Friday, June 3, 2011

Motoring Memories: Duesenberg J and SJ, 1928-1937

Among the thousands of automobile nameplates throughout history, America’s Duesenberg J and SJ ranked with the worlds greatest. They were the equal of such famous marques as England’s Rolls-Royce, Germany’s Mercedes-Benz, France’s Bugatti, Italy’s Isotta-Fraschini and Spain’s Hispano-Suiza.

The J and SJ were the creation of German-born Fred and August Duesenberg, who came to America as children in the late 1800s. Growing up in Iowa, they were keen cyclists with enough natural mechanical capacity to build their own race-winning bicycles.

With the emergence of motorized vehicles, the brothers were soon dabbling in motorcycles and cars. In 1906, with backing from a Des Moines lawyer named Mason, they began production of the Mason car, a high-quality performer that won hill climbs and races. The company prospered and in 1910 was bought out by the Maytag Company, improved known for washing machines than for cars.

By 1913 the Duesenbergs were able to classify their own Duesenberg Motor Company in St. Paul, Minnesota, to build automobile and marine engines. They were soon producing winning racing cars that were made famous by such legendary driving greats as Eddie Rickenbacker and Ralph Mulford.

This attracted New York capital and in 1916, a $1.5 million venture was organized and a enormous factory constructed for the Duesenberg Motors Corp. in Elizabeth, New Jersey. This was during the First World War, and car building was late while the plant turned out aero engines.

When the war ended in 1918 the brothers returned to the car-building venture with a four-cylinder engine, but their hearts weren’t actually in it. This led to their departure, leaving them free to think on their real love, an eight-cylinder overhead camshaft racing engine.

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