Duesenberg; Pinnacle of the Classic Era

The Art of Performance

By 1928, Fred and Augie Duesenberg had already established themselves as a force in racing. The only Americans to win the French Grand Prix in their own car, they had set a land speed record on the beach at Daytona, along with 66 other records set on the Sheepshead board track on Manhattan Island, and won the Indianapolis 500 three times.

The First Dueseys Weren’t

the Duesenberg brothers introduced their Model A at the New York Salon in 1920, the first American straight eight and the first car to be fitted with four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes, with a base price of $6,500 and a top speed of 85 miles per hour. While a solid performer, the car was handicapped by three factors.

1922 Model A Duesey

Ronald and Sandra Hansen’s 1922 Duesenberg Model A Fleetwood Dual Cowl Phaeton on the 18th Fairway at Pebble Beach in 2013.

The first was what some thought to be uninspired styling. At a distance of 95 years it is difficult to evaluate such a subjective factor, so we’ll leave that to the judgment of history. The second, though, is understandable.

So near to the Armistice, many could not look beyond the car’s  German name to find that the cars were solid Midwestern American, out of Auburn, Indiana.

Last, while there is always a passionate portion of prospective purchasers for whom performance is paramount, those who can afford luxury cars ($6,500 was a lot of money in 1920.) expected luxury. While the cars themselves gave nothing away to the competition in terms of comfort, finish and serenity, the mere association with racing held connotations of smoke, dust, noise and grease-stained clothing.

So it was that fewer than 500 cars were sold between 1920 and 1926 when Errett Lobban Cord took over the company. He was well-known for his sense of style, and the first factor was dealt with by assigning master designer Gordon Buehrig as chief stylist.

The third factor had to wait until 1928 to be dealt with.

The State of the Art, 1928

In 1928, the popular Ford Model A offered forty horsepower.

Among the many cars competing for the prestige market, Cadillac (90 hp), Chrysler (112 hp), Jordan (80 hp), Lincoln L-series (100 hp), Packard 526 (82 hp), Peerless (80 hp) and Pierce-Arrow (100 hp), employed engines with their valves in the block – flatheads. All but the Pierce-Arrow’s cross-flow T-head were L-heads.

1926 Lincoln V8

In the mid-twenties, many prestige manufacturers engines were strangled with the inefficient L-head design commonly referred to as a “flathead,” like on this 1926 Lincoln L-series V8. Note the exhaust pipe coming out of the back of the engine, rather than the more direct exit out the side as it would with a cross-flow T-head or OHV design.

DuPont (75 hp), Marmon (75 hp), the larger Packard 443 (109 hp), and the Rolls-Royce Phantom (famously listing its horsepower as “Sufficient”) had the more efficient overhead valves.

Alone among these cars was Stutz who, like the Duesenbergs, had a racing reputation. They used a single overhead cam, allowing better breathing, and making 110 hp at a higher 3,600 rpm from its 4.9 liter straight eight. One of these placed second to Bentley Boys Bernard Rubin and Woolf Bernato at LeMans that year.

While the Stutz’ SOHC gave it a superior specific output, the Chrysler Imperial 80 made up for it with a small advantage in displacement, nudging the Stutz for the highest advertised horsepower – 112 to 110.

One wonders if they had a clue what Duesenberg had in store.

Internal Combustion 101

As any gearhead knows, internal combustion engines make their power from explosions. The expanding gasses from the explosion push the piston down, driving the car. In an Otto cycle engine (nearly all of them), if the ratio of air to fuel is perfect (called stoichiometric), there are only two ways to get more power – bigger explosions or packing more of them into a given time interval.

Early in the automotive age, many designers got more power by simply making engines bigger. In 1911 Fiat built a 28 liter land speed record car, “The Beast of Turin,” with four cylinders each individually the size of an entire Corvette 427.

As metallurgy, ignition system, fuel formulation, and carburetion improved, the idea of having more explosions instead of bigger ones began to find favor.

One way to do this was with more, smaller cylinders. Six cylinders in line can be timed for perfect primary balance, allowing higher rpm, for more explosions per minute. But that means getting more fuel/air through a smaller valve opening.

Some wag once stated that the problems of engine design involved curing adenoids, indigestion and constipation; in other words, getting the fuel mixture in, burning it completely, and getting the products of combustion out with the least obstruction.

