The Duesenberg brothers, Fred and Augie, first entered the automaking business wîth a car called Mason, which gained regional fame by winning a number of races and hillclimbs wîth Fred at the wheel.
Racing was in the Duesenbergs' blood, and in 1913 they moved from Iowa to St. Paul, Minn., to manufacture auto and marine engines based on the unique Mason racing engines, which used horizontal valve rocker arms. These 'walking beam' engines, as they were called, continued in Duesenberg race cars from 1914 on. Top drivers such as Ralph Mulford and Eddie Rickenbacker campaigned Duesenbergs wîth great success prior to WWI. During that conflict, the Duesenbergs produced airplane engines in a plant in Elizabeth N.J. Willys would eventually acquire this factory, but in the meantime Duesenberg had begun building a prototype straight -eight passenger car along wîth a SOHC inline-eight racing engine.
The first Model A Duesenberg, introduced at New York's Hotel Commodore in November 1920, used a straight eight for power, but instead of an overhead cam, the old reliable 'walking beam' configuration was applied. But when production actually began in 1922 this engine was superseded by the overhead cam eight. These Model A's also carried a further innovation: hydraulic brakes on all four wheels. Despite these sophisticated features, the Model A found tough going in the luxury car market. With a base price of $6,500, it was priced $2,650 more than a Packard and $1,250 more than a Pierce-Arrow; despite the high price tag, the cars were never profitable.
In racing, however, it was quite the opposite, wîth Duesenbergs racking up a phenomenal winning record at such diverse venues as the French Grand Prix and the Indy 500. Then in 1926, Auburn president E.L. Cord acquired Duesenberg and gave Fred Duesenberg the dream assignment of designing a supercar that could meet and surpass the world's best motorcars. The result was the Model J Duesenberg and the rest, as they say, is history.
Model A Duesenberg Attractively styled, wîth cutting-edge engineering for its time, such as an overhead cam engine and hydraulic 4-wheel brakes, Model A Duesenbergs were available wîth custom coachwork and also a range of production bodies built by Millspaugh & Irish, another Indianapolis firm.
However, despite the luster of important racing victories, the Model A's limited sales success - only about 600 were built in five years - had more to do wîth the high factory price than anything else, for there was certainly nothing wrong wîth the design and engineering of the cars themselves.
The Model A, though, is historically important, as it paved the way for the Model J and also demonstrated the Duesenbergs' exceptional engineering prowess and forward thinking at a time when most cars' features, including the most costly marques, went little beyond pedestrian L-Head engines and primitive mechanical brakes.
This Car An older restoration showing some patina, this car still presents very nicely in all areas including paint, plating and interior. Wire wheels add to its sporty appearance and the overhead-cam straight eight still can propel this Duesenberg comfortably along at highway speeds, while stopping power is assured thanks to the standard hydraulic braking system. A storage compartment is built into the back of the front seats for convenience when touring.
The tan fabric top complements a tan leather interior and a complete set of side curtains. The Classic Car Club of America recognizes it as a Full Classic.
As the distinguished automotive historian Beverly Rae Kimes wrote, 'The Model A Duesenberg is that rarity: a great car that still remains overlooked.'Source - Gooding & Company
Sold for $104,500 at 2010 RM Sothebys. The Duesenberg Model A was very advanced for its era, and the first production car to be fitted with hydraulic brakes. They also had the first production engine with four valve cylinder heads and an overhead camshaft. Their drawback was the steep price tag, causing sales to be sluggish, with just 667 examples built in 1927.
The brothers, Fred and August (Augie) Duesenberg were self taught engineers, and not very business oriented. As the company failed to flourish, they handed over the operations to two investors named Van Sant and Rankin. Unfortunately, they left with all the money, leaving the brothers struggling to survive. Ultimately, the company filed for bankruptcy. It was later rescued by Erret Lobban Cord, who had been searching for a flagship model for the automotive empire he was building.
In the late 1980s or early 1990s, this car was part of a very large Houston collection owned by Jerry J. Moore. In December of 2003, the car was sold to John O'Quinn, and it became one of the first Duesenbergs he purchased.
The car was given a restoration many years ago, but remains in presentable driver condition. It is finished in red with maroon fenders and beltline, has chrome wire wheels, whitewalls, tan leather interior, and a tan canvas top. It is equipped with a rear-mounted chrome spare, accessory folding rear windshield and a radiator-mounted Duseneberg Boyce Motometer temperature gauge.
