Do you know the small German city Lemgo in Lippe County? This town has the district Matorf-Kirchheide, which probably is only known to its residents. However, the fact that a pair of brothers who wrote automotive history came from this village about 25 kilometers east of Bielefeld is only known to die-hard car fans – and now also to our readers. Friedrich and August Düsenberg emigrated from here with their widowed mother and four siblings to Iowa in the USA in 1885. There, the ‘ü’ in the surname was soon exchanged for the English spelling for an ‘ue’. Friedrich became Frederick, Fred or Fritz while August was called Augie. From 1897 the brothers produced bicycles and made their first experiences with motorized two-wheeled vehicles as well as with tuning of automobiles. After the insolvency of their own company, the two worked for the Mason Motor Company for several years and finally founded the Duesenberg Motor Company in 1913 in St. Paul/Minnesota. Before and during World War 1, this company exclusively designed and produced engines for aircrafts and boats. It was only after the war that they started developing their own cars, which were also used in motor sports. At the Indy 500 in 1920 a Duesenberg achieved a new world record with an average speed of 251 kph (156 mph) over one lap and in the following year another Duesenberg won the Grand Prix of France in Le Mans.
From 1926, Duesenberg belonged to the group of companies of Errett Lobban Cord, which also included the car brands Cord and Auburn. Duesenberg was specifically placed at the top of this trio and luxurious automobiles were developed accordingly. The Model J with a 6.9 liter inline eight-cylinder engine and 265 hp from 1929, as well as its successor Model SJ with supercharger and 320 hp, presented three years later, soon found their way into the garages of musicians, actors, monarchs and other VIPs. Each vehicle was an individual one-off, as bodyworks back then were made by independent coachworkers according to customer wishes. It wasn’t until 1930 that Duesenberg with the fictious company LaGrande also introduced the option of factory-built bodies for their cars. After the death of Fred Duesenberg in 1932, the company lacked their most ingenious designer, which reduced the company’s reputation just as much as the fact that the Cord Group totally missed the trend of building self-supporting bodies without separate frame. In 1937, the Cord company slipped into insolvency, tearing Auburn and Duesenberg out of business as well.
After World War 2 Augie Duesenberg tried to revive the car brand in 1947, but due to a lack of financial support it never came into being. Instead, his son Fred Duesenberg (nephew of Friedrich ‘Fred’ Duesenberg, the founder of the original company) founded the Duesenberg Corporation in 1964 together with several American donors. The famous automobile designer Virgil Exner had a luxurious sedan designed, which ultimately didn’t go into serie production, as this company also ran out of money. In 1976, the great-nephews of Fred and Augie, Harlan and Kenneth Duesenberg tried again to go on a trip into the world of automobile manufacturers with their ‘New Duesenberg Brothers Company’ based in Chicago. However, they only produced a few copies of their Model E based on a moderately modified Cadillac Fleetwood.
Let us come back to the just mentioned sedan of the Duesenberg Corporation, which made its debut as the Duesenberg Model D in 1966 and owes its design to none other than Virgil Exner. He had already drawn this representative car in 1964 and published the sketches in the Esquire magazine, where he had previously shown modern designs for the revival of other American car brands like Mercer, Pierce-Arrow or Packhard. He deliberately chose the then current ‘Revival’ design, in which styling features of the pre-war period were taken up. Model D, for example, shows wheel arches far cut out to the rear, the shape of which is reminiscent of the overhanging fenders of the 1920s and 30s. In 1965, the Duesenberg Corporation bought the plans and sketches for the Model D from Exner and ordered a running prototype at Ghia in Italy. The prototype was on its wheels in the spring of 1966 and was advertised in full-page ad campaigns in the USA to generate as much interest as possible. It was pointed out that the purchase price of US$ 19,500 (at that time the highest price for a car on the American market) already included every conceivable extra on board and that there was no list of options. In fact, the prototype was equipped with an air conditioning system, and AM/FM radio, folding tables and additional instrumentation in the rear. Despite orders from stars such as Jerry Lewis or Elvis Presley, the company ran out of money and the Model D never went into mass production. Not even the US$ 500 dealer’s commission per signed sales contract could be paid out, which is why one of the disgruntled dealers had the only existing prototype seized and auctioned off.
Thus the Model D, which is technically based on the platform of a 1966 Imperial with a 7.2 liter V8 engine, came into private ownership for the first time. At a later date, the car was exhibited in the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum for almost 30 years. It then moved into the Concept Car section of the Bortz Auto Collection. To date, only about 800 miles of mileage have been recorded on the functioning instruments. The car still has its original ‘Maroon’ paintwork, except for a repainted front right fender, and the leather and cashmere interior installed by Ghia. Now RM Sotheby’s offers this unique vehicle at an auction in Auburn Fall and expects a hammer price between US$ 300,000 and US$ 350,000.
Images: RM Sotheby’s, Keith Treder