Historic Structures

Duesenberg Automobile Company, Indianapolis Indiana

Date added: March 23, 2016 Categories: Indiana Industrial Auto Companies

The production of the Duesenberg passenger automobiles Models A and J, between 1921 and 1936 in Indianapolis, corresponded to similar automobile and associated parts manufacturing in this city. Other companies such as Stutz, Cole, Harmon and Lafayette produced a variety of passenger automobiles. Between 1900 and 1940, 110 different cars and trucks, prototypes and full production models were manufactured in Indianapolis. Presto-Lite, Allison, Diamond Chain and Wheeler-Schebler were the suppliers of head lamps and batteries, engines, drives and carburetors.

The relocation of the Duesenberg brothers, Fred S. (1876-1932), the designer and August S. (1879-1955), the chief engineer signaled the arrival in Indianapolis of one of the most experienced engineering and design teams. The Duesenberg family had emigrated from Lippe, Germany to Rockford, Iowa in the mid 1880's. By 1900, the brothers opened a bicycle shop where Fred designed and built a clip-on engine for one of their bicycles. For a short period of time between 1901 and 1906, Fred joined the Thomas B. Jeffery Company, Kenosha, Wisconsin as an engineer. During this period the company switched from manufacturing Rambler bicycles to Rambler automobiles. By. 19061 Fred and August Duesenberg were located in DesMoins, Iowa, operating a small garage, the "Claibome- Reno," where Fred designed a two cylinder engine for the Mason Motor Car Company. For Mason, the local lawyer-owner, Fred designed one of the first 230 cu. in. race car engines which was entered in the 1912 Indianapolis Motor Speedway "500".- In 1913, Mason cars placed 9th and 13th. Following the purchase of the Mason Motor Car Company by Frederick L. Maytag (the washing machine manufacturer), Fred Duesenberg became the engineering supervisor of the Maytag-Mason Company. After a short stay in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the brothers continued their work developing race car engines, they combined with the Loew Victor Engine Company of Chicago, forming the Duesenberg Motors Corporation which located in Edgewater (Newark), New Jersey in 1914. Production consisted of marine engines for luxurious yachts and U.S. and Allied submarine chasers. During World War I, the entire plant production was devoted to manufacturing of dependable and efficient airplane engines. In 1919, the Duesenberg Motors Corporation factory was sold in preparation for Fred and August's move to Indianapolis. A local workshop and Fred's garage in Elizabeth, New Jersey served as a laboratory for the development of the prototype, engine model "800", for the Model A stock engine. Production was concentrated on racing engines including Models "X" and "W" and the sixteen cylinder car which was raced by Tommy Milton in February, 1920, Daytona Beach, Florida. This car established' the following records: one mile in 23.07 seconds and a track record of 156.04 miles per hour. In 1920, Milton broke seven world records in this car.

The Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company brought superior racing technology to the established race car market associated with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The production and race cars were tested at the Speedway. All motors and chassis were endurance tested, including a 500 mile run before delivery to the coachbuilder. On July 25, 1921, Jimmy Hurphy won the Grand Prix at LeMans in a Duesenberg Special, recording 322 miles in 4 hours, 7 minutes and 11 2/5 seconds. This car was the first produced at the Indianapolis plant. Company-sponsored cars won the Indy "500" race in 1924, with Joe Boyer as driver in 1925, Peter DePaolo won the race, establishing a track record of 101.13 miles per hour.

The adaptation of the racing eight cylinder in a line engine and the accompanying automotive systems such as automatic chassis lubrication and the first all-wheel hydraulic brake system enabled the Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company to produce a passenger car of unsurpassed engineering technology in 1922. The racing engine modification for production cars included an overhead cam shaft, individually machined compression chambers, aluminum housings for the front valve drive. Fuel economy was achieved by the use of an engine with moderate cylinder displacement (260 cu. in.). Large cord tires combined with continued reduction of the unsprung chassis weight eliminated the bouncing of the wheels and accompanying tire slipping and wear. Over 600 automobiles of this type Model A were built. Between 1922 and 1924, this five passenger car was priced at $6,500.

Body styling for the Model A, that passenger car which accounted for the first production in Indianapolis, was done in the design department. All bodywork for this model was manufactured by Milsbaugh and Irish of Indianapolis. Following the purchase of Duesenberg Inc. (The name was changed due to recapitalization following a suit for receivership in 1925.) by E.L. Cord in 1926,the Duesenberg factory produced the chassis and installed an engine produced by the Lycoming Manufacturing Company, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, another company owned by Cord. The luxurious, stylish coachwork of the Model J which was introduced in 1928, was provided by various companies when specialized in custom bodywork including: Walter J. Murphy, Pasadena, California; Castagna, Milan, Italy; Hibbard and Darrin, Paris, France; Graber, Bern, Switzerland; LeBaron, Detroit; Bohman and Schwartz, Pasadena; Locke and Company, New York City; Dietrich, Incorporated, Detroit. The Model J cars so manufactured were the epitome of style, engineering and panache. The cost for the chassis was $8,300. The custom coachwork added to the base cost could reach $20,000. In 1932, the most flamboyant of all Duesenbergs was marketed, Model SJ. Hollywood stars and European royalty purchased these automobiles which cost more than the Rolls-Royce or Hispano-Suiza. Between 1927 and 1933, 480 Model J Duesenbergs were built.

The Marmon-Herrington Company, engineers and manufacturers of all-wheel drive motor vehicles, track-laying tractors and combat tanks purchased the Duesenberg site in 1937. Beginning in 1931, this company had begun operations based upon military contracts from the various U.S. and Allied service branches. With relocation to the new site completed by January, 1938, and the doubling in size of the facility by the end of 1940, this small company with financial backing from Walter C. Marmon, another early Indianapolis car manufacturer (The Marmon Wasp won the first Indianapolis Motor Speedway "500" race in 1911.), and engineering expertise of Arthur W. Herrington, was one of the earliest producers of armoured and transportation vehicles under total government contract. In 1941, Marmon-Herrington delivered 10 million dollars worth of military vehicles to American and Allied armies from this site.