It’s a Duesy!
I don’t know shit from shinola when it comes to Duesenbergs. I’ve always admired pictures of them and I’ve studied a few in person before, but I’ve never really gotten close and personal with one. I’m a pretty casual guy and always labeled Duesenbergs as stuffy… formal… cars built for the man who enjoys a touch of Bourbon to ease the pain his bow-tie inexplicably provides. They just seemed so damned un-touchable on the outside that I never took the time to get to know one on the inside.
A buddy of mine is more open minded. He’s a hot rodder and owns a number of pretty significant historical cars. He’s also into Duesenbergs. He and a group of fellas like him are currently running a 1000 mile rally here in Central Texas and, as it turns out, their map put them (and their 17 Duesenbergs) right in my neck of the woods yesterday. I got the camera, hopped in my ’39, and went to check it out.
The first thing you notice when you park a ’39 next to a Duesenberg is the utter size of luxury. These cars (even the speedsters) are GI-FRIGGIN-GANTIC! Typical Duesenbergs weight in at around 3-tons and feature wheel bases of around 150″. My little Ford looked like a VW parked amongst Chevrolet Suburbans – the size disparity was that big.
Once I got over the utter shock of their size, I began to take in the details that hugely expensive cars like these often feature. It’s easy to get lost thinking about how many hours were spent hand crafting each of these one-off/coach-built automobiles. Nothing (and I mean nothing) was overlooked during their construction. The simplest of brackets is engineered, sculpted, and plated until it is a work of art. Each body features details, lines, and configurations unique to each other. The straight eight power plants are detailed to the nines – sometimes blown, sometimes not. Always gorgeous. And the dashes… Oh, the Duesenberg dash. Stunning.
It was a bit over whelming as each of the big cars lumbered into view. Every car represents an opportunity to see and study so many little details that it’s easy to lose track of time while doing so. Still, it wasn’t until a 1935 JN Roadster pulled into view that I truly became inspired.
In and around 1934, a woman named Carole Lombard bought herself a Duesenberg J chassis and then had Bohman and Schwartz build her a roadster body. The finished product was to be a gift for her husband – Clark Gable. Clark, as you can imagine, was absolutely smitten with the car. So much so, in fact, that when Carole tragically died in 1942 he left the car in Canada with instruction that he never see it again.
So there I was… yesterday… standing in a dusty gravel parking lot of an old Texas BBQ joint when Clark’s multi-million dollar roadster pulled up. It was like the skies opened up and the sea parted. I could have sworn I heard angels singing. I can’t remember the last time I was touched so emotionally by a car as I was right then. It was sex on wheels.
Of course, I’m still a casual guy and I couldn’t stop myself from putting this into some kind of “dirt bag” perspective. Truly and honestly, you know who I thought about almost instantly? Harry Westergard. I thought about him staring at a poor man’s ’36 Ford roadster and dreaming about the possibilities. I can’t help but think that some of these Duesenbergs were, at least in part, inspiration for some of his earlier efforts.
Gentlemen, I love old cars.