appeared in 1906. It was powered by a one-cylinder De Dion-Bouton of 4.5 or 9 hp (3.4 or 6.7 kW; 4.6 or 9.1 PS). Like other early carmakers, Delage participated in motor racing, entering the Coupe de Voiturettes held at Rambouillet in November 1906 with a 9 hp (6.7 kW; 9.1 PS) racer. Seven days of regularity trials decided the entrants, and one of the two 9 hp (6.7 kW; 9.1 PS) Delage specials was wrecked in the rain on the fifth; nevertheless, Ménard, the other works driver, came second in the event, behind a Sizaire-Naudin.

In 1907 the factory moved to the Rue Baudin Levallois, where a 4,000 m2 (43,000 sq ft) workshop allowed it to grow. The two-cylinder Delages were no match for the competition this year at the Coupe des Voiturettes.

In 1908, the success enabled the development of the factory and entry into more Grand Prix races. That year, racing success returned: Delage won the Grand Prix des Voiturettes held 6 July. This event, six laps of the 47.74 mi (76.83 km) Dieppe Grand Prix circuit, saw 47 starters. Delage fielded three cars: a pair with 1,242 cc (75.8 cu in) (78 by 130 mm (3.1 by 5.1 in)) De Dion-Bouton twins, driven by Thomas and Lucas-Bonnard, and a radical 28 hp (21 kW; 28 PS) 1,257 cc (76.7 cu in) (100 by 160 mm (3.9 by 6.3 in)) one-cylinder (built by Nemorin Causan) in the hands of Delage dealer Albert Guyot. Guyot won at an average 49.8 mph (80.1 km/h), not needing to stop for fuel. All three Delages finished this time, Thomas the quickest of the two-cylinder cars, while the team also took home the regularity prize. These good results contributed to total sales exceeding 300 cars for the year.

Delage converted to four-cylinder engines in 1909, at first provided by De Dion and Edouard Ballot; shortly, the company were producing their own sidevalve fours, too.

After an increase in sales, the existing facilities were too small, so in 1910 the factory moved to a new facility at 138 Boulevard de Verdun, Courbevoie. The following year saw the creation of advanced bodywork. By 1912, 350 workers were producing over 1000 cars annually, and offered four- and six-cylinder sidevalve engines.

During the First World War, Delage produced munitions. Production of passenger cars virtually stopped, with the exception of some fabrication for the Army. But the Delage factories were running full support for the war effort.

When the war concluded, Delage moved away from small cars and made its reputation with larger cars. First up was the CO, with a 4,524 cc (276.1 cu in) (80 by 150 mm (3.1 by 5.9 in)) fixed-head sidevalve six producing 20 hp. The CO plans had been drawn up during the conflict; this was the first passenger car with front brakes. It was joined by the DO with a 3-liter four.

The 1920s were really the first “Golden Age” of Delage. The most famous were the DE and DI: 4 cylinders of about 2 liters and 11 hp. Delage also attempted to compete with Hispano-Suiza, with the GL of 30 hp and 5954 cc, with some success. After that came a new generation of six-cylinder cars, like the MD (3174 cc) and DR (2516 cc), the best-selling vehicle in the history of the brand, designed by engineer Gaultier.

Both the CO and DO were replaced in 1922. The CO became the CO2, which changed to an overhead valve twin-plug head, producing 88 hp (66 kW; 89 PS), while the DO was supplanted by the DE with a 2,117 cc (129.2 cu in) (72 by 130 mm (2.8 by 5.1 in)) sidevalve four and, unusual in a production car even in this era, four-wheel brakes. The CO2 completed the Paris-Nice run in 16 hours, an average of 67 km/h (42 mph).

The next year, the new 14 hp (10 kW; 14 PS) DI also switched to OHV with a 2,121 cc (129.4 cu in) (75 by 120 mm (3.0 by 4.7 in)) four, fitted with magneto ignition and thermosyphon cooling; all had four-speed gearboxes and Zenith carburettors. At the other end of the scale, the GL (Grand Luxe), also known as the 40/50, replaced the CO2, being fitted with a magneto-fired 5,344 cc (326.1 cu in) (90 by 140 mm (3.5 by 5.5 in)) overhead cam six.

In 1923, a hillclimb car with DI chassis, larger wheels and tires, and 5,107 cc (311.6 cu in) (85 by 150 mm (3.3 by 5.9 in)) CO block (with three Zenith carburetors) was produced. Delage scored successes at La Turbie and Mont Ventoux. This car was joined by a 10,688 cc (652.2 cu in) (90 by 140 mm (3.5 by 5.5 in)) V12, which broke the course record at the Gaillon hillclimb, with Thomas at the wheel. Thomas would set the land speed record at Arpajon in this car, at a speed of 143.24 mph (230.52 km/h), in 1924. A 1925 car had a 5,954 cc (363.3 cu in) (95 by 140 mm (3.7 by 5.5 in)) six, again using the GL block, with four valves per cylinder and twin overhead cams. Driven by Divo, it broke the Mont Ventoux course record in its debut. It would be destroyed by fire at the Phoenix Park meet in 1934.

