Duesenbergs are a common sight on Jay Leno’s Garage, as the car-loving comedian is a big fan of the marque. But this 1934 Duesenberg Walker Coupe stands out because, according to Jay, it’s the most-expensive Duesey ever made. That means it cost $25,000 in 1934.
Built for Lilly Pharmaceutical president Josiah Lilly, the coupe is the only Duesenberg built with aerodynamic bodywork (by coachbuilder Walker), which designers were just beginning to experiment with in the 1930s.
Lilly’s demand for a modern-looking car led to the sleek roofline and V-shaped windshield, but also headlights that stick out of the front fenders like the eyes of an alien creature. The twin bumper beams were meant to look like biplane wings and were allegedly more aerodynamic than standard bumpers.
The aerodynamic features do work, according to Jay. He noted that the coupe requires fewer rpm to maintain a 70-mph cruise than a standard Duesenberg and that the cabin is much quieter than other cars of the period at speed.
The unique body is mounted on a chassis that weighs 4,400 pounds by itself, giving the car a total weight of more than 6,000 pounds, Jay said. Lugging all of that weight is the same 420-cubic-inch inline-8 engine introduced in 1928, which made 265 horsepower.
Lilly didn’t like the car and only kept it for one year. It was later sold to the mistress of a New York City politician, and then to a gas station owner who used it as a tow truck. It was then bought by a collector who conducted a low-quality restoration, Jay said. Duesenberg expert Randy Ema tipped Leno off to the car, kicking off a chaotic purchase and restoration process that ended up with Jay buying the car in the nick of time. The video is worth watching for that story alone.
Jay shows how impractical the car is. The various doors and compartments around the car all have their own keys, and it takes two people to fill the gas because the trunk doesn’t stay propped up. All the body panels are also incredibly heavy.
As usual, the last portion of the video features Jay driving the car on California roads. He says it accelerates nicely despite its weight and the engine has a throaty rumble.
Watch the video for more driving impressions and more of the great backstory of this one-of-a-kind car.
This article was originally published by Motor Authority, an editorial partner of ClassicCars.com.
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