The first and last of those requirements are the job of valves. They have to open and close in milliseconds, and even at idle a typical engine’s valves open and close about 400 times a second – in a modern racing engine at speed, more than twenty times that often.

In order to make use of more rpm, the valves have to be light, so that they close completely after the cam opens them. More, smaller cylinders could be fed by smaller, lighter valves.

Or you could put more valves on each cylinder. Peugeot pioneered the use of four valves per cylinder in 1912, parlaying them into an Indy 500 win in 1913.

Enter the J

Fred and Augie had already tried three valves per cylinder in their land speed record car. For the New York Auto Show in December of 1928, they introduced the most sophisticated engine yet offered in a passenger car.

Duesenberg J Engine On Stand

The Duesenberg Model J engine. Eight cylinders, 419.8 cubic inches (6,878 cc); dual overhead cams, and four valves per cylinder. It made 265 advertised horsepower when the 6,308 cc Lincoln L-series V8 made 100.

The late Ken Purdy was considered the dean of automotive writers. Of the Duesenberg, he wrote, “It is, I think, the finest motorcar yet built in the United States . . . I mean that its margin of superiority over its contemporaries was greater than any other domestic automobile has known.”

When you consider that no domestic automobile achieved half the horsepower of the Duesenberg J when it was introduced, that statement still holds today, when the admittedly impressive 707 horsepower Dodge Challenger Hellcat has less than a nine percent advantage over its next most powerful competitor, the 650 horsepower Corvette Z06.

By 1930, competitors from Cadillac, Lincoln, Marmon and Packard had begun upping the cylinder ante, with first V12s, and then Marmon and Cadillac producing V16s. The latter was introduced in 1930 with 175 hp, and topped out at 185 hp in 1936.

Cadillac 452 V16

Cadillac offered the series 452 V16 starting in 1930. With overhead valves and 7.4 liters, it was a marvel, but still lagged behind the J’s straight eight in power production.

Whether they were the impetus or not, in 1932 Duesenberg began offering a centrifugal supercharger on the J, maintaining its edge over the competition. A total of 36 cars were thus equipped at the factory.

Ad men make their living writing overblown prose about the products they praise, but there is a ring of truth in the claim that “A Duesenberg driver can only be passed by another Duesenberg, and then only if he allows it.”

Just J Engine Exhaust

Twenty Grand SJ Engine

The J’s eight individual exhausts left no room for the supercharger’s vertical quill shaft, so they doubled them up, feeding four chrome-plated flex pipes. The cosmetic effect proved popular, and some customers ordered their unsupercharged engines with the feature.

The J’s four valves per cylinder; five-bearing nickle/chromium, mercury-damped crankshaft; alloy pistons and connecting rods (firsts, both); and dual overhead cams allowed it to produce its 265 hp at an unheard-of 4,250 rpm. With the quill-shaft-driven centrifugal supercharger packing in five pounds per square inch of pressure at 21,250 rpm, the peak of 320 hp was reached at 4,000 rpm.

Ram's Horn Manifold

Toward the end of the J’s production run, four supercharged engines were equipped with dual carburetors, with each intake manifold split into a pair of “ram’s horn” branches. Two of these 400 horsepower engines were supplied to Ab Jenkins for his Mormon Meteor endurance record car. This is the Petersen Museum’s car, whose supercharger and manifolds, like as many as 20 Js’, were added later.

The engine wasn’t the J’s only trick. Duesenberg’s four-wheel hydraulic brakes introduced on the Model A were continued on the Model J. They were servo-assisted – what we’d call “power brakes” later.

Is It Real or Advertising Hype?

A few cynics have suggested that the figures quoted for the Duesenberg’s engines were exaggerated. There is certainly a natural production variation in any product, and running changes may have resulted in differences between specific engines. Exhaust configurations did change, with some exiting straight out the side (as in the illustration) and some turning down to allow them to be contained within the bonnet.

In answer to the question, the late editor of Road & Track, John R. Bond, obtained a dynamometer readout for a pre-production J engine that showed 208 horsepower at 3500 rpm. The peak horsepower rating was quoted at 4,250 rpm, so he extrapolated the curve and estimated that engine produced at least 250 horsepower.