The 1924 and 1925 DIS, with a 117 in (3,000 mm) wheelbase, switched from Rolls-Royce-type locking wheel hubs to Rudge knock-ons, better cam, and bigger valves, while the 1925 and 1926 DISS on the same wheelbase. Some of the DISes were bodied by Kelsch. The DIS became the Series 6 in 1927, switching to coil ignition and water pump.

In 1926, Delage introduced the DM, with a 3,182 cc (194.2 cu in) (75 by 120 mm (3.0 by 4.7 in)) six, which made it emblematic of the era for the marque. The high-performance DMS had hotter cam, twin valve springs, and other improvements. A DR, with a choice of 2.2- and 2.5-liter sidevalve engines, also briefly appeared.

Competition

Delage entered the 1911 Coupe de l’Auto at Boulogne with a 50 hp (37 kW; 51 PS) 2,996 cc (182.8 cu in) (80 by 149 mm (3.1 by 5.9 in)) four with two 60 mm (2.4 in)-diameter bellcrank-operated valves per cylinder controlled by camshafts in the crankcase. The five-speed gearbox gave a top speed of 60 mph (97 km/h), and the four voiturettes each carried 26 imp gal (120 l; 31 US gal), as the factory planned for a no-stop race. Works driver Paul Bablot won, at an average 55.2 mph (88.8 km/h), with a 1m 11s over Boillot’s Peugeot, followed home by Thomas in a second Delage; Delage also took the team prize.

Delage would move up to Grand Prix racing in 1912, with a Léon Michelat-designed car powered by a four-valve 6,235 cc (380.5 cu in) (105 by 180 mm (4.1 by 7.1 in)) four-cylinder of 118 hp (88 kW; 120 PS), coupled again to a five-speed gearbox and fitted this time with 43 imp gal (200 l; 52 US gal). Three cars were built for the 569 mi (916 km) Amiens Grand Prix, though only two, Bablot’s and Guyot’s, actually entered. On the day, Bablot’s Delage proved the fastest car in the field, turning in a lap at 76.6 mph (123.3 km/h), but it was Guyot who would fall out of the lead with a puncture, and the race went to Peugeot, while the Delages were fourth and fifth. At the French Grand Prix, Delage put Bablot first, Guyot second, ahead of Pilette’s 1908 Mercedes GP car, Salzer in a Mercedes, with Duray coming in fifth in the third Delage.

In 1913, the new type Y set the fasted lap time at the French Grand Prix at Le Mans, and in 1914, this same car won the 1914 Indianapolis 500 with René Thomas at the wheel. Thomas, Guyot, and Duray would return to the French Grand Prix with 4½-liter twin-cam desmodromic valved racers featuring twin carburettors, five-speed gearbox, and four-wheel brakes. While quick, they proved unreliable; only one finished, Duray’s, in eighth.

In 1914, Delage emphasized its focus on competition by creating the type O Lyon Grand Prix, while at the same time moving towards the luxury car market with 6 cylinders of a large class. However, racing was severely curtailed during World War One.

Delage D6

In 1923 Louis Delage returned to competition with the innovative 12-cylinder 2-liter type 2 LCV. This car won the 1924 European Grand Prix in Lyon and the 1925 Grand Prix of ACF Montlhéry. The 12-cylinder DH (10,5 liters) of 1924 beat the world speed record on the highway, at 230 km/h (143 mph). A Delage 155 B won the first Grand Prix of Great-Britain in 1926, driven by Louis Wagner and Robert Senechal. The production of cars continued with the DI and the DI S SS. The DM evolved into the DMS and DML, equipped with a 6-cylinder 3-liter engine designed by Maurice Gaultier.

Delage’s Grand Prix effort saw a Plancton-designed 1,984 cc (121.1 cu in) (51.3 by 80 mm (2.02 by 3.15 in)) four overhead cam V12. The 110 hp (82 kW; 110 PS) car, driven by Thomas, fell out of the French Grand Prix in 1923, but went on to perform well for the bulk of the 1923 and 1924 season. With supercharger added in 1925, bringing output to 195 hp (145 kW; 198 PS), it won at Montlhéry and Lasarteproving as fast as the Alfa Romeo P2, but rarely racing it directly. This car was supplanted in 1926 by a Lory-designed supercharged 1.5-liter twincam straight eight of 170 hp (130 kW; 170 PS); capable of 130 mph (210 km/h), it was the company’s last Grand Prix entrant.

A Delage supercharged straight-8 racing engine

Always passionate about racing, Louis Delage designed an 8-cylinder 1500 cc, the type 15 S 8. This car won four European Grands Prix races in 1927, and won Delage the title “World Champion of Car Builders” that same year.

A 2,988 cc (182.3 cu in)-powered D6 won the 1938 Tourist Trophy at Donington Park and came second at Le Mans. A single V12-powered car, intended for Le Mans, tragically caught fire at the 1938 International Trophy at Brooklands.

Postwar, the best results Delage had were seconds at the 1949 Le Mans and 1950 Paris Grand Prix.

