Was the hand-built Duesenberg the finest American luxury car ever made?
Reportedly Clark Gable instantly became jealous of Cooper's car, so he had this one specially made for himself:
The straight eight model J motor was based on the company's successful racing engines of the 1920s and though designed by Duesenberg they were manufactured by Lycoming, another company owned by Cord. In unsupercharged form, it produced an impressive (for the period) 265 horsepower (198 kW) from a dual overhead camshaft and four valves per cylinder. It was capable of a top speed of 119 mph (192 km/h), and 94 mph (151 km/h) in 2nd gear. Other cars featured a bigger engine but none of them surpassed its power. It was also both the fastest and most expensive American automobile in the market.
As it was custom among the luxury car brands, only the chassis and engine were displayed, since the interior and body of the car would be custom-made by an experienced coachbuilder to the owner's specifications. The chassis on most model J's were the same, as was the styling of such elements as fenders, headlamps, radiator, hood and instrument panel.
The bodyworks for the Duesenbergs came from both the US and Europe, and the finished cars were some of the largest, grandest, most beautiful, and most elegant cars ever created. About half the model Js built by Duesenberg had coachworks devised by the company's chief body designer, Gordon Buehrig, the rest were designed and made by independent coachbuilders from the US such as Derham, Holbrook, Le Baron, Murphy, Rollston (later renamed Rollson), Walker, Weymann, and Willoughby, to name a few; and from Europe: Fernandez et Darrin, Franay, Gurney Nutting, Saoutchik, etc. However, other coachworks were made by Duesenberg branches in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Florida and Denver, as well as by smaller dealers. For the in-house bodies Duesenberg used the name of La Grande.
The chassis cost $8,500 ($9,500 after 1932); the completed base model cost between $13,000 and $19,000 (two of the American-bodied J's reached $25,000), at a time when the average U.S. physician earned less than $3,000 a year. Figures are not available as to the prices charged by deluxe coachbuilders in Europe, but it is reasonable to assume that the final selling price of the products mounted on the costly imported chassis were considerably higher than their all-American-built counterparts.
The J was available in two versions of chassis with a different wheelbase; a long one (153.54 in (3.90 m)) and a short one (about 141.73 in (3.60 m)). There were also other special sizes; like the only two SSJs with a wheelbase shortened to 125 in (3.18 m) and a couple of cars with the wheelbase extended to 4 m (160 in) and over.
The dash included lights that reminded the driver the oil needed changing and the battery should be inspected.
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