The creations of brothers Fred and August Duesenberg are the stuff of legend. The cars and engines they built were among the very best the world had ever seen, and they put America on the motorsports map, racking up success at Indianapolis and LeMans. While the brothers were earning hardware on the track, they were also producing elegant and superbly built road cars. In 1926, E.L. Cord added Duesenberg to his quickly-growing industrial empire and challenged Fred to build the biggest, fastest, most expensive car in the world. Cord wanted to rival the great European marques like Mercedes Benz, Hispano-Suiza and Rolls-Royce for superiority on the roads. With the model J and its derivatives (SJ, SSJ, JN, SJN) were built around Fred Duesenberg’s masterpiece – the twin-cam, four-valve per cylinder straight eight that produced 265 horsepower in non-supercharged form. The Model J was capable of an incredible 119mph and was far and away the fastest and grandest car on American roads in its day.
Over the years, many attempts have been made to recapture the magic of the Duesenberg name, yet the near-mythical style and engineering brilliance of the E.L. Cord days remained elusive. Most of these attempts were half-baked concepts without the necessary funding to even reach production. But in the late 1970s, one company did manage to recapture some of that elusive Duesenberg character. Elite Heritage Motors of Elroy, Wisconsin was founded by Richard Braund; a car restorer from Elroy who also served as the Midwest car locator for the famed Harrah’s Auto Museum collection of Reno, Nevada. Mr. Braund had vast experience in the classic car business and a great appreciation for the big pre-war classics, which sparked his idea for a proper revival of the Duesenberg name. Braund based his operations in his home town, and began development on a car that could be a worthy successor to the original. While other attempts to revive the name resulted in gaudy neo-classics, or poorly built fiberglass replica jokes, Heritage Motors’ cars were exacting copies of the originals that rode on a bespoke chassis with Ford-derived suspension and running gear. But what really set the Heritage Motors vehicles apart from “replicars” was their exceptional build quality and amazing accuracy. It is said that each body style was precisely measured using an original example as a template, and each car utilized high-quality Lincoln engines and specially built frames. The grilles, bumpers and other details were expensive castings, and the bodies were hand-finished and assembled by a team of craftsmen working at the Elroy plant. These details meant the Duesenberg II was fabulously expensive – some models costing as much as $125,000 in 1981. With all of the grand looks of the originals yet with easily serviced running gear, these magnificent automobiles are genuine classics and real collector cars that are highly sought after by a select group of enthusiasts.
This fantastic example comes from the height of Duesenberg II production in 1982. It wears imposing Royalton Dual Cowl Phaeton bodywork and is instantly recognizable as a Duesenberg thanks to the exacting proportions and detailing. It shows just 3772 miles from new and presents in exquisite condition throughout. The bodywork and finishing is very straight and the burgundy paintwork in excellent order. A red coach stripe and tan top set off the main body, and it is detailed with dual side mount spares, a trunk, and correctly sized 19-inch chrome wire wheels on wide-whitewall tires, just as the original Model J would have worn. The radiator shell, windscreen frames, and other chrome details start as bronze castings and are then hand finished and triple-chrome plated – a testament to the quality and detail that went in to building the Duesenberg II.
Similarly, the interior remains true to the form of the original, but with tastefully integrated conveniences such as air conditioning, heat, radio, power seats and cruise control. A set of side curtains is included for weather protection. Upholstery is trimmed in high quality tan leather which presents in very good condition, evident that this example has been well kept and sparingly used. The fit and finish is excellent; appropriate for what was the most expensive American car in 1983.
Beneath the hood, the 5.8 liter Ford V8 is tidy and well presented. Modern ancillaries such as power steering and power brakes make for an easy and enjoyable driving experience. What truly sets the Duesenberg II apart from others is that it is one of a scant few that managed to successfully combine the elegant, pre-war proportions with a modern drivetrain without any semblance of awkward detailing or serious compromises. This is a remarkable automobile that not only captures the essence of the original Duesenberg in its styling, but also in the gorgeous build quality. They are highly prized for their accuracy, quality, and modern usability. These wonderful cars rarely become available on the open market, and are now legitimate classics in their own right.