The D6 and the D8: The Classic Era

1930 saw the launch of the 6-cylinder Delage D6 which would form the mainstay of the manufacturer’s passenger car range until 1954.

For 1930 Maurice Gaultier designed an 8-cylinder in-line 4,061 cc, evolving the type D8 into the type D8 S (S for Sport).

1939 Delage D8

The D8 was the pinnacle of the marque. It was offered in three wheelbases, “S” or “C” at 130 in (3,300 mm), “N” at 140 in (3,600 mm), and “L” at 143 in (3,600 mm), all powered by a 4,061 cc (247.8 cu in) (77 by 109 mm (3.0 by 4.3 in)) straight eight, making it capable of 85 mph (137 km/h). Delage followed in 1932 with the Grand Sport, on a 123 in (3,100 mm) 130 in (3,300 mm) in 1934) wheelbase, capable of 100 mph (160 km/h).

But the backlash of the economic crisis of 1929 arrived and manufacturers of luxury cars all over the world suffered from poor sales. The commercial and financial situation of the firm was badly shaken. In 1932 Delage introduced the type D6-11 (6-cylinder 2101 cc), and two years later the new eight-cylinder Delage, type D8-15 (2768 cc). These two models, equipped with independent front wheel suspension did not increase sale figures. The transverse leaf and wishbone independent front suspension was licensed by Studebaker for their cars.

The junior D6s shared Delahaye front suspension design, but had hydraulic rather than Delahaye cable-actuated brakes, also shared the Cotal gearbox with the D8. The D6/70 of 1936 was powered by a 2,729 cc (166.5 cu in) (80 by 90.5 mm (3.15 by 3.56 in)) six, the 1938 D6/75 a 2.8-liter six, and the postwar D8/3L Olympic a 3-liter six. At the bottom of the range was a 1.5-liter four that lasted until 1936.

Financial pressures never disappeared, however, and during the Spring of 1932 Louis Delage was obliged to take out a 25 Million franc loan in order to finance the tooling needed to put the D6 into production. It was at this time that he also entered into negotiations with Peugeot about using their dealership and service network. These negotiations went nowhere, and discussions with other possible partners/rescuers also came to nothing. There were also personal problems involving his marriage which necessitated a rearrangement of Delage’s personal finances, although in the event it was the sale of his expensive home in the Champs-Élysées that reduced the pressure on his finances if only in the short term.

The last models to emerge from the factory in Courbevoie were the types D6-65, D8-85 and D8-105, designed by engineer Michelat. On 20 April 1935 the factory in Courbevoie went into voluntary liquidation.

But Louis Delage would not admit defeat, and with the help of a businessman called Walter Watney created the Société Nouvelle des Automobiles Delage (SAFAD), to market Delage cars, assembled from production Delahayes. This union created the 4-cylinder DI 12 and the D8 120, and also the 6-cylinder D6 70. Watney had taken control as president of SAFAD, but he was a British national and in June 1940 he was obliged to leave Paris as the German Army arrived. Watney stayed in France, at his villa in Beaulieu, until the end of 1942 after the Germans had completed their occupation, but already in December 1940 the presidency of the SAFAD business had passed directly into the control of Delahaye. In any event, since the outbreak of the war Delage had been largely inactive, although they did undertake work on a project to replace the six-cylinder engine of the Hotchkiss H39 tank with the more powerful 8-cylinder unit from the Delage D8 120.

Racing aero-engines

Delage produced at least two types of racing aero-engine during the early 1930s. The Delage 12 CED was fitted to the Kellner-Béchereau 28VD racing aircraft, intended to compete in the 1933 Coupe Deutsch de la Meurthe air race. Unfortunately the aircraft crashed during qualification trials for the race on 12 May 1933. The second engine type, the Delage 12 GV, remains a mystery, with very little information available.

After the Second World War

A large prototype Delage D-180 limousine appeared at the 1946 Paris Motor Show but there were evidently no further developments on this project and by the next year the big prototype had quietly disappeared. At the 1947 Paris Motor Show only a single model was exhibited as the business focused on its six-cylinder 3-litre Delage D6 which in most respects will have been familiar to anyone who had known the 3-litre Delages of the 1930s. The car was offered with bodies by firms such as Chapron, Letourner & Marchand and Guilloré. A variety of coupe and cabriolet bodied D6s were produced. In addition, both Guilloré and Chapron produced a large saloon/sedan body. The two were remarkably similar, both being six-light four-door cars with conservative 1930s style shapes. Something else the two had in common was unexpectedly narrow rear doors, enforced by the combination of a long body, a long rear overhang and a relatively short wheelbase provided by the D6 chassis. A longer wheelbase 1952 special version, bodied by Guilloré, was owned by National Assembly president Edouard Herriot.