That engine, however, was not a production unit, and was later destroyed. (One wonders – for its failure to meet spec?) Certainly a figure of 250 seems justified, and the advertised 265 is reasonable based on performance achieved by production cars, which could reach 100 miles per hour in 17 seconds.

The other quibble has to do with the sourcing of the engines from Lycoming. This is silly. The engines are a design of Augie Duesenberg, and Lycoming was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg. Such an objection has less traction than a complaint that the engines in BMW M, Mercedes AMG, and Cadillac V series cars are not their own.

Finally, the official timing of Ab Jenkins’ Mormon Meteor on the salt flats of Bonneville, including a trap speed of 160 miles per hour at the end of one lap, and a 24 hour record (including pit stops) of 135.57 mph that stood until 1961, seems to validate the power of the twin carburetor version.

Mormon Meteor PB 2007

Easily the most significant individual Duesenberg, Ab Jenkins’ special-bodied endurance record Mormon Meteor, shown here at Pebble Beach in 2007, is undoubtedly the ugliest car ever to win the coveted “Best in Show” at the event.

For Us It’s Personal

The Sophomore year of Architecture school at the University of Illinois in the sixties was the first year of design classes. Students went home for Spring Break not for beach revelries but to seek summer employment in an architect’s office. Living in the suburbs of Chicago, historical for greats like Louis Henry Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, there was a wealth of opportunities for an aspiring young student such as your correspondent.

As it turned out, firms were not really impressed by schoolwork. What got the attention of the interviewers (and the others they brought in to see it) was a color rendering in casein of a Duesenberg, whipped up between exams on a scrap of illustration board. It was copied from a black and white photo in Road & Track. What they were looking for was people with a little fire. They found it in a work done on his own time by someone with a passion for something.

Green Tourster Inset Illustration

This 1933 Duesenberg Dual-cowl Phaeton is one of eight “Toursters” bodied by Derham, the only coachbuilder still in business in the ’50s. Inset is an image from a scan of a Kodak Instamatic slide of the illustration that won your correspondent his first job in Architecture.

Green Tourster Rear Compartment

The signature feature of Derham’s Toursters was a crank-operated second windscreen.

When You See These, You Will Know

Bow Tie Stop & Flight

There were a few features that were common to most Duesenbergs, and while later JNs and a few mavericks strayed from the norm, if you see a double spring steel “bow tie” bumper with a shield escutcheon at the center, then look closer and see the “S-T-O-P” taillight (sometimes two), then you are pretty sure you’ll find the art deco “flight” radiator mascot above the brass winged “Duesenberg” on the radiator cowl.

A Sampler of Dueseys

Nethercutt 20 Grand

This is the Nethercutt Museum’s supercharged Arlington Torpedo Sedan, popularly called the “Twenty Grand” (note vanity plate) for it’s cost in 1933. A Duesenberg Chassis (There were no “stock” Duesenbergs.) cost $9,500 in 1930 when a Ford could be had for $385.

The Question of Style

33 Boat Tail Speedster PB 2007

Errett Lobban Cord took over Duesenberg in 1926. Two of his shrewd personnel decisions were to retain Augie as Chief Engineer, and to hire Gordon Buehrig as lead stylist. The latter choice resulted in George Whittell Jr.’s beautiful long-wheelbase Weymann “fishtail” Speedster shown at at Pebble Beach in 2007.

No Two Alike

The most popular body style by far was a two-seater with roll-up windows, folding top, and rumble seat, called a convertible coupe. Many of these were built by one of the two local coachworks popular with the Hollywood set, Murphy and Bohman & Scwartz, both of Pasadena.

1929 Murphy Conv Cp Prototype at Tour 2011

It’s rare to see a Duesenberg on the road – except in Monterey in mid-August. Here the first Murphy J Convertible Coupe built motors into Carmel at the finish of the annual Tour d’Elegance in 2011.

2012 PV Black Murphy Convertible Coupe

Another Murphy Convertible Coupe, heading for the Winners’ Circle to accept an award at the Palos Verdes Concours in 2012. The original owner of this one specified mirrors mounted on chrome rings on the hard covered dual side mounts, one of hundreds of choices available.

33 Murphy Conv Coupe at Pebble Beach 2013

A popular option on convertible coupes was a compartment for golf clubs, seen here just ahead of the rear frnder on this ’33 Murphy-bodied J. Although this Duesenberg is not a supercharged, like many, it features the external Monel flex pipes.

