The Duesenberg Automobile

This Innovative Car Inspired the Phrase "It's a Doozy"

1931 Duesenberg Model J Long-Wheelbase Coupe
1931 Duesenberg Model J Long-Wheelbase Coupe. Photo Credit: Gooding & Company

Vintage automobiles aimed to both luxurious and stylish. One vehicle combined looks, extravagance, and the workmanship of a Rolls Royce Corniche. It also enjoyed the amazing acceleration and the blinding top speed of a Bugatti. That car was the acclaimed Duesenberg.

Because of the Deusenberg's amazing attributes, the phrase “it’s a doozy” emerged in the 1930s. What a fitting three-word description of an automobile that was way ahead of its time. Simply put, it had the best of everything as standard equipment.

The Duesenberg Family Business

The Duesenberg Brothers, Fred and August, born in Germany, founded the Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company in 1913. The two brothers were self-taught engineers and built their cars entirely by hand. They established the first home office for the company in Des Moines, Iowa. The company also established aviation and marine engine factories located in Elizabeth, New Jersey and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In 1920 the brothers decided to focus their attention on the automotive segment of their business. They sold off the other properties and invested that money in an automotive factory located in Indianapolis, Indiana. The 17-acre state-of-the-art facility wasn't far from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Duesenberg Performance Cars

The brothers didn’t set out to design racing machines. In fact, they were looking to appeal to the affluent luxury car buyer. Nevertheless, famous race car driver and World War I fighter pilot Eddie Rickenbacker steered a Duesenberg to a top ten finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1914. Next, the brothers set a land speed record of 156 MPH at the Daytona Speedway in 1920. In 1921, Jimmy Murphy became the first American to win the French Grand Prix driving a Duesenberg to victory at Le Mans.

Later that year, Fred Duesenberg had the honor of driving a Model A Touring Car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He didn't participate in the race, but instead fulfilled the role of the official pace car. This turned out to be great publicity for the company and its products. The company would go on to win the prestigious Indianapolis 500 race in 1924, 1925, and 1927.

Expensive Automotive Technology

The Model A showcased a boatload of advanced features. Things like dual overhead cams, four-valve cylinder heads and the first hydraulic brakes offered on a full production passenger car. These cutting edge features made the automobile extremely expensive and therefore hard to sell. The lack of sales led to the company's bankruptcy in 1922.

In 1925 Errett Lobban Cord, the owner of Cord Automobile, bought the company. He appreciated the Duesenberg Brothers engineering skills and thought they deserved a second chance. With the brand name re-energized the company went on to produce the Models J and SJ luxury cars. These quickly became the most famous vehicles produced in America at the time.

With influential owners like Rudolph Valentino, Clark Gable and the Duke of Windsor the car started selling. Duesenberg advertised itself to be the best car in the world without much opposition. Unfortunately, they had to cease production in 1937 after Cord's financial empire collapsed.

Of the 481 models produced between 1928 and 1937, 384 are still around. In fact, four of them are in Jay Leno's Duesenberg collection.