Nevertheless, these were difficult times for luxury auto-makers in France and by now the company’s registered head office was the same as that for Delahaye: production statistics from the period group Delage and Delahaye together. Louis Delâge himself, who had lived in poverty and quasi-monastic isolation since bankruptcy in 1935 had enforced the transfer of his company to Delahaye, died in December 1947, and during the next few years any residual autonomy that the business had enjoyed disappeared. Increases in motoring taxes, most notably in 1948 and most savagely targeting cars with engines of above 2 litres, combined with the depressed economic conditions of post-war France to create a difficult market for luxury car manufacturers. In 1950 Delahaye produced 235 cars which will have included a significant number of Delages. In 1951 the combined production figure for the two brands slumped to 77: in 1952 it was down to 41. In 1953 Delage production ended.

Delage was absorbed into Hotchkiss along with Delahaye in 1954, and car manufacturing ended.

Models

1920 Delage (type S) CO 4 ½ litre Salamanca (1918, 6 cyl, 4,524 cc)

1924 Delage Di(1920, 2,121 cc)

1920-delage-type-co2-22d181v-dual-cowl-tourer Delage CO2 (1921)

Delage 2 LCV (1923, 12 cyl, 2L)

Delage GL (5,954 cc)

Delage DE

Delage DH (12 cyl DH, 10,5L)

Delage DI S

Delage DI SS

Delage DMS (6 cyl, 3L)

Delage DML (6 cyl, 3L)

Scuderia Giddings black 1927
Delage. Beautiful 1500cc twin cam straight eight, blown alloy engine created almost 200 horse power.

Delage 15 S 8 (8 cyl, 1,500 cc)

1924 Delage GL Labourdett DV-08

Delage GL (5,954 cc)

Delage DM (6 cyl, 3,174 cc)

Delage DR (6 cyl, 2,516 cc)

Delage D4 (4 cyl, 1,480 cc)

Delage D6-11 (6 cyl, 2,101 cc)

Delage D8-15 (2,768 cc)

Delage D6-65

1935 Delage D8-85

Delage D8

Delage D8 S (8 cyl, 4,061 cc)

Delage D8-105

1926 Delage DI Torpedo 11CV 4Cyl

1936 Delage DI-12 Pillarless Saloon Delage DI 12 (4 cyl)

Delage D8 120

Delage D6 70 (6 cyl)

My personal collection, found on www:

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Scuderia Giddings black 1927
Delage. Beautiful 1500cc twin cam straight eight, blown alloy engine created almost 200 horse power.

Delage DI 1926 All Weather Tourer. Launched in 1923 the Delage DI was given a 4-cylinder ohv 2120cc 30bhp engine
Delage DI 1926 Drophead Coupe

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Delage op You Tube:

Production volumes

During their years of independence, Delage made almost 40,000 cars at their workshops in Levallois and Courbevoie. After Delage production was subsumed into the Delahaye operation, approximately another 2,000 Delage badged cars were manufactured between 1935 and 1940. With the post-war resumption of passenger car production, 330 Delage cars appear to have been produced by Delahaye between 1946 and 1953.

Sources and further reading

  1. Jump up^ Hull, Peter. “Delage: Speed and Elegance in the French Tradition”, in Ward, Ian, executive editor. World of Automobiles (London: Orbis, 1974), Volume 5, p.517.
  2. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h Hull, p.517.
  3. Jump up^ Hull, p.517. One was de Dion powered, the other Aster-engined; it is unclear from Hull which was involved in this crash.
  4. Jump up^ It featured four spark plugs, four valves per cylinder, two flywheels, and thermosyphon cooling. Hull, p.518.
  5. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Hull, p.518.
  6. Jump up^ Hull, p.518-519.
  7. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i Hull, p.519.
  8. Jump up^ Hull, p.520. It would later be famous at Brooklandsin the hands of John Cobb. In the 1970s, it was still campaigned in veteran and vintage racing by Johnty Williamson and Cecil Clutton.
  9. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Hull, p.520.
  10. Jump up^ Hull, p.519 caption.
  11. Jump up^ Powered by an experimental overhead cam six. Hull, p.518.
  12. Jump up^ Hull, p.520, says 1995cc, which is belied by the cylinder dimensions.
  13. Jump up^ Hull, p.520, says 4,050 cc (247 cu in) which is belied by the quoted cylinder dimensions.
  14. Jump up to:a b c d “Automobilia”. Toutes les voitures françaises 1934 (salon [Paris, Oct] 1933). Paris: Histoire & collections. Nr. 22: 30. 2002.
  15. Jump up to:a b c “Automobilia”. Toutes les voitures françaises 1940 – 46 (les années sans salon). Paris: Histoire & collections. Nr. 26: 32. 2003.
  16. Jump up^ Léglise, Pierre (October 1933). TECHNICAL MEMORANDUMS NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE FOR AERONAUTICS; No.724; THE 1933 CONTEST FOR THE DEUTSCH DE LA MEURTHE TROPHY; AIRPLANES PARTICIPATING IN THE CONTEST (PDF). Washington D.C.: NACA. pp. 31–33. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  17. Jump up to:a b c d “Automobilia”. Toutes les voitures françaises 1948 (salon Paris oct 1947). Paris: Histoire & collections. Nr. 7: 9. 1998.
  18. Jump up to:a b c “Automobilia”. Toutes les voitures françaises 1953 (salon Paris oct 1952). Paris: Histoire & collections. Nr. 19: 22. 2000.
  19. Jump up to:a b c “Automobilia”. Toutes les voitures françaises 1954 (salon [Oct] 1953). Paris: Histoire & collections. Nr. 24: 23. 2002.
  20. Jump up^ The chassis number range runs from 1 in 1905 to 39,100 in 1935.
  21. Jump up^ Chassis numbers 50,000 to 51,999.
  22. Jump up^ Chassis numbers 880,000 to 880,330.

