The Rare 1930 Duesenberg Willoughby Model J

The automobile introduced at the 1928 New York Auto Show known as the Duesenberg Model J may very well be today's most sought after vintage collector car.It's also an automobile that displayed a remarkable degree of technology for it's era. The Duesenberg Model J was the finest automobile in America at it's time and was on an equal footing with any luxury car produced in Europe. The Model J was produced from 1928 to 1937.

1930 duesenberg model j

1930 Duesenberg Model J Willoughby

The 1930 Duesenberg Model J Willoughby featured in this article is one of the most regal vintage automobiles you'll come across. It's an automobile you'll most likely come across at an automobile museum as opposed to on the road.

The Creation of the Duesenberg Model J

The Duesenberg was the creation of Fred Duesenberg with inspiration coming from E. L. Cord who ran the company of Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg. While the first Model J Duesenberg was introduced prior to the 1929 stock market crash and following Great Depression, selling a luxury and performance based automobile with a price tag of perhaps $8,500 was a challenge. As a comparison, a 1930 Cadillac might have cost about $5,500 and a 1930 Packard Eight perhaps $3,500.

To give you an idea of some of the Model J advancements, these luxury automobile's of the early 1930's employed lighter material which was indeed a significant technological advancement. New technological traits were found in the Model J engine designed by Fred Duesenberg which had an automatic chassis lubrication system. If this wasn't advancement enough for 1930, the Duesenberg engine also had heat treated aluminum construction for some of it's parts. This included the engine's pistons, rods and oil pan. Parts of the braking system were also made from heat treated aluminum.

duesenberg model j

1930 Duesenberg Model J Willoughby

The Duesenberg was built with a 420 cubic inch inline eight cylinder Lycoming engine delivering 265 horsepower. Connected to a three speed manual gearbox, the 1930 Duesenberg was claimed to be able to attain 116 MPH. A pretty good speed for a luxury non race car in 1930.

The eventual demise of Duesenberg was not entirely because of the Great Depression. While the economic calamity certainly whittled away at potential buyers, the bigger problem was how much E.L. Cord spent to build the Duesenbergs and their decreasing profit margin.

The Duesenberg Model J Design

The Model J was a two door sporty luxury touring coupe. This Duesenberg Model J Willougby has a customized body built by The Willoughby Company of Utica New York. The 1930 Duesenberg bodies were essentially built to order by coachwork companies. In fact, this was really the rule and as such there were very few of what you would say are "standard" Duesenberg Model J's. Owners added their own customization through the coachbuilding companies they hired.

duesenberg model j engine

Duesenberg Model J engine

The Willoughby Company was a top rate coachbuilder which began operations in Utica NY in 1897. The company became a production coach builder for major American auto companies.

The company produced automotive bodies for a long list of quality auto brands such as Lincoln, Pierce-Arrow, Studebaker, Peerless, Marmon, Cadillac, Dodge and of course Duesenberg. Body styles included enclosed sedans and full length limousines. It's been said that at one time everyone from presidents to corporate titans to even gangster Al Capone at one time owned an automobile with a Willoughby built body.

As you might expect, an automobile like the Duesenberg Model J was popular with the celebrity set of it's period. William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy) owned a 1933 Duesenberg Model J convertible. Model J's were also owned by Gary Cooper and Clark Gable.

See the AutoMuseumOnline automobiles on the links below...

1936 Cord 810 Cabriolet

1931 Dodge Coupe

1936 Chrysler Convertible


duesenberg model j willougby

Duesenberg spare tire housing

1930 Duesenberg Model J Willoughby Specifications

As mentioned above, the Duesenbergs were built with a pretty large engine, a 420 cubic inch inline eight cylinder Lycoming engine delivering 265 horsepower. By this time Lycoming was owned by E.L. Cord and became a big part of his Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg operation. Top speed was rated at 116 MPH.The engine had a dual downdraft carburetor.

The basic Model J engine stayed fairly the same during the entire Model J production run with only minor changes in the later years.

Transmission was an unsynchronized three speed manual.

Brakes were four wheel drum with a hydraulic assist.

Suspension consisted of semi-elliptic springs in the front and a live rear axle with semi-elliptic springs.

The 1930 Duesenberg had a wheelbase of 142.5 inches and a weight of 5,250 lbs. Total dimensions of the vehicle would vary depending on the coachwork.

duesenberg tires

Duesenberg wide white wall with spoked rims

The Duesenberg Model J Collector Car

Because the automobile bodies placed on a Duesenberg Model J chassis were essentially all a bit different, placing the current value on any surviving and restored models is not an exact science. Two things that are for sure is that the Model J is a very rare vintage automobile and the collector car prices are well into the six figure range.

A 1930 Duesenberg Phaeton went into auction north of $850,000. A 1930 Duesenberg Model J Berline sold at auction for $1.7 million. A 1932 Model J Convertible sold for $825,000. A 1930 Duesenberg Model J Murphy sold for close to $1.2 million.

While the Duesenberg Model J's are not for everyone's car collection they are superb vintage American automobiles and appear to have greatly increased with age.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 AutoMuseumOnline)


1933 Duesenberg Model J


1933 Duesenberg Model J Touring Sedan

1933 Duesenberg Model J Touring Sedan

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.

1933 Duesenberg dashboard

1933 Duesenberg dashboard

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.

Duesenberg elaborate grille

Duesenberg elaborate grille

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.

1933 Duesenberg Model J wide whitewalls

1933 Duesenberg Model J wide whitewalls

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.

Links to two additional photo articles you'll enjoy on AutoMuseumOnline are the 1931 Cadillac V-16 Sport Phaeton and the 1935 Auburn BoatTail Speedster.

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.

1933 Duesenberg Model J rear end styling

1933 Duesenberg Model J rear end styling

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)