Duesenberg may have only been a blip along the automotive industry’s vast timeline, but it left a lasting mark. And one of the car’s the company was best known for is the latest to be featured at Jay Leno’s Garage.
It’s a 1931 Duesenberg Model J, but only the chassis. Leno explained that be bought the car without a body and has left it that way since. Duesenberg allowed customers to completely customize their cars and often showed vehicles without a body. Toward the end of the company’s life, it often swapped different bodies onto the same chassis and called them “new.”
The Model J was the most powerful American-made car of its time and the inline-8 produced a whopping a 265 horsepower. The power figure is an astronomical one for the era, when cars such as the Chrysler Imperial managed 112 horsepower. The Duesenberg brothers had a knack for speed, and they were tasked with building the most powerful car in the world to rival luxurious vehicles from Europe. To that end, they succeeded with flying colors.
The Model J’s engine features twin cams and four valves per cylinder, and the car even featured four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes — the first American car to feature them. As Leno points out, the Duesenberg brothers’ fortunes might have been quite different had they patented their disc brake technology at the time. Alas, they didn’t, and other automakers would introduce their own systems in the years to come.
Duesenberg’s American exotic came to market just as the country slipped into the Great Depression. The Model J chassis alone cost a staggering $9,000 at a time when Ford sold a car for $260, and a house cost $1,600 on average. A completed base Model J cost between $13,000 and $19,000 and only a few hundred made their way into production before the company closed up shop in 1937.