Rumble Seat Coupe
Chassis Num: 661
Engine Num: 1075
Sold for $170,000 at 2013 RM Sothebys
Sold for $192,500 at 2014 RM Sothebys
Fred and August Duesenberg were born in Germany and immigrated to America where they begun designing and building automobiles. They formed the Duesenberg Automobiles and Motors Company in New Jersey and specialized in designing and building one-off and limited production automobiles as well as mechanical components that were purchased by other automobiles manufacturers. The company moved from New Jersey to Indianapolis, Indiana where they built their first production vehicle in 1921.
The new Duesenberg was called the Model A. It featured an inline, eight-cylinder engine with an overhead camshaft and was the first American production car to be sold with hydraulic brakes. Duesenberg used racing to promote its passenger car sales and in 1921, a Duesenberg race car driven by Jimmy Murphy became the first American car to win the French Grand Prix. In 1923, a Duesenberg Model A was used as the pace car for the Indianapolis 500. Duesenberg racecars won the Indianapolis 500 races in 1924, 1925 and 1927.
In 1914, Eddie Rickenbacker drove a Duesenberg to finish 10th place in the Indianapolis 500; and in 1924, 1925, and 1927 a Duesenberg finished in first place. 1923 saw a Duesenberg as the Indianapolis Pace Car. The A Model Duesenberg was introduced in 1921 and features a powerful 260 cubic-inch overhead cam Straight 8 that develops 87 horsepower and is capable of 85 mph. It was the first car to have hydraulic brakes. This Duesenberg A Model has Rumble-Seat Coupe custom coachwork by Fleetwood Metal Body Company of Fleetwood, PA (later to become a part of General Motors). This car is totally unrestored and is considered the best condition A Model Duesenberg to survive. Base price was $6,500 plus!
The Model A was lighter 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 was owned by many celebrities including Rudolph Valentino. Only 650 Model A's were built over the entire six year model run.
This 1922 Duesenberg has a rare coupe body built by the coachbuilder Fleetwood. Prior to becoming part of General Motors in the late 1920's, Fleetwood built bodies for many of the upscale American automobile manufacturers. This is the only Duesenberg known to exist with a Fleetwood coupe body and today remains in original condition throughout. It is one of about 60 extant Model A Duesenbergs.
It was, originally, a literal doctor's coupe, as it was owned by a Pennsylvania physician, Dr. C.E. Beals. The car later passed to a relative, Fred McGarvey, in 1931. McGarvey would become one of the longest-term owners of any Duesenberg, possessing the Model A until his passing in 1975. During his 44 years of ownership, he maintained the car in essentially origianl and perfect mechanical condition. He regularly drove it to East Coast meets of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club and to other events.
The car was acquired from the McGarvey Estate in 1975 by the Harrah Automobile Collection, who performed a minor cosmetic restoration. It was displayed at Harrah's for 11 years, during which time it received its ACD Club Category One Certification and appeared in Fred Roe's Duesenberg: The Pursuit of Perfection. Following time as part of collections in Pennsylvania and Germany, it was acquired by Jim Kaufmann, of Georgia. Kaufmann passed the car to a friend, who freshened the car slightly and continued to regularly display and enjoy the car in its original condition.
The car was later acquired by the current owners who treated the car to a quality restoration. The car was re-finished in the original colors of dark green with black fenders. Much of the nickel trim was re-plated, and the interior, which had previously been restored in correct green leather, was freshened as necessary, including a restored dashboard.
Attractively styled, with cutting-edge engineering for its time, such as an overhead cam engine and hydraulic 4-wheel brakes, Model A Duesenbergs were available with 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 with the high factory price than anything else, for there was certainly nothing wrong with 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.
Seven standard body styles were offered for the 1923 Duesenberg models, in price from $5,500 to $7,300.
The Duesenberg's impressive in-line eight featured a single overhead camshaft driven off the crankshaft via beveled gears. Displacement was a relatively small 260 cubic inches, but it developed impressive horsepower ratings and 170 foot pounds of torque at 1500 rpm. An interesting induction system incldued a single Stromberg 1.5-inch updraft carburetor, utilizing a firewall-mounted vacuum tank. The fuel link ran up through the exhaust manifold to be preheated. Pistons would have been aluminum, unless the customer ordered otherwise.
A bright spot in 1923 was an endurance run that took place at the Indianapolis Speedway in April. A fully-equipped standard-bodied touring car drove non-stop for 3,155 miles that took 50 hours and 21 minutes at an average speed of 62.7 mph and required two tire changes.
All Duesenbergs were delivered with knock-off wire wheels mounted to 33 x 5-inch cord tires. The orthodox ladder frame featured Watson Stabilator shock absorbers hooked to semi-elliptic springs front and rear. Brakes were an industry-leading four-inch hydraulic system with 16-inch drums and circumferential cooling fins. Dual sidelamps (Searchlight made by Stewart-Warner Speedometer Corp.) had mirrors designed into the back of each and were standard equipment.
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. Sources:
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