1931 Duesenberg Model J . Photos, Specs, All Details

Featured is a absolutely beautiful original 1931 Duesenberg Model J. Some have said that the Duesenberg Model J is the greatest automobile ever built. Duesenberg certainly built quality cars prior to the Model J but the Model J was something extra special. Extra special in appearance and extra special in power. The Model J was produced from 1928 to 1937.


E.I. Cord and the Duesenberg Brothers

Duesenberg was founded by two brothers originally from Germany, August Duesenberg and Frederick Duesenberg. They began their company in 1913 in St. Paul, MN. Their company made both high performance engines and high performance race cars. Their racing history was successful in as much as they had Indianapolis 500 victories in 1922, 1924, 1925, and 1927

E. I. Cord, a prior race car driver, mechanic and auto salesman, was the president of Auburn Motors. The Duesenbergs were running into financial difficulties and as a result Cord took over both the bankrupt Duesenberg auto company and Lycoming motors in 1927.

The Birth of the Duesenberg Model J

The automobile introduced at the 1928 New York Auto Show known as the Duesenberg Model J, built with a Murphy body, may very well be today’s most sought after vintage collector car. Sixty of these 1928 examples were produced. 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.

While the first Model J Duesenberg was introduced prior to the 1929 stock market crash and following Great Depression, selling a very high end luxury and performance based automobile with a price tag of perhaps $8,500 (chassis only since Duesenberg did not for the most part build bodies) was a challenge. As a comparison, a 1930 Cadillac might have cost about $5,500 and a 1930 Packard Eight perhaps $3,500. 

As a side note, Duesenberg did complete bodies for about half of their Model J’s under the direction of chief designer Gordon Buehrig and his Chicago-based firm called La Grande. Buehrig’s first design work was at General Motors Art & Color Section. Where he found total creative freedom when he was hired as chief body designer at Duesenberg Inc in 1929.

Duesenbergs chassis and engines were delivered as rolling finished chassis to various coach builders. There were several including Dietrich, Willoughby, Franay, Gurney Nutting, Murphy.

The complete Duesenberg Model J with chassis, engine and body could cost $14,000 to $18,000 depending on what body was chosen and this was during the early Depression years. This explains quite a lot why the Duesenbergs were considered to be among the most luxurious American cars ever made.


What Made the Duesenberg Model J Special ?

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.

1931 Duesenberg Model J Specifications

The 1931 Duesenberg Model J was built with a Lycoming 420 cubic inch straight eight delivering 265 HP. There are four valves per cylinder and dual overhead camshafts. The top speed was rated at 90 MPH in second gear and 115 MPH in third gear.

Transmission is a Warner three speed manual.

Brakes are four wheel adjustable power.

Front suspension includes a solid axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs. Rear includes a live axle and semi-elliptic leaf springs.

Dimensions include a 142.0 inch wheelbase. This was the shorter wheelbase where the longer version was 153.5 inches. The Model J’s were automobiles of enormous size.

31 duesenberg

To demonstrate how rare the Duesenberg Model J are, only 481 vehicles were produced over the entire production run from 1928-1937. It’s been estimated that there are about 375 Duesenberg Model J’s still in existence today.

Reference material for this article includes…Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg by Don Butler…The Duesenberg : The Story of America’s Premiere Car by Louis William Steinwedel…Complete Book of Collectible Cars by the Editors of Consumer Guide.

A Very Rare Collector Automobile

With the very low number of Duesenberg Model J’s produced and with an estimated 370 still in existence, this luxurious and very powerful automobile has sold at top auction prices.

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Recent selling prices for Model J’s crossing the auction block have been in the $1M plus to $4M plus.

(Article and photos copyright Auto Museum Online)