In 2010, this car was offered for sale at RM Auctions 'Automobiles of Amelia Island' event. The car was estimated to sell for $140,000 - $180,000. As bidding came to a close, the car had been sold for the sum of $104,500, inclusive of buyer's premium. By Daniel Vaughan | Apr 2010
Sold for $253,000 at 2010 Gooding & Company. Sold for $264,000 at 2014 RM Sothebys. The Duesenberg Model A was powered by a 260 cubic-inch straight-eight engine that had a single overhead camshaft which actuated two valves per cylinder. The engine and its technology benefitted from the Duesenberg's experience in racing, especially their victory at Indianapolis. The engine offered 88 horsepower and was mounted on a ladder-style chassis frame of rather conventional design. They had a three-speed sliding gear transmission and four-wheel hydraulic brakes. The brake system was the Model A's real invitation, an honor it shared with the Richenbacker and the one-off Colonial as one of the first American automobiles to be so-equipped.
Between 1921 and 1926, when it was purchased by E.L. Cord, the Duesenberg factory produced around 500 Model As.
This Duesenberg Model A is one of only 35 known to exist. It has been given a comprehensive mechanical restoration that lasted from 2004 to 2007. It was given a total repaint, new upholstery and top, and all the nickel trip was re-plated and given a protective clear coat. The exterior is painted in maroon with a tan canvas top, tan-painted wire wheels and black-pleated leather upholstery. In the back, there is a lockable Honduras mahogany compartment nestled behind the front seat. The open touring coachwork was created by the Indianapolis, Indiana firm Millsbaugh & Irish, who bodied cars from 1915-1928.
During the 1950s, the car was owned by J.R. Hoggatt who later sold it to Duesenberg collector Homer Fitterling. In June of 1989, it was in the care of Ed Weaver of Georgia. It was sold to Bob Townsend of Oklahoma who retained the car until 2004, when it was sold to the present owner.
In 2010, this car was offered for sale at the Gooding & Company auction in Pebble Beach where it was estimated to sell for $150,000 - $200,000. As bidding came to a close, the car had been sold for the sum of $253,000 including buyer's premium. By Daniel Vaughan | Oct 2014
Dual Windshield Phaeton
At the turn of the last century, Iowa bicycle makers August and Fred Duesenberg tinkered with gasoline engines and by 1913 the Duesenberg Automobile & Motors company was manufacturing cars. The company failed, but they developed an engine which did well in the Indianapolis 500. They used their experience building aircraft engines during World War I for the military to design their famous straight-eight engine.
Manufactured by the Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company, the early Duesenberg was designed to be the ultimate road car, based on the extensive racing experience of August and Fred Duesenberg. The Duesenberg Eight-in-a-Row motor car was advertised in 1920 as an 'Automobile for the Connoisseur, Built to Outclass, Outrun and Outlast any Car on the Road.' Although now referred to as the Model A, the company only called it the '8 in a Row' or the 'Straight 8.' The Model A designation was coined by the public, after the Model J was introduced in the late 1920s. The Model A is the first car built by the Duesenberg brothers from 1921 to 1926. It was an extremely advanced automobile with prices starting at $6,500 for the chassis only. The engine was the first 'mass-produced' straight eight cylinder engine in the United States and featured a single overhead camshaft and four-valve cylinder heads. It offered the first hydraulic brakes in a United States passenger car. It was lighter and smaller but more powerful than its competitors and the fastest car of its time. It won the Indianapolis 500 three out of four years it was entered and it was purchased by many celebrities including Rudolph Valentino. Only 650 Model As were built over the entire six year model run.
This Model A Dual Windshield Phaeton with coachwork by Rubay is equipped with a Duesenberg race engine originally owned by Fred Duesenberg.
Brothers Fred and August Duesenberg will be remembered always for their outstanding motorcars. True perfectionists and genius engineers, the Duesenbergs were responsible for some of the very best racing and road-going cars in the world from the building of their first cars in 1913 until the last automobiles to bare their name were produced in 1937.
But while all Duesenberg cars were outstanding works of engineering excellence, not all are held in the same regard by automotive collectors and historians. The later Model J, and particularly the supercharged Model SJ, has all but eclipsed the first Duesenberg production car: the Model A.
Perhaps Models J and SJ have earned their greater fame. After all, they were utterly uncompromised cars—fast, fabulous, and enduringly fashionable thanks to beautiful coachwork by the likes of Rollston and Murphy, penned by such sensational designers as Howard Darrin and Gordon Buehrig. The J and SJ featured straight-eight engines with four valves per cylinder, operated by twin overhead camshafts. Built to win and dressed to kill, these later Duesenbergs have become highly-prized trophies for affluent car collectors.