Hull, Peter. “Delage: Speed and Elegance in the French Tradition”, in Ward, Ian, executive editor. World of Automobiles, Volume 5, pp. 517–520. London: Orbis, 1974.

External links

Les Amis de Delage, website of Delage-collectors

Delage World, web site maintained by collector Peter Jacobs

Continue reading “DELAGE Cars 1905 – 1953 Levallois-Perret, France”

DUESENBERG Automobile & Motors Company, Inc

1927 Emblem Duesenberg

1923 Duesenberg Model A Winged Motometer a

Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company, Inc. Saint Paul, Minnesota, 1913-1937

Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company, Inc.
Industry
  • Automobile manufacturing
  • Engine manufacturing
Founded Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States (1913)
Founder
Defunct 1937; 79 years ago
Headquarters Auburn, Indiana, United States
Number of locations
Auburn, Indiana
Area served
Worldwide
Key people
August Duesenberg & Frederick Duesenberg
Products
Services Automobiles, ship and airplane engines
Website http://www.automobilemuseum.org/

Duesenberg Motors Company (sometimes referred to as “Duesy”) was an American manufacturer of race cars and luxury automobiles. It was founded in St. Paul,MN, United States by brothers August and Frederick Duesenberg in 1913, where they built engines and race cars. The brothers moved their operations to Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1916 to manufacture engines for WW I. In 1919, when their government contracts were cancelled, they moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, home of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, established the Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company, Inc. (Delaware) and built outstanding automobiles. In late 1926, E.L. Cord added Duesenberg to his Auburn Automobile Company. With the market for expensive luxury cars severely undercut by the Depression, Duesenberg folded in 1937.

History

Duesenberg family with Fred and August in the middle, ca. 1886.

In 1913, brothers Fred and Augie Duesenberg founded Duesenberg Motors Company, Inc. on University Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota, to build engines and race cars. The brothers were self-taught engineers and built many experimental cars. Duesenberg cars were considered some of the very best cars of 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 Duesenberg won the race in 1924, 1925, and 1927. The fledgling company sidestepped into aviation engine manufacturing when Colonel R.C. Bolling and his commission acquired a license to produce the Bugatti U-16 for the U.S. Army Air Service. The end of World War I stopped this project before it could ever mature.

In 1921, Duesenberg provided the pace car for the Indy 500, driven by Fred Duesenberg. In 1923, Jimmy Murphy became the first American to win the French Grand Prix when he drove a Duesenberg to victory at Le Mans.

Products

Model A (1921–1927)

Main article: Duesenberg Model A

At the end of World War I, they ceased building aviation and marine engines in Elizabeth, New Jersey. In 1919 the Duesenberg brothers sold their Minnesota and New Jersey factories to John Willys and moved to a new headquarters and factory in Indianapolis, where the “Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company, Inc.” was established in 1920 to begin production of passenger cars. The plant was located on a 17-acre (69,000 m2) site on West Washington street at Harding street until 1937.

1923 Duesenberg Model A touring car at the Louwman Museum

 1923 Duesenberg Model A touring car at the Louwman Museum NL

Although the Duesenberg brothers were world-class engineers, they were neither good businessmen nor administrators; they were unable to sell all the units of their first passenger car, the Model A. This had the first “mass-produced” straight eight engine in the U.S. It was an extremely advanced and expensive automobile (prices began at $6,500), offering features such as single overhead camshafts, four-valve cylinder heads, and the first four-wheel (16″) hydraulic brakes (designed by Fred in conjunction with Lockheed) offered on a passenger car anywhere (predating Adler‘s introduction to the European market in 1926 on the “Standard 6”). The Model A was a lighter and smaller vehicle than the competition. It was among the most powerful and the fastest cars of its time. Among the celebrities who purchased this model were Tom Mix and Rudolph Valentino.

The model experienced various delays going from prototype to production. Deliveries to dealers did not start until December 1921. Sales lagged and the goal of building 100 Duesenbergs each month proved far too high, as the Indianapolis plant struggled to roll out one a day. In 1922 no more than 150 cars were manufactured, and only 650 Model As were sold over a period of six years.

1922 Model A specifications

Engine Power Transmission Wheelbase Ground clearance Frame
260CID 1-bbl. I8 90-100 hp 3-speed manual 134 in (3,404 mm) 10 in (254 mm) Chrome Nickel steel 6.40-inch (163 mm) in depth

Winning races did not translate into financial success either, although that winning reputation would eventually attract new investors, who supplied the cash flow to prop up the production facility. The brothers continued to create excellent engines for cars, boats, and a few planes but only as employees of various capitalist investors who bought the rights to their famous family name.

