There have been many great American carmakers that have graced the highways and byways of this country over the past 100-plus years. However, just because a manufacturer has made a truly solid ride, that doesn't mean it's going to be a sales hit. This was the case with the Duesenberg marque, the legendary car company that is credited with building what are arguably the most fabulous cars to ever hit the streets.
Frederick and August Duesenberg started their car company back in 1913 in Des Moines, Iowa, with dreams of creating the great American sports car. As early as 1914, it seemed like the brothers – two engineering geniuses – had accomplished just that, as their first project, constructed in less than a year, placed 10th in the Indy 500.
The duo's plans to make a full-fledged line of production vehicles were halted, like many other American entrepreneurs of the time, at the onset of World War I, where the Duesenbergs' civic duties outweighed their hopes of motoring greatness. Instead, they went into the airplane-engine manufacturing business, creating massive Bugatti engines in their Iowa factory on spec for the U.S. military.
While The Great War was rough on many businessmen who failed to bounce back, the Duesenbergs proved they were steadfast in their passion for automobiles, so as soon as a cease fire was declared, the brothers began working on their magnum opus.
The experience of putting together the Bugatti engines had given the brothers enough skill to develop a whole new engine themselves. This beast was the Duesenberg Straight 8, one of the largest engines made for an automobile at the time, which would go under the hood of the company's first true production car, the 1921 Model A.
This was a banner year for Duesenberg as the company not only finally got off the ground producing cars for the masses, but they even broke a European record when they became the first American automaker to win the Paris Grand Prix – a feat that would not be repeated until 1969.
Given all of this success on the track, one might assume that it would've been easy to market the Model A to everyday Americans. However, the Duesenbergs had no such luck – as good as they were at building a great race car, they were abysmal salesmen and simply couldn't get the public to pony-up the large chunk of change it cost to get behind this beast.
The Model A was clearly ahead of its time, as it featured four-wheel hydraulic brakes as well as an engine with four-valve heads and a single overhead camshaft – all things that we take for granted nowadays that were simply unheard of at the time. Although this model was a stinker when it came to sales, it was unparalleled on the tracks, taking consecutive Indy 500 wins in 1924 and 1925, and then again taking the title in 1927.
A year earlier, however, Frederick and August had faced an ultimatum – sell the brand to avoid falling into even greater debt or go down sinking with the ship. Although they had several investors come and go over the years, it had finally gotten to the point where the duo had no choice but to accept a sales bid from E.L. Cord of the Auburn Automobile company. Sadly for the Duesenberg nameplate, Cord was more interested in utilizing the brothers' prowess as designers than actually developing their brand.
The Model A was followed up with the equally impressive Model X – which only sold a total of 13 units – and the Model J, which was the badge's last attempt at creating a mainstream car.
Today, Duesenbergs are considered some of the most expensive, most badass classic American cars on the roads. Do you think Duesenberg saw its demise come about to soon? Leave your thoughts below:
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