Yet the Model A, at least for its time, was the equal of the later J and SJ in terms of innovation. It pioneered the use of hydraulic brakes, and was the first production car powered by a straight-eight. With this in mind, it would seem that the Model A has been held back primarily by its sedate (though still handsome) looks. The Model A's staid appearance may very well be the reason why it has not become as collectible as the Model J, but looks alone cannot explain why the Model A, which was technologically advanced and attractive for its time, was a commercial failure.
In reality, the Model A's inability to realize sales expectations was no fault of the car's. Rather, its poor commercial performance was the result of issues within the Duesenberg firm itself.
The Duesenberg brothers' engineering prowess far outweighed their business skills, leading to the brothers' well-intentioned decision to sell the rights to their name and designs to more experienced businessmen on March 8, 1920. It was then that the Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company, Inc. was established to transfer control of the brothers' small car company to people who could supposedly run the operation with greater proficiency. Newton E. VanZandt became president and Luther M. Rankin vice-president and general manager. Both Duesenbergs were given salaried positions, with Fred serving as vice-president in charge of engineering and August acting as assistant chief engineer.
The presumably competent VanZandt and Rankin were able to raise money quickly, but they spent far too much building and equipping a new plant in Indianapolis, leading to insufficient working capital by the time the Model A was ready for production. Further complicating matters, the Model A was first shown to the public in 1920, long before the car was ready for production. This proved to be a glaring mistake, as it prevented the new Duesenberg from taking advantage of the sensation caused upon its initial showing.
Deliveries of the Model A did not commence until December of 1921. The long delay could be traced directly to Fred Duesenberg who, in a defining moment that emphasized his perfectionist tendencies, decided that the production Model A must have an engine employing an overhead camshaft instead of the side-rocker arm arrangement used on the prototype. The advantages of the overhead camshaft had been proven by Duesenberg racing cars, and it had been decided even before the Model A prototypes were shown that the production cars would receive the benefit of such an arrangement. But the fact that the engine redesign was planned did not make it timely, as it delayed production by ten months.
Once underway, Model A production was limited to about one car per day. This slow rate was far behind the initial sales projections that hoped for 2,400 cars per year. Slow sales failed to generate the funding required to run Duesenberg Automobile and Motors sufficiently, and as production continued new problems emerged. After only a year as president, VanZandt abdicated, replaced by B.A. Worthington. Also the president of a railroad, Worthington was unable to dedicate sufficient time to his Duesenberg duties. Though he remained president until 1923, the company was effectively being run by lower ranking employees who had no business heading an automobile company. In July of 1922, Chester S. Ricker became general manager, which gave him substantial influence over the company due to Worthington's lack of involvement. Ricker proved to be a competent leader, but by then Duesenberg Automobile and Motors was in deep financial trouble. In 1924, the company went into receivership.
This, of course, was not the end of Duesenberg, or even of the Model A. By 1925, a new firm had been organized called the Duesenberg Motors Company, with Fred Duesenberg serving as president. Model A production resumed for 1925 and 1926.
The Duesenberg Model A, with the tumultuous business endeavors that backed it, was arguably a better representation of the Duesenberg brothers than were the later Models J and SJ. In the autumn of 1926, luxury car tycoon E.L. Cord arranged the purchase of Duesenberg Motors Company, leading to yet another reorganization of the company, finally named Duesenberg, Inc. Cord was a superb businessman, and under his guidance the Duesenberg name was applied to America's most spectacular cars of the late-1920s and 1930s. These exemplary vehicles were created to act as halo cars for E.L. Cord's luxury motorcar empire, which also included Auburn and Cord. So while the cars of Duesenberg, Inc. featured the unbridled engineering magic of the Duesenbergs themselves, that company's splendid creations were perhaps too amply funded and well thought-out to have been as true to the spirit of the Duesenberg brothers as the Model A had been. The Model A illustrated the struggles and triumphs of Fred and August, while the J and SJ cars spoke only of success.
The J and SJ Duesenbergs will in all likelihood remain far more collectible than the Model A. This cannot diminish the historical significance of the Model A, though. With roughly 650 produced, the Model A was the highest production Duesenberg ever created. It will remain an excellent collector car capable of delivering the genuine engineering excellence of the Duesenberg brothers in a more conservative and far more attainable package than a later Duesenberg.
Roe, Fred. Duesenberg: The Pursuit of Perfection. 1st. London: Dalton Watson Ltd, 1982. 73-106. Print.
Vance, Bill. 'Motoring Memories: Duesenberg Model A .' CanadianDriver.com 15 Apr 2005: n. pag. Web. 27 Jul 2010. http://www.canadiandriver.com/2005/04/15/motoring-memories-duesenberg-model-a.htm. By Evan Acuña
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