1925 August and Fred Duesenberg

 Brothers Duesenberg pictured in 1925, August at left and Fred at right.

The firm had already acquired a considerable aura of prestige when in October 1919, Fred signed over the rights to his name, patents and drawings for a passenger car to a pair of promoters, Newton E. Van Zandt and Luther M. Rankin. On March 8, 1920, these men became president and vice president of the “Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Corporation of Indianapolis”. Fred was chief engineer and Augie his assistant, and both were salaried as employees.

Van Zandt quit after a year, and business went from bad to worse in 1923. In 1924 the company went into receivership, but somehow it survived that year. In 1925, the firm’s name was changed to “Duesenberg Motors Corporation” and Fred assumed the title of president. Fred and August struggled to keep the company, but to no avail, as they weren’t able to raise enough capital.

Model X (1926–1927)

Model X Duesenbergs are very rare. It was a sportier version of the model A with a heavier and longer (136 in (3,500 mm) wheelbase) chassis and 100 hp (75 kW) engine that enabled it to reach 100 mph (161 km/h). The most notable differences between the A and X were that the latter had hypoid differentials and all its valves were on one side; it sported the hydraulic brakes that Fred had originated on his 1914 racing cars. This braking system could have earned him a fortune if he had obtained a patent.

According to Randy Ema, the top Duesenberg authority in the United States, only 13 were built. They fit in between the Duesenberg Model A and the famous J; only four were known to survive until automobile preservationist Jay Leno found a fifth X in a neighborhood garage in 2005.

Model J (1928–1937)

Main article: Duesenberg Model J
1930 Duesenberg J Walker La Grande Torpedo Phaeton

 1930 J Walker La Grande Torpedo Phaeton

E.L. Cord bought the company on October 26, 1926 for the brothers’ engineering skills, talent and the brand name in order to produce luxury cars. He challenged Fred Duesenberg to design an automobile that would be the best in the world. Indeed, Cord wanted the biggest, fastest, and most expensive car ever made. He also ordered a large chassis to be able to compete with the biggest, most powerful, and most luxurious European cars of the era, such as Hispano-Suiza, Isotta Fraschini, Mercedes-Benz, and Rolls-Royce.

After Cord’s takeover, the new company was renamed “Duesenberg, Inc.” Fred would continue in the new organization, now with the title of vice president in charge of engineering and experimental work. Whereas Augie had played an important role in the development of the Model A and its variant, the very rare X, he had nothing to do with the J and had no formal connection with Duesenberg, Inc. until later. According to the expert Marshall Merkes, “Cord did not want Augie around.” However, all Duesenberg racing cars produced after 1926 were Augie-built in an enterprise that functioned separately, and in a building apart from the main Duesenberg plant. He was also responsible for a number of engineering achievements like the superchargers he developed for both the Auburn and Cord motorcars.

1931 Duesenberg J Murphy

 Duesenberg J Murphy 1931.

The newly revived Duesenberg company set about to produce the Model J, which debuted December 1 at the New York Car Show of 1928. In Europe, it was launched at the “Salon de l’automobile de Paris” of 1929. The first and — at the time of the New York presentation — only example made of the series, the J-101, was a sweep-panel, dual-cowl phaeton, with coachwork by LeBaron, finished in silver and black. By the time the Great Depression hit in October 1929, the Duesenberg Company had only built some 200 cars. An additional 100 orders were filled in 1930. Thus, the Model J fell short of the original goal to sell 500 cars a year.

Duesenberg Model J engine

 Model J engine

The Model J’s straight-eight was based on the company’s successful racing engines of the 1920s; designed by Duesenberg, they were manufactured by Lycoming, another company owned by Cord. In unsupercharged form, the eight produced an impressive (for the period) 265 horsepower (198 kW), aided by dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. The Model J was capable of a top speed of 119 mph (192 km/h), and 94 mph (151 km/h) in second gear. Other cars featured larger-displacement engines, but none surpassed its power. It was also both the fastest and most expensive American automobile in the market.

As was the custom among the luxury car brands, only the chassis and engine were displayed, since the interior and body of the car would be coachbuilt to the owner’s specifications. The chassis on most Model Js were the same, as was the styling of such elements as fenders, headlamps, radiator, hood and instrument panel.

Duesenberg bodies came from both the United States and Europe, and the finished cars were some of the largest, grandest, most beautiful, and most elegant cars ever created. About half the Model Js built by Duesenberg had coachworks devised by the company’s chief body designer, Gordon Buehrig. The rest were by independent coachbuilders from the United States, such as Derham, Holbrook, Judkins, Le Baron, Murphy, Rollston (later renamed Rollson), Walker, Weymann, and Willoughby, and from European works Fernandez et Darrin, Franay, Gurney Nutting, Saoutchik, etc. However, other coachworks were made by Duesenberg branches in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Florida and Denver, as well as by smaller dealers. For the in-house bodies Duesenberg used the name of La Grande.

