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 Duesenberg Model J photo

1931 Duesenberg Model J

When news of the Duesenberg J first broke of its upcoming launch in 1928, the announcement halted trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. By this point in history, the Duesenberg Motor Corporation was part of the E.L. Cord empire, including the Auburn Automobile, and other transportation firms. Cord acquired the company on October 26th of 1926 primarily for the Duesenberg brothers' talent, engineering skills, and brand name. August Duesenberg, who had been instrumental in the development of the Model A and X, had nothing to do with the initial design of the J and had no formal connection with the Cord-run Duesenberg Company, until later. Fred Duesenberg, however, was positioned as vice president in charge of engineering and experimental work, and was tasked by Cord to build the most magnificent and greatest car ever to travel the road.

The Model J made its debut on December 1st at the 1928 New York Car Show. It made its European debut in 1929 at the 'Salon de l'automobile de Paris.' When introduced at New York, only one example had been built - J-101 - a LeBaron dual cowl phaeton, finished in black and silver. By October of 1929, the beginning of the Great Depression, Duesenberg had built around 200 examples. An additional 100 orders were filled in 1930. Most engine and chassis were made in 1929 and 1930, and sold throughout subsequent years.

At the heart of the Duesenberg was a straight eight engine based on the company's successful racing engines of the 1920s. They were designed by Duesenberg but manufactured by Lycoming, another company owned by Cord. The 420 cubic-inch powerplant had dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, and produced 265 horsepower in normally aspirated configuration. Top speed was achieved at 119 mph, and 94 mph in 2nd gear. Although Cadillac had a larger engine with twice as many cylinders, it only produced 175 horsepower, nearly 100 hp less. For customers seeking even more power, Duesenberg offered was the 320 horsepower supercharged 'SJ' model, developed by Fred Duesenberg and introduced in May of 1932. It was capable of 105 miles per hour in second gear and had a top speed of around 135 mph. The supercharger was positioned beside the engine. Originally a one-piece eight-into-one Monel manifold was used to re-route the exhaust away from the engine, outside the engine compartment and through a single hole in the right front fender. After the eight port manifold proved inadequate and was prone to cracking, it was replaced by a second manifold arrangement that routed four branches through the passenger's side hood and front fender. This design was attributed to Cord and used in his supercharged Auburns and Cords.

The Model J initally came with a four-speed transmission, vacuum-assisted four-wheel hydraulic brakes, a front beam axle, live rear axle, and standard 142.5-inch wheelbase. An optional 153.5 inch platform was available, along with a shorter 'SSJ' 125-inch wheelbase (two examples were built on this platform).

Several modifications were made to the Model J during its production lifespan, including the replacement of the four-speed gearbox as it was unable to handle the engine's power. In its place was an unsynchronised three-speed gearbox.

As was customary at the time, Duesenberg built the chassis and engine, leaving the coachwork to be built to owner's specification by custom coachbuilders. Around half the Model Js built by Duesenberg had coachworks devised by the company's chief body designer, Gordon Buehrig, and built under the name La Grande by company branches in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Florida and Denver, as well as by smaller dealers. Other coachbuilders included Judkins, Le Baron, Murphy, Derham, Rollston, Walker, Saoutchik, Weymann, Willoughby, Fernandez et Darrin, Franay, and Gurney Nutting, among others.

The chassis cost $8,500, and after 1932 that figure rose another $1,000. Most completed vehicles with coachwork ranged from $13,000 and $19,000. Two American-bodied Model J's reached $25,000.

Two examples of the short-wheelbase Super J, known as the SSJ, were built. 36 Model SJs were built, and 10 of the JN were built. All of the Model JNs received Rollston coachwork and were produced in 1935. They rode on smaller 17-inch diameter wheel, instead of 19 inches, had skirted fenders, bullet-shaped taillights, and bodies resting on the frame rails resulting in a lower appearance. Model JNs with the supercharger are known as SJN.


by Daniel Vaughan | Jan 2020

Background

The Duesenberg Company produced high-end, luxury automobiles and racing cars from 1913 through 1937. It was created by the Duesenberg brothers, Fred and August, who formed the Duesenberg Automobile %26 Motors Company, Inc. in Des Moines, Iowa with the intent on building sports cars. Just like many of their time, they were mostly self-taught engineers and had only constructed experimental cars up to....
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Related Reading : Duesenberg Model J History

The Duesenberg Automobile %26 Motors Company, Inc was founded and operated by Fred and August brothers who began their company in 1913. From the start, their company has been a US-based luxury automobile company with a standard to build the very best hand-built vehicles during the time period. Duesenberg vehicles lived up to this standard until 1937 when the company closed. Created to build sports....
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1931 Vehicle Profiles

