Tag Archives: Duesenberg

Wall Smacker by Peter De Paolo

On January 21st, I attended the Indiana Racing Memorial Association’s Collectible Show and found Wall Smacker a book written by Peter De Paolo in 1935.

Pete De Paolo in his 1925 Duesenberg
Pete De Paolo in his 1925 Duesenberg

After perusing the many tables of racing collectibles, I picked De Paolo’s book to learn about auto racing in the early days. In this well-written book, De Paolo describes his life as a riding mechanic and as championship driver from 1920 to 1935.

His introduction started watching his Uncle Ralph De Palma’s racing exploits at the Brighton Beach Course in 1914, where he won all five of the program’s races. His uncle went on to win the 1915 Indianapolis 500 driving a Mercedes Benz. Shortly thereafter, his uncle convinced De Paolo to get some mechanical experience working on cars in New York City.

In the fall of 1919, his uncle hired him as a riding mechanic on a Ballot racer that they campaigned across the country in 1920. Of his first racing experience at the Beverly Hills, California, board speedway, De Paolo stated, “I’ll never forget the thrills that were packed into those opening laps of my first speed experience.” He shares a lot of details of his first experience at the Indianapolis 500 where they finished fifth. Later that summer, they raced Ballot racers in France and Italy.

After the spring 1922 Beverly Hills race, De Paolo parted working with his Uncle Ralph. De Paolo started his first race driving one of Louis Chevrolet’s Frontenacs. In his first Indianapolis 500 driving the Frontenac, at 255 miles he had a lap and a half lead before having to stop for fuel and tires. After returning to the race, while attempting to pass three Duesenbergs, he slid into the northeast infield and smacked the inside wall and damaged the transmission. As the relief driver for Joe Thomas’ Duesenberg, De Paolo finished in tenth place.

In 1924 at Indianapolis, De Paolo finished in sixth place driving a Duesenberg Special. He drove the rest of the season for Duesenberg. In spring 1925, De Paolo finished second at Culver City, California, and first at Fresno, California. De Paolo’s confidence was growing as they reached Indianapolis for the 500. He qualified in second place to start the race. By the 25th lap as he came down the home stretch, no other car was less than a mile behind him. On his 250-mile pit stop, he was relieved from his car for bleeding hands. When he took over again, his car was in fifth place and quickly moved up to second place. He soon drove the Duesenberg Special to first place. In winning the Thirteenth Annual Indianapolis Classic he set a record of 101.13 miles an hour average, which stood for seven years, and answered a question many times asked of him – “What was your greatest thrill?” His total winnings were approximately $40,000. Later that summer, he won at Altoona, Pennsylvania, and Laurel, Maryland.

He continued to win in 1926, at Fulford-By-the-Sea, near Miami, Florida, and finished fifth at Indianapolis. He finished third place in the national standings. He continued to race in 1927, winning again at Altoona, and finishing second at Salem, New Hampshire and won the AAA National Championship. He retired from racing in 1929. In 1935, he was the mentor for Kelly Petillo in winning the Indianapolis 500.

Pete De Paolo had a colorful career in auto racing. His book Wall Smacker does a great job telling his story. I invite you obtain a copy and enjoy the story.

You should attend the Indiana Racing Memorial Association’s Collectible Show in late January and the Indy Bench Racing Weekend in late March to find some racing collectibles.

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.

Indiana Automotive Innovations

Throughout the past, Indiana manufacturers have made major contributions to the automobile. For example, in 1902, the Marmon motorcar had an air-cooled overhead valve V-twin engine and a revolutionary lubrication system that used a drilled crankshaft to keep its engine bearings lubricated with oil-fed under pressure by a gear pump. This was the earliest automotive application of a system that has long since become universal to internal combustion piston engine design.

Would you believe tilt-steering was introduced in 1903by Haynes? The 1903 Haynes use of a tilting steering column allowed easy access for the driver and/or passenger upon entering of leaving the vehicle. This feature didn’t become popular on most production cars until about seventy years later.

1911 Marmon
1911 Marmon

In 1911 Haynes Automobile Company was the first to equip an open car with a top, a windshield, head lamps and a speedometer as standard equipment.

Studebaker introduced a deferred payment plan in 1916 with an initial 25 percent cash payment and 12 equal monthly payments. In less than ten years, 50 percent of all cars sold in America were bought on time.

In 1922, The Model A Duesenberg was the first U.S. production motorcar with hydraulic brakes, the first with an overhead camshaft, and the first U.S. straight eight engine. Ninety-two of these luxury cars were sold in 1922, a number that rose to 140 in 1923.

Stutz installed safety-glass windshields as standard equipment on its 1926 high-priced motorcar models.

The first motorcar with front-wheel drive, The Cord L-29, was introduced by E. L. Cord’s Auburn Automobile Company. Front-wheel drive didn’t become popular for another 50 years. Also in 1929 Marmon warranted a listing in the Guiness Book of Records for its factory-installed radio.

E. L. Cords 1937 Cord Beverley Sedan
E. L. Cords 1937 Cord Beverley Sedan

The Cord 810 introduced in 1936 was a sleek modern motorcar with advanced features that include disappearing headlights, rheostat-controlled instrument lights, variable speed windshield wipers, a steering column mounted electric gear pre-selection unit, and was the first automobile in this country to adopt full unit body construction.

Studebaker was the first American car to offer windshield washers in 1937.

Ralph Teetor, Perfect Circle Corporation president, invented cruise control debuting in 1958 on the Chrysler Imperial, New Yorker and Windsor models.

1964 Studebakers
1964 Studebakers

For the 1964 model year, its last in Indiana, Studebaker broke with the majors and became the first U.S. maker to offer seat belts as standard equipment.

That’s the story of Indiana automotive innovations. For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.

Dennis E. Horvath is speaking at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum

Dennis E. Horvath will kick off the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum’s “Speakers Series” in the facility’s new multi-purpose meeting room on February 16th @ 4:15 – 6:15 pm.

Dennis E. Horvath with 1928 Auburn 8-88 Speedster
Dennis E. Horvath with 1928 Auburn 8-88 Speedster

As many of you know, I have written several books and made numerous presentations about Indiana’s automotive history and culture. I am honored to kick-off the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum’s “Speakers Series” with my popular presentation “Mileposts in Indiana Automotive History” and a discussion at the museum for members and guests.

Mileposts in Indiana Automotive History shares some of the legends, facts and figures that reflect Indiana’s role in America’s automotive heritage, when marques such as Duesenberg, Stutz and Studebaker propelled the state into a position where the number of Indiana auto manufacturers rivaled Detroit.

This presentation is a perfect companion to the museum’s current special exhibition, Indiana Automobiles: Precision Over Production, which currently has more than 35 historic, Indiana-built passenger cars, and several iconic race cars on display. Check out my Monday blog posts at Cruise-IN.com documenting some the cars in the exhibit.

See you at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum’s “Speakers Series” on February 16th.

For more information and reserve your spot 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.