Brothers Fred and August Duesenberg are undoubtedly two of the most influential personalities in the evolution of the automobile. Their engineering prowess can be compared with the likes of Harry Miller, Ettore Bugatti and Ferdinand Porsche among others, and the machines that bear their name continue to be among the most desirable and valuable American automobiles ever produced. Of course, most casual enthusiasts immediately think of the J and SJ series of the early 1930s when the Duesenberg name is mentioned. After all, the J was a great among greats, the fastest and most powerful American automobile, producing 265 horsepower (320 in supercharged form) at a time when other luxury cars could hardly top 150 horsepower. The SJ and its short-wheelbase version could be considered the first Supercar. But before the Model J, and before E.L. Cord’s takeover of the firm, there was the Straight Eight, commonly known as Model A: Fred and August’s very first serial production model.
The Duesenberg Model A (officially marketed as the “Straight Eight”) was a very fine automobile that was saddled by lackluster business decisions by the company’s bosses. The Duesenberg brothers recognized they were better engineers than businessmen, and set to work in establishing a new company structure that handed the business dealings over to Newton Van Zandt and Luther M. Rankin. The new owners established a new factory in Indianapolis and work began on designing a new production car. A prototype was shown early in 1920, however following a last-minute redesign of the engine (Fred decided an overhead cam should replace the original side-rocker arm arrangement) the initial buzz surrounding the car had faded, hampering sales. Much of the company’s money had been spent on the factory, leaving little left over for actual production. Projections were for 2,400 cars per year, but that quickly became a pipe-dream when actual production was more like 1 car per day. But Duesenberg soon found their footing and sales of the Model A gradually gained momentum.
The car itself was a true standout. It was the very first serial production car in America to feature an inline-eight cylinder engine – dubbed “Eight-in-a-Row” in period advertising. The engine drew heavily from Duesenberg’s racing experience, displacing 260 cubic inches (about 4.3 liters) and featuring an overhead camshaft, crossflow combustion chambers, detachable head, and a healthy 88 horsepower output. The chassis was a conventional ladder frame with well-tuned suspension and four-wheel hydraulic brakes; the first production car to feature them. Brake drums were of finned alloy to aid in cooling, another lesson learned on the race track. Ultimately, history was not on the side of the Model A, while it is no doubt a brilliant automobile; it seems to have lived in the shadow of its more flamboyant Model J siblings.
We are very proud to offer this 1922 Duesenberg Straight Eight Model A; magnificent example of this ground-breaking automobile from one of the greatest names in automotive history. This stunning Duesenberg wears a stylish Sport Phaeton body by Millspaugh & Irish, the Indianapolis-based coachbuilder responsible for most Duesenberg A bodies. As this car was initially discovered, part of the original coachwork had been modified, though it has since been meticulously researched and restored in original specification, executed to the highest standard. The car, which has importantly received an ACD #1 Certification, is presented in a gorgeous tri-tone color scheme with a dove gray main body and dark gray fenders being subtly accented with a deep red chassis and wheels. It is an understated yet breathtaking look that suits the sporty coachwork very well. Body and paint quality is to concours levels with outstanding fit and finish. Detailing is understated, with the beautifully polished nickel radiator flanked by drum headlamps as correct, and topped with a winged Duesenberg-branded Moto-Meter. Dual side mounts feature upholstered covers and very cool period mirrors. Dual cowl lamps are affixed to the windscreen frame and a painted metal trunk sits out back. Bumpers and other bright trim are finished to a very high standard in keeping with the rest of the body.
The cabin is trimmed in black leather which presents in beautiful, fresh condition showing little to no signs of use since the restoration. Door panels feature pockets with embossed flaps and the rear of the front seat is equipped with built-in wooden cabinets, presumably for storing a lap blanket for crisp morning drives. The Dash is finished in black lacquer as correct and a Duesenberg 8-branded Warner De Luxe instrument cluster sits front and center. The beautiful wooden steering wheel has been restored with a furniture grade finish. The folding top is trimmed in black canvas and remains taut, with a full set of side curtains included.
Of course, the highlight of any Duesenberg is the engine, and this exquisite example does not disappoint. The overhead-cam straight eight is beautifully presented against the polished alloy firewall as original. The engine is painted in a light dove-gray, which is correct for these early Duesenbergs, as only the later cars got the signature bright green treatment. The cam cover is polished alloy, the wiring loom gorgeous nickel plated steel, and the ancillaries are all finished to concours quality standards, including the Robert Bosch horn on the firewall. The engine is impeccably presented, a gorgeous piece of engineering that also delivers excellent performance out on the road.
Shown at Pebble Beach in 2010 where it also participated in the Pebble Beach Tour, this fine Duesenberg Model A has also received its ACD club Certification, as well as an ACD Club National award and an AACA Junior award in 2011. Rarely do early Duesenbergs such as this appear on the open market, and this is a fine opportunity to acquire a fabulously restored example wearing beautiful coachwork. It remains very fresh and is ready to continue its show successes, and will surely provide a rewarding experience on the road, thanks to the astounding performance from the highly advanced eight-cylinder engine and impeccable restoration.