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

Tourster
Coachwork: Derham

Chassis Num: 2440
Engine Num: J423

Today, luxurious sportscars are not all that uncommon. In many respects, the luxuriously-appointed sportscar is practically a must. However, in the early 20th century there was certainly a separation of the two, that is, until people like Fred Duesen....[continue reading]

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

Tourster
Coachwork: Derham

Engine Num: J206

On December 1, 1928 at the New York Auto Salon, the Duesenberg Model J was unveiled to the world. It was easily the highlight of the show. Duesenberg quickly ordered enough parts to build 500 Model J's with the first customer receiving their vehicl....[continue reading]

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

Tapertail Speedster
Coachwork: Weymann
Designer: Gordon Buehrig

Chassis Num: 2450
Engine Num: J-437

Gordon Buehrig referred to his design for this Duesenberg with chassis number 2450 and engine J-437, as a tapertail speedster. This sleek design is accomplished without running boards or step plates. The addition of the sweep panel styling on the s....[continue reading]

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

Convertible Sedan
Coachwork: Bohman & Schwartz

Chassis Num: 2479
Engine Num: J 464

The Wrigley Corporation was a prominent business and very popular when Phillip K. Wrigley, heir to the fortune, purchased chassis number 2479 for the sum of $15,450. It was delivered on November 28th of 1931. While in his ownership, the Duesenberg ....[continue reading]

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

Roadster

Chassis Num: 2410
Engine Num: J434

This Duesenberg Model J Roadster is very unusual. It has a Duesenberg chassis with a custom Packard body. Since Duesenberg did not offer a true, wind-in-your-hair, roadster, the original owner of this vehicle selected a Packard body. The roadster ....[continue reading]

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

Convertible Victoria
Coachwork: Rollston & Company

Engine Num: J-104

There were only 470 Duesenberg Mode J chassis produced, and in the case of the short wheelbase Convertible Victoria, just three were created. This example wears coachwork by Rollston Company. This Duesenberg was built with a Holbrook body for the deb....[continue reading]

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

Tourster
Coachwork: Derham

Chassis Num: 2646
Engine Num: J-448

Brothers Fred and August Duesenberg were born in Germany and settled in Des Moines, Iowa. They were self-taught engineers and began producing cars in 1913. Eddie Rickenbacker placed 10th in the 1914 Indianapolis 500 behind the wheel of a Duesenberg. ....[continue reading]

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

Limousine
Coachwork: Willoughby

Chassis Num: 2438
Engine Num: J-430

After final testing at the Duesenberg factory in the fall of 1930, J-430 was delivered to Willoughby Company of Utica, New York, for coachwork. Willoughby specialized in closed, formal coachwork and over the years, they would create approximately 45 ....[continue reading]

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

Convertible
Coachwork: Franay

'Its a Doozy!'
Within a short period of time after the debut of the Model J Duesenberg at the 1928 New York Automobile show, a newly-coined exclamation became part of the American vocabulary: 'It's a Doozy!' The phrase was generally used t....[continue reading]

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

Convertible Victoria
Coachwork: Rollston & Company

Chassis Num: 2454
Engine Num: J-456

Considered by many to be the finest automobile ever built, the metaphor 'It's a Duesie!' remains a part of American lexicon to this day. In St. Paul, Minnesota in 1913, the Duesenberg brothers began building the most successful racing cars made in Am....[continue reading]

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

La Grand Torpedo Phaeton
Coachwork: Weymann
Designer: Gordon Buehrig

Engine Num: J 396

Duesenberg J 396 is a re-bodied Weymann La Grand Torpedo Phaeton, which is said to be the ultimate expression of the Model J in all its glory. The original design was penned by stylist Gordon Buehrig, and built by Brunn. Only five original Torpedo ....[continue reading]

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

Phaeton
Coachwork: LeBaron
Designer: Gordon Buehrig

Chassis Num: 2313
Engine Num: J-492

This LeBaron Phaeton was sold new to big band leader Paul Whiteman in May of 1930. This body was initially on a short wheelbase chassis, but in 1932, Mr. Whiteman returned the car to the factory branch in New York or Philadelphia, where the body was....[continue reading]

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

Speedster
Coachwork: Figoni
Designer: Gordon Buehrig

Chassis Num: 2509
Engine Num: J-465

Figoni built three bodies for Duesenberg chassis. This car, with chassis number 2509 and engine number J-465, is a true speedster without side windows. This Figoni Speedster was driven by E. Z. Sadovich in the Nice to Paris Rally, and shown in the ....[continue reading]

