Duesenberg Model SJ photo

1934 Duesenberg Model SJ

The announcement of the forthcoming Duesenberg Model J halted trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and would be a high-water mark of Classic era engineering and design. The advanced chassis was fitted with many leading-edge features and power was from a race-derived eight-cylinder engine with overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, and hemispherical combustion chambers developing 265 horsepower, around 100 more horsepower than its nearest competitor. The bare chassis without coachwork commanded a price of $8,500, significantly higher than nearly every full-bodied car of the era.

E.L. Cord bankrolled the Model J and from the outset designed it to be the world's finest car. The Model J was publicly introduced at the 1929 New York Auto Show with seven examples on display, with coachwork by LeBaron, Murphy, and Holbrook. It made its European debut at the 'Salon de 'lautomobile de Paris' of 1929.

Available to individual order with a Plethora of available bodies from the world's most respected and talented custom coachbuilders of the era, the delivered price of many Duesenberg Model Js approached $20,000, a staggering sum at a time when the typical new mass-produced family car cost only about $500. The regal proportions, luxury, and grand specifications inspired the popular-culture expression, 'It's a Duesy.'

Two wheelbase lengths were available, the 142.5- and 153.5-inch platforms, and carried some of the most opulent coachwork of the time. Special orders included two SSJs on shortened 125-inch platforms and a few extended to 160-inches (or longer). Power two-shoe hydraulic drum brakes were standard and eventually, an optional supercharger became available giving the engine an additional 60 horsepower. This brought the final brakes horsepower of an SJ Duesenberg equipped with a single carburetor to approximately 320 horsepower, allowing it to reach ever nearer to a top speed of 140 mph, which was over 20 mph faster than a naturally aspirated example. Just 36 cars left the factory with the optional supercharger.

The Model J included a fully automatic chassis-lubrication system that operated ever 30 to 60 miles. Mechanically timed lights on the dash reminded the driver when to change the oil and inspect the battery. There was complete instrumentation with a 150-mph speedometer, a tachometer, an altimeter, an eight-day clock with a split-second stopwatch hand, and more.

The Model J received minor modifications during its production lifespan, with the first major update being the replacement of the four-speed gearbox, which proved unable to cope with the engine's power. It was replaced by an unsynchronised three-speed gearbox, subsequently fitted to all Duesenbergs.

Duenber's chief body designer, Gordon Buehrig, devised coachwork for about half the Model Js built and constructed under the name La Grande by company branches in New York City, Chicago, Denver, Florida, and Los Angeles, as well as by smaller dealers. The rest received custom coachwork by independent U.S. and European coachbuilders. LeBaron bodied 38 examples of the Model J, with 28 of those being the Ralph Roberts-designed Dual Cowl Phaeton with two-tone coachwork. The Walter M. Murphy Company of Pasadena, California produced approximately 60 Convertible Coupe bodies for the Model J chassis. Early examples of this design included a top that folded down into a low pile that was exposed behind the driver's seat in the fashion of most convertibles of the era. Around 25 of these were produced, followed by mostly one-off designs, in which the top folded down into a well behind the seat and covered by a low leather tonneau secured by button snaps. This design and configuration evolved into a true 'disappearing top' model, where a flush-fitting metal lid replaced the tonneau, producing a smooth, flat line that ran from the edges of the hood to the door and down over the rear deck. Another Murphy design feature was the signature thin 'Clear-Vision' window pillars and disappearing side windows.

The Model J was introduced in 1928 and sold through 1937, with a supercharger after 1932. Most chassis and engine were built in 1929 and 1930, but due to the steep cost and the Great Depression, they were sold and bodied throughout subsequent years. A total of 481 examples of the Model J (all versions) were built with about 378 surviving examples. After 1937, Cord's financial empire collapsed. However, two additional Duesenbergs were completed between 1937 and 1940, with the final example being assembled from leftover parts.

by Daniel Vaughan | Mar 2020


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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1934 Vehicle Profiles

1934 Duesenberg Model SJ vehicle information

Convertible Berline
Coachwork: LeBaron

Chassis Num: 2515
Engine Num: J-494

Very few American automakers present the deftness and quality of pre-World War II construction than Duesenberg. Anchored by the ever-popular Model J chassis, Duesenberg offered fine coachbuilders of the early 20th century a platform to produce truly ....[continue reading]

1934 Duesenberg Model SJ vehicle information

Continental Touring Berline
Coachwork: Rollston & Company

Chassis Num: 2543
Engine Num: J-514

Founded in 1919 on the engineering and racing experience of Fred and August Duesenberg, the Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company was eventually bought by E.L. Cord. Cord's challenge to Fred was to build an American luxury car that could compete w....[continue reading]

1934 Duesenberg Model SJ vehicle information

LaGrande Phaeton
Designer: Gordon Buehrig

Chassis Num: 2131
Engine Num: J-107

Duesenberg created the fictitious coachbuilder LaGrande to offer its customers a coachwork style body while helping to increase its margins. This supercharged example with chassis number 2131 and engine J-107, features dual carburetors, a rear cowl ....[continue reading]

1934 Duesenberg Model SJ vehicle information

Torpedo Convertible
Coachwork: Rollston & Company

Engine Num: SJ-517

E.L. Cord unabashedly advertised his Duesenberg as 'The World's Finest Motor Car,' and the only copy used in many of the company's advertisements was simple, 'He or She drives a Duesenberg,' without even an image of a car. Duesenberg owners included ....[continue reading]

Convertible Berline by LeBaron
Chassis #: 2515 
Continental Touring Berline by Rollston & Company
Chassis #: 2543 
LaGrande Phaeton
Chassis #: 2131 
Torpedo Convertible by Rollston & Company

Concepts by Duesenberg

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Performance and Specification Comparison

Model Year Production

1939Chevrolet (577,278)Ford (487,031)Plymouth (423,850)
1938Chevrolet (465,158)Ford (410,263)Plymouth (285,704)
1937Ford (942,005)Chevrolet (815,375)Plymouth (566,128)
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)

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