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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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)