Brothers Fred and August Duesenberg are heroic figures in the annals of automotive history. With the guidance and financial backing of E.L. Cord, they created a masterpiece of engineering and the archetypal American Classic Era automobile, the Duesenberg Model J. The Model J was far and away the fastest, most potent, and most technologically advanced automobile money could buy in the early 1930s and the best examples can be worth millions of dollars today.
Often with iconic collector cars, demand is far higher than the finite supply, and values become so great that cars rarely see use on the road. As a solution, enthusiasts turned to authentic replicas that recreate the experience of the original, while being safer, readily serviced, or available at a more manageable price point – whatever the motivation may be. We are not talking about frequently dubious kit cars; rather, examples of genuinely authentic copies that have become collectible in their own right. Sports cars like the Beck Porsche, ERA Cobra, and Ostermeier Gullwing offer up similar thills of the original in a usable package that can often be difficult to differentiate from the genuine article. When it comes to pre-war American classics, however, beautiful recreations become scarce. Their larger size and exposed chassis make it challenging to get the proportions right using modern components. Glenn Pray was one of the few to successfully recreate the looks and dimensions of a 1930s classic with his Auburn recreations from the 1970s, and the Duesenberg II also came close with their beautifully-built Ford-based continuations, yet rarely do we see similar creations today.
In the early 2000s, the owner of a genuine Duesenberg Model J had the idea to build a thoroughly modern, usable, and road-worthy tribute to one of the most desirable of all Model Js: The disappearing top roadster by Murphy. Of course, nothing even close to what he envisioned existed in the market, so he enlisted the help of the experienced designer and prototype builder Steve Pasteiner of Michigan-based Advanced Automotive Technologies to build his vision from the ground up.
Mr. Pasteiner worked as a designer for General Motors for 22 years, ultimately rising to the position of Assistant Chief Designer for the Buick and Chevrolet divisions. He founded AAT as a prototyping and fabrication shop to serve the Detroit auto industry, producing numerous one-off show vehicles and other special projects. Pasteiner was passionate about Classic Era automobiles, and many of his designs reflected that – making him the ideal candidate to create this unique homage to the legendary Duesenberg J.
The question of scale was one of the earliest obstacles to overcome. A Duesenberg J is a big car, with a tall radiator and a standard wheelbase of 142.5 inches. Finding a platform large and robust enough was the first challenge. The solution came in the form of a 1-ton Ford E350 van, which had a suitably strong chassis, and importantly for the designers, the “Twin I-Beam” front axle which conveniently mimicked the look of the original Model J’s solid beam axle. AAT used a brand new E350 as their basis, stripping it down to a bare frame as the first order of business. It was then narrowed, and the rear cut off and replaced with a custom-built section that incorporated the Ford axle on a bespoke four-link setup with air ride springs. Using an original Lycoming twin-cam inline-eight was not a viable option, so the team utilized the E350’s existing Triton V10, which makes over 300 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. The engine and transmission were moved more than a foot rearward, to accommodate the long-bonnet proportions of the design.
With the mechanical spec set, the next order of business was to create the body. Using the Murphy Roadster as inspiration, the team at AAT crafted a gorgeous, authentically detailed body out of fiberglass and steel and finished it in a striking combination of metallic silver and medium gray, with subtle red striping. The paint quality is simply outstanding and reflects the meticulous care paid to every aspect of this build. Details include dual side-mount spares with body-color covers, a functional rumble seat, suitably large period-correct headlamps, dual Trippe lights, and “STOP” lights with LED bulbs for safety. The quality of the coachwork is revealed in the impressively solid action of the doors, the even panel gaps, and thoughtful details like the piano-hinged covers over the side windows. While the body is true to scale and form of the original Murphy roadster, Steve Pasteiner took some artistic liberties with the detailing that give this car its unique identity. Most notable are the 20-inch custom billet wheels wrapped in black-wall Excelsior tires, which combine with the adjustable air-ride suspension to provide an aggressive stance.
The stunning interior features gorgeous red leather seats and door panels, accented with gray carpets and a body-color dash. The level of quality is worthy of the show floor at the Detroit Auto Show or the concours field alike. The removable hardtop is lined in red Alcantara, and it fits snugly against the windows. An array of gauges by Classic Instruments sit in a polished, engine-turned alloy fascia, balancing contemporary style and function with timeless classic looks. Modern equipment includes power windows, air conditioning, full sound system, and controls for the air ride suspension, all subtly integrated to keep the cabin on-theme.
Ford’s big petrol V10 is a highly capable engine designed for extreme duty, yet it isn’t necessarily the prettiest thing in standard form. So the designers worked around this by creating a bespoke cowling that allows for serviceability and cooling, and finished it in body colors to give the engine bay a clean and smooth look. In the interest of proportions and chassis balance, the engine sits nearly a foot further back in the frame, and custom fabricated cooling pipes are used to connect it to the radiator. Aside from the cold-air intake, the V10 is primarily stock, paired with the original automatic transmission. Power steering, power disc brakes from the E350, and air conditioning remain in place for ease of operation in all conditions. With the car showing just over 800 miles from new, everything looks fresh and impeccably clean under the hood.
This astonishing Duesenberg is a rare example of modern technology and Classic Era style blending seamlessly into one. Designed and built by a talented and experienced team, this fabulous automobile cruises effortlessly and is suitable for long-distance touring, show, or casual weekend drives, and is sure to draw a crowd wherever it takes its next owner.
Offers welcome and trades considered