The Duesenberg Motor Company announced that production of the Model J was over after having ‘delivered 428 new cars with a remaining 22 cars as unsold or chassis’


Thursday 9th May 1935

The Duesenberg Motor Company announced that production of the Model J was over after having ‘delivered 428 new cars with a remaining 22 cars as unsold or chassis’.

Intended to compete with the most luxurious and powerful cars in the world, it was introduced in 1928, the year before the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. The Model J, available with a supercharger after 1932, was sold until 1937.

The straight eight model J motor was based on the company’s successful racing engines of the 1920s and though designed by Duesenberg they were manufactured by Lycoming, another company owned by Cord. In normally aspirated form, it produced 265 horsepower (198 kW) from dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. It was capable of a top speed of 119 mph (192 km/h), and 94 mph (151 km/h) in 2nd gear. Other cars featured a bigger engine but none of them surpassed its power. It was also both the fastest and most expensive American automobile on the market.

As was common practice among the luxury car brands, only the chassis and engine were displayed, the body and interior trim of the car would be custom-made by a third-party coachbuilder 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.

Bodywork for these Duesenbergs came from both the US 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 designed and made by independent coachbuilders from the US such as Derham, Holbrook, Judkins, Le Baron, Murphy, Rollston (later renamed Rollson), Walker, Weymann, and Willoughby, to name a few; and from Europe: 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 cost for most completed vehicles was between $13,000 and $19,000 (two of the American-bodied J’s reached $25,000[7]), 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 that 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 generally available with one of two wheelbases; the short chassis had a 142.5 in (3.62 m) wheelbase while the long chassis had a 153.5 in (3.90 m)) wheelbase. There were also other special sizes; including the two SSJs with a wheelbase shortened to 125 in (3.18 m) and a few cars with the wheelbase extended to 4 m (160 in) and over.

The dash included lights that reminded the driver when the oil needed changing and the battery should be inspected; each triggered by a mechanical timing mechanism.

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 unsynchronised three-speed gearbox, which was fitted to all subsequent Duesenbergs. Unlike almost all American manufacturers, Duesenberg did not switch to a fully synchronised 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.[16]

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, etc., were sold throughout subsequent years. The year for a given Model J is usually in reference to the year the vehicle was first bodied, even though the chassis were made in 1929, 1930, etc.


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