1930 Murphy Conv Cpe at 2005 Pebble Beach

This 1930 J Murphy Convertible Coupe was brought to the 2005 Pebble Beach Concours from the LeMay Museum in Tacoma Washington. Note the “knot” in the bow tie bumper on this one is body color.

Petersen Duesy At PV 2013

The Petersen Museum’s 1933 Murphy Convertible Coupe is one of an estimated 20 Js that were retrofitted with the highly accurate reproduction supercharger that became available in the ’50s. It also has the dual carburetors for a 400 horsepower rating. Note the dual carburetor’s “ram’s horn” manifolds.

Just Add Doors

31 Murph yCS Pa;os Verdes 2013

Take a Convertible Coupe, put it on the longer wheelbase, add two more doors and you get a convertible sedan. Just staged in the morning fog of the 2013 Palos Verdes Concours d’Elegance, this 1931 Murphy example benefits from the convenience of roll-up windows and four doors, plus the sportiness of open touring typical of the type.

Cars of the Stars

A Duesenberg became a symbol of success and style among cinema personalities, such that a few cars became identified with their Hollywood owners, like the “Gary Cooper Duesenberg.”

E. L. Cord lived next to prominent Hollywood agent Phil Berg,who owned the only single cowl LeBaron Phaeton. Zeppo and Chico Marx saw it parked at Al Jolson’s house on Wilshire Boulevard and challenged Berg to a race against their 1928 Mercedes S Boattail speedster. The side bet eventually escalated to $25,000, about $2.5 Million today.

Phil Berg Lebaron Phaeton

A considerable crowd of Hollywood notables turned out to watch Phil Berg’s 1931 Duesenberg LeBaron Phaeton (Photo courtesy RM Auctions) race Chico and Zeppo Marx’ 1928 Mercedes Speedster (each stripped down for racing at the time). Although the lower, lighter supercharged Mercedes was favored the Duesenberg eventually won. In October of 2012 the Berg car sold for $1,175,000.

Both Gary Cooper and Clark Gable drove JN Duesenbergs. When Gable was courting Carol Lombard, he pulled up to the Bevery Wilshire where he was staying and asked her if she’d like to “come on up.” Her famous reply: “Who do you think you are, Gary Cooper?”

Gable Duesy

Clark Gable courted Carol Lombard in this 1935 Duesenberg JN. It leaked on her in a rainstorm so he had it rebodied by Bohman and Shwartz. At the Gooding & Co. Auction in 2012 it failed to sell at $6.4 Million, perhaps because he never actually owned the car.

Mae West Duesey 01

Larger than life personalities gravitate toward larger than life accessories. Mae West certainly qualifies for the former title, so a Duesenberg was a near-necessity. This is her 1932 J Convertible coupe, bodied by the other popular Pasadena coachbuilder, Bohman and Shwartz.

Only in Hollywood?

Bojangles Duesey

There is little positive for minorities in the sociology of the depression years, but one African American tap dancer managed to achieve such success that he bought a $17,500 Duesenberg. This is Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s 1935 J Rollston Berline (sedan).

Cars and Characters

Father Devine Duesey

Another larger-than-life character whose Duesenberg was instantly recognizable was evangelist M. J. “Father” Devine. (No, that’s not him in the picture.) As if the long wheelbase Duesenberg’s nearly thirteen foot wheelbase (two feet longer than a modern Chevy Suburban’s) were not long enough, the chassis of his 7,000 pound “Throne Car” was stretched another two feet. It is so ponderous that it regularly broke wheels.

George Whittell Jr. was a millionaire playboy with eccentric tastes, who owned no less than six Duesenbergs. One was the “fishtail speedster” that sat in the Harrah’s Collection in Reno with an initial odometer reading of 1,342. Another set a record for an American car at Pebble Beach in 2011.

Whittell Coupe

The record-setting 1931 Murphy-bodied special “Whittell Coupe,” whose alloy roof mimics a convertible top right down to the wooden bows, sold for $9.4 Million, plus fees. Its details are stunning, but its proportions come off a but chunky.

Von Krieger Special 540K Roadster

While the Mercedes-Benz 540K’s supercharged straight eight produced less than half a supercharged J’s horsepower, their proportions and lines make them the more admired cars. This 1936 Von Krieger Special Roadster had its own hard back catalog, and sold at the Gooding & Co. Auction at Pebble Beach for $10,700,000 (plus fees) in 2012.

What Royalty Drives

Bugatti called its magnificent Type 41 the “Royale” but in the end no royalty ever bought one. Om the other hand, the Duke of Windsor, King Alphonso XIII of Spain, King Victor Emmanuel of Italy, Queen Marie of Yugoslavia and Prince Nicholas of Romania all owned Duesenbergs.

Maharajah Hokor Of Indore Roadster

 Our research indicates this is the last Duesenberg chassis (another car was later assembled from parts). Commissioned by Majarajah Yeshwant Rao Holkor of Indore, it sports a “roadster speedster” body by J. Gurney Nutting of England (their only Duesenberg), on the longer 153.5 inch wheelbase. Some sources indicate it was the second of two cars (other than the Mormon Meteor) to receive the 400 horsepower engine from the factory.


Certified Open Elegance

Graber Convertible

Winner of the “Most Elegant Open Car” award in 2010 at Pebble Beach, the 1934 Graber Convertible may owe it’s grace to dispensing with many of the usual Duesenberg styling cues, like the upright radiator.

Size Matters

Red 29 LeBaron DC Phaeton PB 2013

1929 Dual Cowl Phaeton by LeBaron, Duesenberg’s in-house coachworks, at Pebble Beach in 2013. Only 13 LeBaron Duesenbergs are thought to survive out of 25 built. This is the sixth. The longer 153.5 inch wheelbase helped give the relatively tall cars decent proportions.

29 Murphy DC Phaeton PB2013 3 Views

The other ’29 LeBaron Dual Cowl Phaeton at Pebble Beach in 2013. While the red example only had five owners, this one had at least 36, and like many veteran classics, was once just an old used car, selling for $500 after WWII. The whitewall tires really dress the car up compared to the red car.

29 LeBaron Sport Phaeton

Another handsome LeBaron Dual Cowl Phaeton – this one called a “Sport Phaeton” in the literature. Perhaps the exposed exhaust is the difference.

Freedom to Fail

Lest we be accused of overstating our case, there’s evidence that when given a clean sheet of paper and no budget restrictions, the results are not always pretty.

34 Murphy Custom Beverly Sedan at Tour 2014

Awkward windshield pillars and squared-off side windows seem to clash with the sweeping fenders on this 1934 J Murphy Custom Beverly Sedan as it leads the 1937 Tom Mix Cord 812 in the Tour d’Elegance. Contrast it’s lines with the more pleasing lines of the Rollston Torpedo Sedan from the Nethercutt above.

If Duesenberg Made an SUV

34 Rollston J Limousine Pebble Beach 2014

They call it the 1934 SJ Rollston Limousine, since the term “closed touring car” is an oxymoron, but if there were such a thing, this would be it. Shown on the 18th Fairway at the 2014 Pebble Beach Concours, Chief Curator of the Petersen Museum confirmed that this is one of the three supercharged cars that received the dual carburetors from the factory. Traveling in style!

Myths Rebutted

The Duesenberg legacy includes some misinformation, like the idea that the four flex exhausts is a reliable indication that the J is supercharged.

It is common to call the supercharged Js “SJs” and the 400 horsepower cars “SSJs,” but this is a journalistic invention. These designations were never applied to the cars by the manufacturer.

Then there is the statement I read in one report that they were the most expensive cars of their day. That distinction belongs to the Bugatti Type 41 “Royale,” whose chassis alone cost $30,000 (about $3,000,000 today).

Bugatti Type 41 PB 2009

Not a Duesenberg. Apparently there finally was a limit to how much even the superwealthy were willing to devote to a mere car. Bugatti’s Type 41 “Royale” had a wheelbase sixteen inches longer than a long-wheelbase Duesenberg, and the chassis alone cost $30,000. Only six were made, of which only three were bought. This is the 1932 Coupe d’Ville (Town Car) that now wears a body by Henry Binder, its second.

Lastly, we are sad to report that whatever you may have heard, the term “doozie” (or doozy, Duesy, or Duesie. Spelling varies.), as in “Wow, that’s a real doozie!” was in use before the brothers built their first car. It was not coined in response to the impressive presence, performance and specifications of the Duesenberg. We have to be content that those attributes served to cement the expression in the popular lexicon.

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Grand National Roadster Show – Choices

The Other Candidates

How Do You Predict?

There have been so many different kinds of vehicles that have earned the title America’s Most Beautiful Roadster that one has to wonder how a judge fairly compares the merits of such diverse contenders.

2014AMBRChevy

The 2014 AMBR was a Chevrolet Cabriolet – a four-door!

FourPastAMBRs

A few past AMBRs. Clockwise from top left, 1951, 2010, 2011, and 2013. See? It’s not all Deuces.

RobertHoffmanRoadster0

“Red Hot Attraction,” with a custom chassis by American Stamping and hand-built body, is in the style of a ’32 Ford rod, but really springs from the imagination of Robert Hoffman from Haninge, Sweden. Engine is built up on an aluminum Hemi block with Hilborn fuel injection.

MikeGordonDeuce01

Mike Gordon’s ’32 Ford doesn’t look like a “Deuce” with that Packard grille, but with those turbo scrolls and exhaust trumpets (below) drawing the eye and pumping its Ford Windsor 428 V8 up to 1,500  hp, who’s arguing?

MikeGordonDeuceTurbo 1926ModelTWInset

At the other end of the scale from Mike Gordon’s mighty Deuce is Dawn and Dustin Smith’s “Mint T,” entirely owner-built. The body is said to be completely stock, but I don’t think you can say the same about a chrome-plated carburetor

Steve Lykken Deuce Pickup

There were two Deuce Pickup Roadsters entered. Steve Lykken’s Brookville is the pearl gray one above with panel beating and chassis work by Henry Wehr and 350 Chevy. Below is Ted Davis’ version, running a replica Model A block in alloy, with reproduction Riley head. The frame is a real Model A, boxed.

Ted Davis Deuce Pickup

Willy Stryker 28-29 Roadster

It’s just my ignorance of hot rod nomenclature that I cannot figure out why Willy Stryker’s Roadster’s ’32 Ford frame makes it a “1928/29 Ford Roadster.” In traditional hot rod fashion it’s powered by a flathead Ford, but in this case it’s French, and has a pair of twin-choke Italian Weber carburetors

4 Deuces

What a poker hand! Four Deuces! Clockwise from upper left are – Larry Christensen’s with a 392 Hemi, Ted Davis’ with an alloy model A block by Donovan, a replica Riley head, and a Pepsco blower, Per Martinsen’s with its blown flathead, and Gene Hetland’s, powered by what is claimed to be one of only three overhead cam Ford Cleveland 351 V8s made.

Since I wrote that, Mike Markovich (Thanks Mike) has indicated my source was mistaken. This is apparently not an OHC engine, but the only pushrod 302 with four valves per cylinder, one  pushrod operating two valves.

Dale Fode '34 Ford

Hardly a panel on Dale Fode’s ’34 Ford went unaltered. Mark Willis and Bob Stewart (no relation) built it around a blown Chevy LS7.

Grasshopper T

Beau Boekmann and Megadealer Galpin Ford collaborated on “Grasshopper T,” a recreation of the November, 1960 Hot Rod cover car. Its 1949 Oldsmobile 303 V8, enlarged to 461 CID, is blown by a modified GMC 4/71 supercharger.

Burt Diehl T Roadster

Burt Diehl’s T roadster has a genuine T body (like “Grasshopper T” above) and a Ford Model B four with a replica Miller overhead valve conversion. S&S carburetors are said to be what you’d see on a Harley.

Meyers '36 Ford

Someone counted the louvers on Beth and Ross Meyers’ ’38 Ford and came up with 251. The engine is a Lincoln 430 (A Hot Rod Lincoln!) with a McCullouch Supercharger. Seats are from a Porsche Speedster.

Urban Hirsch T Roadster

Nick Chopit of Chopit Customs, in Stanton, CA, built this small bock Chevy-powered T roaster for Urban Hirsch of Beverly Hills. Proving not all AMBR contenders are trailer queens, this puppy had already racked up 765 miles at show time.

Urban Hirsch T Roadster Nose

There is only one AMBR every year, but you’d never characterize these works of rolling art as “losers.” Come out to Pomona next year and see for yourself what great variety these rods and customs represent.

Carma is a publication of
The OM Dude Press
a service of
Options in Mobility
Author, Editor, Publisher, Reporter, Historian, Archivist:
Dick Stewart.
All photographs are by the Author unless otherwise indicated.

