Category Archives: Duesenberg

Indiana’s place in automotive history

Indiana once vied for Michigan’s title as the automotive titan of the United States. It was at a time when the names of automobiles like Duesenberg, Stutz and Cord brought worldwide acclaim to the Hoosier state. Indiana’s contributions to automotive history have been numerous. Tilt steering, cruise control and hydraulic brakes are just three examples of the innovations created by Indiana automotive pioneers. Yet the innovators themselves have become nearly forgotten–overlooked as we take their inventions increasing for granted as part of the standard equipment on today’s models.

Indiana’s automotive innovation began with Elwood Haynes’ kitchen experiment on an internal combustion engine in the fall of 1893. Haynes’ research and development led to the demonstration of his “Pioneer” automobile along Pumpkivine Pike, outside Kokomo, on July 4, 1894. Haynes and two passengers traveled at a speed of seven miles an hour and drove about one and one-half miles further into the country. He then turned the auto around, and ran the four miles into town without making a single stop.

1894 Haynes Pioneer
Elwood Haynes in the 1894 Pioneer
Copyright Elwood Haynes Museum

“I remember as the “little machine” made its way along the streets we were met by a “bevy” of girls mounted on wheels.,” Haynes noted. “I shall never forget the expression on their faces as they wheeled aside, separating like a flock of swans and gazing wonder-eyed at the uncouth and utterly unexpected “little machine.”

In 1898 the Haynes-Apperson Company was incorporated and auto production was on its way in Indiana.

By the late 1800s Indiana’s plentiful supply of lumber had also lured several industries into its borders, including the makers of carriages and wagons. The automobile industry in the early 1900s was a natural offspring of carriage manufacturers, which could provide not just parts but the skilled labor as well. Five Indiana manufacturers entered commercial automobile production in the late 1890s.

1902 Studebaker Stanhope
1902 Studebaker Stanhope

By 1900, The Haynes-Apperson Automobile Company was one of the few firms in the country with annual production exceeding 100 units. In the 1900s, 74 different models were introduced by Indiana manufacturers. These models range from A to Z, with names like Auburn, Cole, InterState, Lambert, Marmon, Maxwell, National, Overland, Premier, Richmond, Studebaker, Waverly, and Zimmerman.

The growth spurt between 1910 and 1920 separated the nation’s auto makers into two groups–the “mass-produced auto giants” and the “craftsmen.” Most of Indiana’s auto makers chose to be “craftsmen” and purchased automotive parts and assembled them by hand. Thus, these companies were small, and many became known for producing high-class and high-priced cars. Nearly every one of the Indiana cars that became well-known were in this category, includ¬ing names like Duesenberg, Cord, Stutz and Cole, appealing to the upper end of the consumer market.

Twenty Grand Duesenberg
Twenty Grand Duesenberg

The teens saw the introduction of another 69 Indiana models. Included in this group are Elcar, Empire, Jack Rabbit, Lexington, McIntyre, McFarlan, Monroe, Parry, ReVere, and Stutz.

Until about 1920, there seemed to enough demand for both the “mass-produced” and “high-quality” cars. However, a series of eco¬nomic factors at this time helped contribute to the decline of Hoosier auto making. Price slashing and an expansion-crazed environment trapped Indiana manufacturers in a philosophical battle with the Michigan titans. Hoosiers were ill-prepared for this kind of competition, and most wanted to remain craftsmen choosing to concen¬trate on “higher priced” vehicles instead of diversifying. Plus, the economic recession in the early 1920s added more financial burdens on the population, which became increasingly interested in the “mass-produced auto.”

Michigan had the financial backers willing to commit financial resources to give the state’s auto manufacturing the boost it needed. The Hoosier financial community generally proved to be of little assistance to its own local automobile industry.

Indiana in the twenties saw this decline to 22 models introduced. Among these were Blackhawk, Cord, Duesenberg, Elgin, Erskine, H.C.S., Lafayette, and Roosevelt.

1963 Avanti
Copyright © 1962 Studebaker Corporation

Studebaker was the lone Hoosier survivor of the depression, continuing production for another 30 years, ending in December 1963.