The chassis cost $8,500 ($9,500 after 1932); the completed base model cost between $13,000 and $19,000 (two of the American-bodied J’s reached $25,000), at a time when the average U.S. physician earned less than $3,000 a year. Figures are not available as to the prices charged by deluxe coachbuilders in Europe, but it is reasonable to assume the final selling price of the products mounted on the costly imported chassis were considerably higher than their all-American-built counterparts.

The J was available in two versions of chassis with a different wheelbase; a long one (153.54 in (3.90 m)) and a short one (about 141.73 in (3.60 m)). There were also other special sizes, like the only two SSJs with a wheelbase shortened to 125 in (3.18 m) and a couple of cars with the wheelbase extended to 4 m (160 in) and over.

The dashboard included lights that reminded the driver the oil needed changing and the battery should be inspected.

A series of minor modifications were carried out during the production life, but most of the design remained the same up until the factory closed in 1937. First to go was the four-speed gearbox, which proved unable to handle the engine’s power. It was replaced by an unsynchronized three-speed gearbox, which was fitted to all subsequent Duesenbergs. Unlike almost all American manufacturers, Duesenberg did not switch to a fully synchronized gearbox in the mid-1930s, which made the Model J difficult to drive and outdated. By 1937 the chassis and gearbox were ancient compared to the competition.

Regarding this model, it is necessary to emphasize that most of them (engine and chassis) were made in 1929 and 1930, but due to the Depression, high price, and other factors, were sold in subsequent years. The year it was bodied is used to date a particular J, though the chassis was made in an earlier year.

1935 Duesenberg Convertible SJ LA Grand Dual-Cowl Phaeton

1935 SJ LaGrande Dual-Cowl Phaeton.

The supercharged version, often referred to as the SJ, was reputed to achieve 104 miles per hour (167 km/h) in second gear and have a top speed of 135–140 miles per hour (217–225 km/h) in third gear. Zero-to-60 mph (97 km/h) times of around eight seconds and 0–100 mph (0–161 km/h) in 17 seconds were reported for the SJ in spite of the unsynchronized transmissions, at a time when even the best cars of the era were not likely to reach 100 mph (160 km/h). Duesenbergs generally weighed around two and a half tons; up to three tons was not unusual, considering the wide array of custom coachwork available. The wheelbase was 142.5 in (362 cm).

This rare supercharged Model J version, with 320 hp (239 kW) was also created by Fred Duesenberg. and introduced in May 1932, only 36 units were built. Special-bodied models, such as the later “Marmon Meteor” chassis, achieved an average speed of over 135 mph (217 km/h) and a one-hour average of over 152 mph (245 km/h) at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah. The SJ’s supercharger was located beside the engine; 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 Cord registered as a trademark and used in his other supercharged cars from Cord and Auburn.

Fred Duesenberg died of pneumonia on July 26, 1932, resulting from injuries sustained in an automobile accident in which he was driving a Murphy-bodied SJ convertible. His brother, Augie, took over Fred’s duties as chief engineer and Harold T. Ames became president of Duesenberg, Inc.

The SSJ is very similar to the SJ version, but with close to 400 hp (298 kW). The only two examples built in 1935, the SSJ Speedsters sported a lightweight open-roadster body produced by Central Manufacturing Company, an Auburn subsidiary in Connersville, Indiana. One of them belonged to the actor Gary Cooper, the other one was lent by the company to actor Clark Gable, who already owned a Duesenberg J. The inscription SSJ (same goes for SJ) has never been officially used by the company, but it eventually became commonly used among the car lovers. The second “S” stands for “short wheelbase” as the two SSJ are the only Duesenberg to have a chassis with the wheelbase shortened to 125 in (3,200 mm). The 420 cu in (6.9 l) straight eight engine of both SSJ models is equipped with two special carburetors and inlet ports of a special shape called “ram’s horn”, which was used in other SJs as well. Unlike the normal port, the “ram’s horn” is composed of two horns, with each of the two being split in two again. At the rear, the SSJ sported an external spare tire and smaller “later-style” round taillights. The external exhaust pipes sprouting out of the hood were an indication it was the “supercharged” version, but these were optional on J models as well.

There is another version of the model J known as the Duesenberg JN (a name never used by the company either). All JNs were sold with Rollston coachwork and only ten were produced in 1935. In an attempt to give a more modern look to an ageing design, the JN was equipped with smaller 17 in (43 cm)-diameter wheels (versus 19 in (48 cm)), skirted fenders, bullet-shaped taillights, and bodies set on the frame rails for a lower look. The battery box and tool box were redesigned slightly so that the doors could close over the frame. Supercharged JNs gained the logical SJN designation.

1930 Duesenberg J hibbard and Darrin Town Car and King of Spain Alfonso XIII

King Alfonso XIII of Spain standing next to his 1930 Model J Hibbard and Darrin Town Car.

