Tag Archives: Errett Lobban Cord

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.

Thanks to E. L. Cord

Recently, while reminiscing about my automotive obsession, I decided to offer a thank you to E.L. Cord. Indiana automotive pioneer Errett Lobban Cord is one of the individuals most responsible for the Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg automobiles of the classic era. Without his influence, insight, and entrepreneurship, these fine auto products of the Cord Corporation would never have existed.

Before graduating from high school, E.L. Cord demonstrated the spirit that led to his entrepreneurial success. He purchased a Model T Ford, modified its engine, hand-built a speedster body, and then sold it at a substantial profit. Later, he barnstormed for a time as a racing driver and mechanic, while continuing to sell modified Ford speedsters at an average of $500 profit per vehicle. In the early 1920’s, Cord became a successful salesman at the Moon Dealer in Chicago, Illinois.

1935 Auburn 852 Speedster
1935 Auburn 852 Speedster
Copyright © 2008 Dennis E. Horvath

In 1924, a group of investors enlisted Cord to salvage the faltering Auburn Automobile Company. He took over the general manager position at no salary with the provision to acquire a controlling interest in the company if his efforts were successful. Cord had the large stock of unsold cars repainted in bright, attractive colors. He also instituted new designs and models and offered them at attractive prices. Sales moved forward, and by 1926, E.L. Cord was president of the company. About the same time, he purchased Duesenberg Motors and instructed Fred Duesenberg to design the world’s finest motorcar.

1933 Duesenberg La Grande
1933 Duesenberg La Grande
Copyright © 2008 Dennis E. Horvath

In 1929, he assembled a holding company called the Cord Corporation. The holdings included Auburn, Duesenberg, Central Manufacturing, Lycoming Engine, Limousine Body, and Columbia Axle. In the 1930’s, he added Stinson Aircraft Co., Century Airlines, and New York Shipbuilding Corp.

1936 Cord sedan
1936 Cord sedan
Copyright © 2008 Dennis E. Horvath

Cord lured top designers, engineers and marketers to his companies and encouraged excellence. For example, Auburn became one of the first automakers to offer straight-eight power in a medium-priced car. He also introduced the Cord L-29 America’s first front-drive automobile and the magnificent Duesenberg Model J, the most luxurious and best-engineered motorcar of the day.

Production at the automotive operations ceased in 1937. Later, Cord developed a career in broadcast ownership, real estate, ranching, and politics.

Today, E.L. Cord’s automotive legacy is celebrated at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum, the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival over Labor Day weekend, and on numerous other occasions around the world. So, the next time you see one of these works of automotive art, be sure to offer a thank you to E.L. Cord.

This story was excerpted from Indiana Cars: A History of the Automobile in Indiana.