Commercial production of the automobile in America began a little over 120 years ago, and America’s lifestyle has never been the same. Indiana automakers have made many contributions to that history. So, the next time you drive your car, you might wonder where you’d be without Indiana’s continuing automotive innovation and contributions.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.

The Duesenberg Factory

The Duesenberg Motors Company building complex was located of the southwest corner of West Washington Street and South Harding Street.

Duesenberg Final Assembly

Duesenbergs were produced in this ten-building complex from 1921 to 1937. The only building remaining from the complex today is the Final Assembly Building #3, just south of the intersection of Washington and Harding. This building has the restored sign Duesenberg Motors Company sign on the north façade facing Washington Street. The other nine buildings were demolished to build the Indy Metro bus maintenance facility in the early 1980’s.

The Final Assembly Building was constructed in 1922 and housed the road testing department, the machine shop, and the final finishing department for work on the chassis and engines. Measuring 15 bays long along Harding Street and three bays wide facing Washington Street, the building has steel-frame brick curtain walls, windows and doors. Included are “daylight shops” with a monitor skylight running the full length of the building, providing natural light to illuminate the factory floor.

In 1926, Errett Lobban Cord from Auburn bought the complex to produce the luxurious Model J Duesenberg, which had a custom body and a high-horsepower, straight-engine. The car sold for $14,000 to $20,000 in the 1920s and 1930s. The company counted movie stars, industrialists and millionaires as customers. Duesenberg 480 Model J cars between 1929 and 1937. Thirty-six had supercharged engines producing 320-horsepower.

One fact is particularly remarkable: over 75 percent of the original Model J Duesenbergs are still roadworthy some 90 years later. No other American marquee has been so fortunate.

The Duesenberg Motors Company building is one of over 30 Indianapolis automaker buildings and homes that still exist today. I invite you to take an Indianapolis Auto Tour to sample our automotive heritage. Click here to Plan Your Visit.

Schedule an Indianapolis Auto Tour

If you are an auto enthusiast looking to do something that is truly unique in Indianapolis, then scheduling an Indianapolis Auto Tour fits the bill.

Stutz Motor Car Company
The Stutz Motor Car Company

Did you know that at one time Indianapolis had more automobile manufacturers than Detroit?

Fortunately, Indianapolis still has over 30 manufacturing buildings and homes from this era to document this heritage. Did you know Indianapolis’ auto heritage is much more than auto racing.

Dennis E. Horvath is a “genuine car nut,” who enthusiastically shares his obsession for autos and touring. With a 20-year background sharing auto history, many have said that “Dennis brings the story of Indianapolis’ automotive heritage to life.”

Have Dennis travel along with you and learn about the Indianapolis auto leaders who had a significant impact on the American transportation experience. For example, find out about how Louis Chevrolet became the first builder to win two Indianapolis 500’s with cars built in Indianapolis. Hear about the Duesenberg brothers building their prestigious luxury cars and race cars on Washington Street. Learn about Carl G. Fisher, one of America’s forgotten promoters, starting as a bicyclist in the 1890’s and going on to promote auto racing and develop transcontinental highways and leisure destinations. Discover tidbits about Harry C. Stutz who accomplished an amazing feat with his first Stutz automobile that finished 11th in the 1911 Indianapolis 500-mile race.

These and many more unique stories allow you connect to our transportation heritage. It extends from our everyday car, to luxury cars, and modern highway systems. Indianapolis Auto Tours transport you back to the era when autos were more about the journey than the destination.

For anyone with even a passing interest in the auto industry, Indianapolis Auto Tours, conducted by Dennis Horvath, provides a fascinating look at how pervasive the industry once was in the city of Indianapolis. There are a surprising number of buildings still standing that help tell the story of the auto industry’s early days in Indy. Buildings that once housed legendary marques, such as Marmon, Stutz, Duesenberg, and numerous others still have a physical presence in the city, but many people unknowingly drive right past them every day. Dennis relates fascinating stories about not only the companies, but also the leading industry personalities who once occupied those buildings whose success in the formative years of the auto industry ensured their rightful place in history.
Ted Woerner,
Co-Owner, Miles Ahead

Click here to Plan Your Visit.

The luxurious Duesenberg Twenty Grand

Twenty Grand Duesenberg

The luxurious Duesenberg Model SJ Arlington Torpedo Sedan “Twenty Grand” debuted in 1933 in Chicago at the Century of Progress Exposition, in the Travel and Transportation Building. It was the most luxurious and expensive Duesenberg ever built. $20,000 was both its price tag and its namesake for the car soon became known as the “Twenty Grand.”

In 1932, preparations were underway at Duesenberg in Indianapolis, to create a sensational show car for the lakeshore event. Gordon Buehrig, then chief designer, adapted several of his own earlier coach styles into an all-new Torpedo Sedan.

The men in the plant installed a 320-horsepower supercharged engine in a long wheelbase chassis. The Rollston Body Company, noted for elegance, brought Buehrig’s design to life. Duesenberg body lines never had appeared so sleek as on the “Twenty Grand,” its dramatically long hood was completely uninterrupted by superfluous stylization.

A “V” shaped windshield slanted back aerodynamically. The four exposed exhaust pipes from the supercharged engine were covered with polished flexible stainless steel tubing. Mounted on the rear was a folding luggage rack, with a durable fabric resembling some exotic new leather, giving an amazing smoothness, covered the top.

The Torpedo Sedan was painted in a metallic lacquer of chromium color, described in the original publicity as a “platinum” hue, “stripped in dawn beige.” Inside, the upholstery was of imported gray leather, bound with silver patent leather. The plush seats were patterned as four separate armchairs. The sumptuous interior, bestowed instrument panels for both the front and rear passengers, paneled in two-tone burl walnut, inlaid with silver.

As with all Duesenbergs, the creators proclaimed for the “Twenty Grand” a top speed of 130 miles per hour, exceeding 100 miles per hour in second gear alone.

The show car was an enormous hit in Chicago, allowing the Depression-era world’s fair crowd to inhale, for a moment at least, the aura of glamour surrounding the “Twenty Grand,” whose price could just as well have applied to an elaborate home in 1933.

The most expensive Duesenberg that had yet been built never sold to an extravagant customer while it was new, and its unique design was never duplicated.

Today, the “Twenty Grand” is displayed in the Nethercutt collection in San Sylmar, California.

In the day, the “Twenty Grand” was the ultimate motorcar of era produced in Indianapolis. For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.

Duesenberg wins 1921 French Grand Prix

On July 25, 1921, Duesenberg was the first American car to win a European Grand Prix. Let’s take a look at how an Indianapolis-built car accomplished this feat.

British Pathe film with Jimmy Murphy in his Duesenberg winning the 1921 French Grand Prix.

After realizing some racing success in the United States, brothers Fred and Augie Duesenberg decided to enter four new straight-eight entries in the French Grand Prix in 1921, the first Grand Prix since 1914. They chose George Robertson as team manager. Robertson’s racing experience dated back to prior to winning the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup race on Long Island in the “Old Sixteen” Locomobile.

The team entered American drivers Jimmy Murphy and Joe Boyer and French drivers Albert Guyot and Andre Dubonnet. Then new 183 c.i. engines featured single overhead-camshafts with three valves per cylinder producing 120 horsepower at 4250 r.p.m. The racers also had hydraulic brakes which performed flawlessly.

The racers set off in pairs, with #6 Albert Guyot in fourth place, #12 Jimmy Murphy in fifth place, #16 Joe Boyer in tenth place, and #13 Andre Dubonnet in eleventh place. The first lap showed Boyer first and Murphy in third. In the second lap Murphy and Boyer moved into first and second places. In a short time the track broke up into loose gravel and flying stones. Guyot’s riding mechanic was knocked unconscious and had to be replaced.

By the tenth lap Duesenberg held first, third and fourth places. On the seventeenth lap Murphy regained the lead with Guyot in second. On the twenty fifth lap Dubonnet moved up to fourth. Jimmy Murphy in the #12 Duesenberg finished first with a 15 minute lead over Ralph De Palma’s #1 French-built Ballot.

Thompson Pattern Shop
Duesenberg racers at Thompson Pattern Shop

All of the Duesenberg race cars were built in the second floor of the Thompson Pattern shop across Washington Street from the Duesenberg plant complex in Indianapolis. Today, the #12 Duesenberg is displayed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.