Monthly Archives: March 2017

Duesenberg the ultimate Indianapolis-built motorcar

Duesenberg the ultimate Indianapolis-built motorcars are in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit. Visit the Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit today.

1933 Duesenberg Model J Berline
1933 Duesenberg Model J Berline

Before their move to Indianapolis in 1920, the Duesenberg brothers Fred and August built extremely high quality and advanced engines and automobiles, but were seldom financially successful. Part of their reason for moving to Indianapolis was to return to their racing roots and be near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where they had already enjoyed some success. The speedway also could be used for testing their passenger cars as well as the racers.

Their most famous racer appeared in 1920, a 183 c.i. eight-cylinder engine with single overhead camshaft and three valves per cylinder. It won the 1921 French Grand Prix. In the 1920’s Duesenberg racing cars were the great rivals of the Millers at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and victory was assured in 1924 by the adoption of a cen¬trifugal supercharger. Duesenberg enjoyed repeat victories in 1925 and 1927. It is interesting that the Duesenberg racing operations were not officially supported by the auto production firm. The racing operations were located on the second floor of the Thompson Pattern Shop directly across Washington Street from the factory. The operations were a separate entity headed by August Duesenberg.

The first Duesenberg production car debuted at the end of 1920. This Model A was an extremely expen¬sive, very advanced, luxurious car, which pioneered the use of straight eight-cylinder engines and four-wheel hydraulic brakes. The Model A was produced until 1926. In 1926, Errett Lobban Cord of Auburn, acquired con¬trol of the company. He commissioned Fred Duesenberg, to develop the ultimate motorcar that would outclass all American makes.

The Model J, introduced at the New York Automobile Salon for the 1929 model year, was the most remarkable automobile in America: bigger, faster, more elaborate and more expensive than any other. Its 420 c.i., eight cylinder engine, had dual overhead camshafts operating four valves per cylinder; a layout of rac¬ing type said to develop 265 bhp at 4,250 rpm. Although the complete car weighed more than 4,980 pounds, it was claimed to be capable of 116 mph in top gear and 89 mph in second.

In 1929, the cost of the long, low-built chassis was $8,500. Duesen¬bergs were very popular with all leading coachbuilders and the com¬pany preferred to sell cars complete with bodies designed by them but made by approved builders (i.e. Murphy, Bohman & Schwartz, Judkins, Derham and LeBaron). In this form, catalogued models cost up to $18,000.

In 1932 a supercharged version of the Model J, the SJ, was added. A maximum speed of 129 mph was given the SJ, with an accelera¬tion figure of 0 100 mph in 17 seconds.

Celebrity buyers included New York Mayor, Jimmy Walker; William Randolph Hearst, Eliza¬beth Arden, Mae West, Gary Cooper and Clark Gable. The make survived the Depres¬sion but died in the collapse of the Cord Corporation in 1937. The total Model J production was 480.

Duesenberg’s were the ultimate Indianapolis-built motorcar. Today, we can enjoy them at displays and collections across the country.

For more information on Indiana-built automobiles follow this link.

The Cord debuts Streamline Style

The Cord debuts Streamline Style in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit is the 1930 L-29 Cord. Visit the Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit today.

1932 L-29 Cord
1930 L-29 Cord

Renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright once described the first Cord model as “the best design from my ‘streamline’ standpoint ever put on the market”. Made in Connersville, the Cord L-29, with its long, sweeping fenders, did indeed set a new course in automotive design.

The Cord L-29 was introduced in August 1929 as a 1930 model. It was the first production automobile with front-wheel drive and was made to fill the gap between the low-priced Auburn and the top-of-the-mark Duesenberg in the Cord Corporation line of cars. The Cord sedan and brougham were priced at $3,095 each, and the cabriolet and phaeton were $3,295.

Project engineer Cornelius W. Van Ranst designed the new front-wheel drive system around the units in the successful Indianapolis 500 racecars. Harry Miller and Indianapolis driver Leon Duray served as consultants on the project. Alan H. Leamy was the chief stylist.

Cord claimed advantages in safety, easy handling, comfort, and durability. Plus, front-wheel drive provided a lower body silhouette, allowing a distinctive and pleasing front end appearance that appealed to coachbuilders.

The L-29 was available in four models: a convertible Cabriolet with rumble seat, four-door convertible Phaeton Sedan, five-passenger Sedan, and the five-passenger Brougham. All four models sported a stylish cadet-type visor. The Cabriolet and the Phaeton Sedan stood only 58 inches high, some 12 inches lower than their competitors. They are known for their long, low, racy lines. Their narrow corner posts provided a clear field of vision. The V-shaped radiator grille would inspire a throng of imitators, most notably the 1931 Chrysler Imperial.

The L-29 regularly won prizes in the European Concours d’Elegance, which was quite an accomplishment for an American manufacturer. A Cord L-29 Cabriolet was also the pace car for the 1930 Indianapolis 500-mile race.

Unfortunately, the Cord L-29, which was the first automobile to bear Errett Lobban Cord’s name, was introduced only two months before the stock market crash in October 1929. Although praised for its quality, sales didn’t reflect its popularity. The L-29 was built from 1929-1931 with only 5,010 units produced. The last cars were 1932 models.

After a lapse of four years, the Cord name was revived for 1936. Gordon M. Buehrig’s original work on the Cord Model 810 began as a “baby Duesenberg” in 1933. By December 1934, the design of the new front-wheel-drive model was essentially complete and then shelved. When the project was revived in July 1935, there was less than four months in which to build and test a prototype, tool up, and get the cars into production for the New York Auto Show on November 2, 1935. The company made the deadline, but without the transmissions in place. Plus, the phaetons were without any tops. The missing parts didn’t matter. The Cord 810 stopped the show. People had to stand on surrounding cars just to get a glimpse of Cord’s exciting new design. Cord received over 7,600 requests for more information on the 810. Unfortunately, due to unanticipated production start-up problems, almost six months would pass before any deliveries were made.

The new catalog boasted, “The New Cord demonstrates that it is possible to build a radically different kind of motor car which is, nevertheless, completely in accord with the very highest standards of beauty and good taste. ”We predict that the New Cord will exert a pronounced influence upon the future offerings of the entire automotive industry.” The company extolled further, “You will be constantly amazed that a car so low in design should be so spacious and provide so much head and leg room.”

The first Cord 810 rolled off the assembly line in Connersville on February 15, 1936. Innovations on the Cord 810 included disappearing headlights, concealed door hinges, rheostat-controlled instrument lights, variable speed windshield wipers, Bendix Electric Hand (steering column mounted-electric gear pre-selection unit), and factory installed radio. The model was the first automobile in the United States to adopt unit body construction in its full sense.

In November 1936, the company introduced the Cord 812 for the 1937 model year. An example of the model’s claim-to-fame was its use as the official chief observer’s car for the 1937 Indianapolis 500 mile race.

When production of the Cord automobile was terminated in October 1937, fewer than 3,000 Model 810/812 units had been produced. The automotive operations of Cord Corporation died when E.L. Cord shifted his focus to other interests.

In their day, these Cords stirred the imagination of the motoring public. Their clean simplicity of line, exciting innovations, and luxurious appointments won much admiration and many awards. The Cord Model 810/812 is revered by many as one of the most popular classic cars of all time.

For more information on Indiana-built automobiles, follow this link.