The Model J quickly became one of the most popular luxury cars, as well as a status symbol in the United States and Europe, driven by the rich and famous, including Al Capone, Evalyn Walsh McLean, Greta Garbo, Howard Hughes, Mae West, Marion Davies, Tyrone Power, Clark Gable, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, William Randolph Hearst, Powel Crosley, Jr., the families Mars, Whitney, and Wrigley; members of European royalty such as the Duke of Windsor, Prince Nicholas of Romania, Queen Maria of Yugoslavia, and the Kings Victor Emmanuel III of Italy and Alfonso XIII of Spain. The latter was very keen on motoring and chose his now-missing Duesenberg J, among his cars, to go to exile after the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic. Father Divine had the last Duesenberg chassis built with an extra-long 178-inch wheelbase. It weighed 7,800 lb (3,500 kg) and accommodated ten passengers. J. Herbert Newport was the designer. Built by Bohman and Schwartz and delivered in October 1937, it was 22 ft (6.7 m) long and 7 ft (2.1 m) wide. It was known as Father Divine’s Throne Car, because it had a removable rear top section that exposed two raised rear seats.

Originally, New York supported the Model J. New York was the financial capital of the United States in 1929, and many of its people could afford such a very expensive car. As the Depression deepened, however, power shifted, and ultimately it was newly wealthy Hollywood that kept Duesenberg alive through much of the 1930s. It was so reputed and imposing that many Hollywood stars, such as James Cagney, posed next to the car to promote their careers.

1935 Duesenberg J advertisement published in the magazine Country Life
1935 Vanity Fair Magazine Duesenberg advertisement

Duesenberg advertising the Model J as “The World’s Finest Motor Car”. In their print ads, an elegant man or woman were seen together with a concise but meaningful sentence: “He/She drives a Duesenberg”. The campaign was a success.

There was a gradual evolution (up to the 1937 model) to preserve the “stately lines” while moving into a more integrated mode of styling. The final evolution of the Duesenberg engine was ram-air intakes, which were added to some of the last supercharged models to produce 400 hp (298 kW), referred to as “SSJ”. Of 481 Model Js built (including all its versions) produced between 1928 and 1937, about 378 survive.

Duesenberg ceased production in 1937 after Cord’s financial empire collapsed. However, between 1937 and 1940 two automobiles put the final touch to this historic marque. The first one was delivered by the coachbuilder Rollson to the German artist Rudolf Bauer in April 1940; it is both the longest Duesenberg and the last one delivered. The last one ever made was assembled from leftover parts between 1938 and 1940.

In 1940, Augie Duesenberg sold marine versions of the current 254-ci splash-oiled Hudson flathead inline eight.

Duesenberg became far less popular during World War II, by the end of which a few Model Js were advertised for around $300 to $400, with some ultimately selling for only $100 or $200. Business rebounded in the 1950s, when classic and vintage cars became popular among collectors. Several Model Js were advertised in the New York Times in 1951, at prices as low as $500. By 1959 a decent example could not be bought for less than $4,000.

A distinctive feature of the Duesenberg Model J was the “bowtie” style front bumper, which used two pieces of steel, with the top piece bent to resemble a bowtie.

Production summary

Name Years of production Units made
Model A 1921–1927 ~650
Model X 1926–27 13
Model Y (model J prototype) 1927 1
Model J (including SJ, SSJ, JN & SJN) 1929–37, SJ: (1932–37), SSJ: (1935), JN & SJN: (1935) Total: 481, S(36), SSJ (2), JN & SJN (10)

Revivals

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 (August’s son) at the helm and Virgil Exner as the stylist using the chassis of a 1966 Imperial and a Chrysler engine. One of Exner’s Duesenberg designs was later produced as a replicar Stutz Bearcat.

A 1970s Duesenberg was also created, based on a contemporary Cadillac Fleetwood and with modern styling. Its production was a limited run.

A reproduction automobile called Duesenberg II was produced between 1978 and 2000 by the Elite Heritage Motors Corp and successor company Duesenberg Motors Inc. in Elroy, Wisconsin. Five body models of the original Duesenberg J were offered. Each one was copied from an original and visually almost identical, with Ford Lincoln drive train, Ford V8 engine and modern comfort features. These replicas sold for up to US$225,000. Fewer than 100 total were made.

In 2011 a new company with worldwide trademark rights was established as Duesenberg Motors Inc., with the intention of again restarting the manufacturing of the Duesenberg II replicas in 2012 in Baldwin, Wisconsin. This effort died quickly when the owner stopped the project because of lack of cash flow. There are no products currently for sale, and future cars are unlikely.

A Duesenberg SJ convertible coupe sold for $4.5 million in March 2013.

Etymological note

1929 Duesenberg J Murphy Convertible Coupé before house of birth duesenberg

A model J in front of Fred & Augie Duesenberg birthplace in Kirchheide, Germany.

The origin of the American slang word “doozy” or “doozie”, meaning something excellent or powerful, is unknown. Merriam-Webster completely rejects any origin in the automobile, noting doozy originally appeared as “dozy” in eastern Ohio in 1916 — four years prior to the production of the first Duesenberg vehicles. They also claim there is little evidence connecting the Duesenberg and doozy during the 1920s and 1930s, when the car was most popular. “Dozy” is akin to the verb “dozen” that is semantically and etymologically related to “daze” and that is attested in slang terms such as “the dozens.”

See also

My collection found by searching the world wide web: