Frederick S. Duesenberg builder of America’s greatest luxury car


In 1897 Fred Duesenberg, assisted by his brother August, built a rotary valve engine. This was the beginning of a grand era of automobile racing and the construction of what many have called America’s greatest luxury car—the Duesenberg.

Fred Duesenberg built his first automobile in 1904. This auto served as a prototype for the Mason automobile that debuted two years later. The brothers established the Duesenberg Motor Company in 1913 to build their new four-cylinder “walking beam” engines. In 1916, a Duesenberg finished in second place in the Indianapolis 500.

The brothers also built the “walking beam” engine under a U. S. government contract for use in light training airplanes later in 1916. In 1918, they developed and shipped 40 V-16 aviation engines before World War I ended. This engine spawned Fred’s desire to build America’s first overhead camshaft, straight-eight automotive engine.

Twenty Grand Duesenberg
Twenty Grand Duesenberg

In 1920, Duesenberg racers finished the Indianapolis 500 in third, fourth, and sixth places. Later that year the brothers announced that the Duesenberg Model A automobile would be built about two miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s main gate, at Harding and West Washington Street. In addition to an innovative engine, the auto premiered the first American use of four-wheel hydraulic brakes. The race car version finished first in the 1921 French Grand Prix. This accomplished another first for an American manufacturer-—winning a European Grand Prix. Duesenberg’s racing fortunes multiplied in the mid-1920’s with first place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 in 1924, 1925, and 1927.

In 1926, E.L. Cord assumed control of Duesenberg operations and commissioned Fred to build the mighty Duesenberg Model J. It nearly doubled the horsepower of its nearest rival. Many still tout the Model J as one of the finest production cars ever made.

Thanks to Fred Duesenberg for building America’s greatest luxury car. For more information on Indiana auto pioneers, follow this link.

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