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

Convertible Sedan
Coachwork: LeBaron

Chassis Num: 2350
Engine Num: J-338

William S. Rupert of Philadelphia, PA took delivery of this Model J Duesenberg which had previously been used as a factory demonstrator. Originally, the car wore an Arlington sedan body built by Derham. In 1933, the car was purchased by William Fergu....[continue reading]

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

Tourster
Coachwork: Derham

Chassis Num: 2456
Engine Num: J-444

This Duesenberg Model J with chassis number 2456 and engine number J-444 rests on a large, 153.5-inch wheelbase. The long chassis was exaggerated by the car's lowered proportions, created by moving the rear seat ahead of the rear axle and the footwel....[continue reading]

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

Tourster
Coachwork: Derham

Engine Num: J-408

This car featured not only great mechanical engineering but inspired design and quality coachwork as well. This Duesenberg was delivered to Charles Groff on November 20, 1931 in Philadelphia, PA. It is powered by a Straight-8, overhead valve configur....[continue reading]

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

Convertible Sedan
Coachwork: Dietrich

This Dietrich body Duesenberg Model J Convertible Sedan epitomizes the true essence of a world class luxury automobile. ....[continue reading]

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

Tourster
Coachwork: Derham

Chassis Num: 2468
Engine Num: J-451

This Duesenberg is one of the eight original Toursters. It was built on March 23rd of 1931 and given Derham body number 2323. The first owner was David G. Joyce of Chicago. In 1935, Gerald Morava of Chicago acquired the car, and subsequently traded i....[continue reading]

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

Sport Convertible Sedan
Coachwork: Derham

Chassis Num: 2486
Engine Num: J-475

This Duesenberg Model J SWB Sport Convertible Sedan has coachwork by the Derham Body Company. The Derham Company has a history that dates back to 1887 when they built carriage bodies for many of the wealthy residents of Philadelphia, PA. With the inv....[continue reading]

1931 Duesenberg Model J vehicle information

Phaeton
Coachwork: LeBaron
Designer: Gordon Buehrig

Chassis Num: 2189
Engine Num: J168

First fitted in late 1930 with 4-door sedan-style coachwork by Derham, this short-wheelbase Duesenberg J was rebodied after a few months with this LeBaron Phaeton coachwork for the 1931 New York Auto Salon. The design is unique and features sculpted ....[continue reading]

Tourster by Derham
Chassis #: 2440 
Tourster by Derham
 
Tapertail Speedster by Weymann
Chassis #: 2450 
Convertible Sedan by Bohman & Schwartz
Chassis #: 2479 
Roadster
Chassis #: 2410 
Convertible Victoria by Rollston & Company
 
Tourster by Derham
Chassis #: 2646 
Limousine by Willoughby
Chassis #: 2438 
Convertible by Franay
 
Convertible Victoria by Rollston & Company
Chassis #: 2454 
La Grand Torpedo Phaeton by Weymann
 
Phaeton by LeBaron
Chassis #: 2313 
Speedster by Figoni
Chassis #: 2509 
Convertible Sedan by LeBaron
Chassis #: 2350 
Tourster by Derham
Chassis #: 2456 
Tourster by Derham
 
Convertible Sedan by Dietrich
 
Tourster by Derham
Chassis #: 2468 
Sport Convertible Sedan by Derham
Chassis #: 2486 
Phaeton by LeBaron
Chassis #: 2189 


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Performance and Specification Comparison

Model Year Production

#1#2#3Duesenberg
1936Ford (930,778)Chevrolet (918,278)Plymouth (520,025)
1935Ford (820,253)Chevrolet (548,215)Plymouth (350,884)
1934Ford (563,921)Chevrolet (551,191)Plymouth (321,171)
1933Chevrolet (486,261)Ford (334,969)Plymouth (298,557)
1932Chevrolet (313,404)Ford (210,824)Plymouth (186,106)
1931Chevrolet (619,554)Ford (615,455)Buick (138,965)
1930Ford (1,140,710)Chevrolet (640,980)Buick (181,743)
1929Ford (1,507,132)Chevrolet (1,328,605)Buick (196,104)
1928Chevrolet (1,193,212)Ford (607,592)Willys Knight (231,360)
1927Chevrolet (1,001,820)Ford (367,213)Buick (255,160)
1926Ford (1,669,847)Chevrolet (547,724)Buick (266,753)

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