Fred & August Duesenberg were born in Germany, and came to the U.S. as children. Fred was a self-taught engineering genius, and had built a racing car as early as 1903.
In 1914, a Duesenberg driven by Eddie Rickenbacker took 10th place in the Indianapolis 500-mile race. In 1921, a Duesenberg driven by Jimmy Murphy became the first and only American car to win the French Grand Prix. In 1924, 1925 and 1927, Duesenbergs won the Indianapolis “500”.
The Duesenberg Model A passenger car was introduced in 1920, with many features based on the Duesenbergs' racing experience -- light, built with lots of aluminum in its structure, four-wheel hydraulic brakes (a Duesenberg innovation), and a 90-horsepower inline-8 engine. Duesenberg built the Model A until 1926 when E.L. Cord acquired control of the company.
The Model J (with carburetors) The Model J series Duesenberg was introduced in 1928, and is perhaps one of the finest examples of American coachbuilt automobiles of the 1920s and 1930s. When Duesenberg introduced their Model J, it was offered as chassis only, for $8,500. Most buyers would then take the chassis to a custom coachbuilder for fitment of a body. Coachbuilding was popular decades ago among the extremely wealthy for whom the ordinary offerings of the automotive industry weren't anywhere near exclusive enough, so they had special bodywork fitted to regular cars to make them their own. Some ultra-luxury vehicles sold as chassis only. For instance,
Somewhere around 500 Model “J”s were built before production ended in 1937.
Duesenberg was primarily a chassis builder. Gordon Buehrig, designer of the 810 Cord, designed some of the most beautiful Duesenberg bodies in Duesenberg's own shop. Many bodies were built by La Grande, which was owned by Duesenberg. Other American builders of Duesenberg car bodies included Murphy, Locke, Le Baron, Judkins (and others.) Some bodies were also built in Europe for clients there.
The Duesenberg in the Museum of American Speed is a 1930 Model J Four-Door Convertible, with body by Murphy of California.
Our 1930 Duesenberg Model J: