The 1933 Duesenberg Model J Touring Sedan shown in this article is one of the most popular of all vintage automobiles. Some of the 1933 Duesenbergs, manufactured during the Great Depression, have received collector’s bids of over $1.5 million. That selling price reflects both the rarity and the popularity of this classic luxury car.
A Engine With Lots of Power
Duesenberg built the Model J and a super charged version, Model SJ, from 1928 to 1937. Talk about a rare automobile. During this time only 481 of these two models were ever produced. The Model J was introduced first and was powered by an in line, dual overhead cam V8 that produced 265 horsepower. The later Model SJ was supercharged and produced an ultra powerful 320 horsepower.
Prior to World War Two there was no other American car that supplied as much power as the Duesenberg Model J.
Superb and Expensive Craftsmanship
Some say that each of the Duesenbergs were built differently. This is because while Duesenberg produced the chassis and the engine, the body and styling was completed by some of Europe’s and America’s most noteworthy coach builders. This kind of hand crafted construction gave the 1933 Duesenberg a high price tag. In 1933, prices ranged from about $13,000 to $25,000 depending on the extent of the hand crafted coach building. In fact, the degree and type of coach building done on the two Duesenberg models are the measure of what the car’s sell for today in the collector’s market.
The prices charged for a new Duesenberg in 1933 were an enormous amount of money during the throes of the Great Depression. You would wonder why anyone would pay that price for an automobile during that era but they did. Some of the Duesenberg owners during the 1930′s included top Hollywood celebrities and European royalty.
The 1933 Duesenberg instrument panel included extra gauges such as a tachometer, a stopwatch, an altimeter, and a brake-pressure gauge. Certainly not something you’d find in the mass produced cars of the 1930′s.
The Duesenberg Automobiles
Duesenberg automobiles were a creation of brothers Fred and August Duesenberg. The Duesenberg family came to the U.S. from Germany in the late 1800′s and made Iowa their home. The younger Duesenberg got into the business of building racing bicycles. The brothers then began building engines for automobiles and from that formed their own company in 1913.
The Duesenberg Motor Company first built motors for both tractors and aircraft and then moved into engines for auto racing. From that the company turned it’s attention to actually building an automobile with their well known engines and turned out their first car in 1921. The first Duesenberg car sold for north of $6,000 and their engine delivered 85 horsepower. It was a pretty high priced automobile for the era.
About 500 of their automobiles sold through the middle of the 1920′s. At that point the brothers sold the company to E.L. Cord. Cord was a successful car salesman from Chicago who also gained control of the Auburn car company and with that the Duesenberg models merged in with Auburn. At the time the brothers joined up with the newly merged company. There’s lot of history about the Auburn car company, Cord automobiles and E.L. Cord himself and how he ended up in the 1930′s with stock fraud charges brought about by the SEC. It’s quite an interesting story.
1933 Duesenberg Specs
Prior to 1927 the Duesenberg brothers had produced a Model A and a Model X. The 1933 Duesenberg Model J, which was first introduced in 1927, came with a Lycoming straight eight engine with 419.6 cid.
Both the front and rear brakes on this rear wheel drive automobile were drums with hydraulic assists. Something a bit ahead of it’s time.
Front suspension was a rigid axle w/semi-elliptic springs. Rear suspension was live axle w/semi-elliptic springs.
The car’s weight was heavy being over 5,200 lbs. The wheelbase was 142.5 inches and the transmission was a three speed manual. The car’s top speed was listed at 116 MPH. The 0 to 60 MPH time was listed at 13.0 seconds. Pretty good for 1933.
Some excellent books about the Duesenberg automobiles include Duesenberg by author Dennis Adler and Duesenberg: The Mightiest American Motor Car by author J.L. Elbert.
(Photos are from author’s private collection)