Click on the images to view more detail. If the cursor is a plus sign in a circle, clicking again will yield full resolution.

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AMBR Award Winner 2015

What a Surprise! Another Ford  Wins AMBR

A Pretty Good Bet

There are two reliable predictions you can make about hot rod shows. There will be a lot of Fords, and a lot of small-block Chevys. This year’s AMBR followed half the trend.

AMBRFrontQuarter01

Many of the most graceful AMBR winners have been based on the 1933-34 Ford. Larry Olsen of Sioux Falls, SD, carries on the trend with his flamed black ’33 built by previous AMBR-winning fabricator Bobby Alloway.

AMBRCockpit01

Simplicity reigns in the Roadster’s Cockpit. Contenders have to be virgins – never having been shown elsewhere – so odometers typically have a lot of zeros on them. Instruments are from a 1933 Nash, steering wheel from a ’62 Corvette, and the Vintage aftermarket Motorola radio plays through a ’57 Cadillac speaker.

AMBRLeftSide01

The winner is powered by a Mopar engine. They call it a 1955 Dodge Red Ram 241, although most sources say that engine (a Hemi) was enlarged to 270 CID after 1954. An odd quirk: Three Stromberg carburetors sit on top, but they are hiding a fuel injection system.

AMBRNose01

Daryl Wolfwinkel’s 34 Ford AMBR was displayed without the headlights mounted in 2011, lending a majestic sweep to the fenders. The flames on the fenders of this year’s car did not lend themselves to such an effect. We’re of two minds. We thought the 2011 car was magnificent, but we’re a sucker for flames.

AMBRRightSide01

Now that’s a Hot Rod Roadster! Aggressive stance, low windscreen, fat rear tires, a graceful sweep of fender – and those flames, fading from hot yellow to purple to cool blue! What’s not to like?

We’ll post the rest of the contenders (the 15 of 17 we photographed, that is) in the next blog.

As we are wont to say, stay tuned. 

Carma is a publication of
The OM Dude Press
a service of
Options in Mobility
Author, Editor, Publisher, Reporter, Historian, Archivist:
Dick Stewart.

All photographs are by the Author
unless otherwise indicated.

Click on the images to view more detail. If the cursor is a plus sign in a circle, clicking again will yield full resolution.

.

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Grand National Roadster Show – More

Some Beauties We Missed the First Go

The French Are Back in Favor

Aquarius00

Crowd Pleaser. Aquarius, a tribute to the Delahey 165s of the early post-war years, with bodies by French coachbuilders like Figoni et Falaschi and Saoutchik, is certainly a roadster, but we’ll have to wait to see if it was contending for the AMBR.

Lowly Beginnings, Sweet Results

HenryJRod00

The genius of Hot Rodding is to take a car that no one wants and turn it into a head-turner. The Henry J was cheap, and that was about all that could be said in its favor when new, but it was also small. That translates into light. Add a  350 CID Chevy small block and that equals fast. This immaculately executed rod, by Melody and Larry Henderson, is what admirers call “sanitary.” It sounds like understatement, but it means thoughtful design, detailing and execution such that you could eat off any surface – from engine room to dash.

HenryJEngine00

HenryJCockpit00

Sweet and Low

WhiteFordRod00

Bill Shimer’s 1930 Ford Tudor Sedan’s engine sports the vertical valve covers that identify it as a Buick “nail-head” V8, a late ’40s overhead valve design popular for engine swaps.

Aquamarine Dream

Aquamarine29Roadster01
Another nail-head, this one in a gorgeous ’29 Ford Roadster owned by Alan Behrse of Victorville. Even the fuel lines are color matched!

Seven Liters – and Overhead Cams

SOHCFordRoadster

This replica Deuce (chassis and body are aftermarket), shown by Harold Hannemann of West Covina, CA, is powered by a “Cammer,” the short-lived single overhead cam Ford “FE” 427 with hemispherical combustion chambers that was developed to counter Chrysler’s Hemi, only to be banned from NASCAR. Below you can see the shadow of the crossover to the underbody exhaust, making those “lakes pipes.”

SOHCFordRoadsterCammer

What? No Fuelie?

CorvetteWithWebers

Augie Delgado of Fullerton, CA, showed the only Corvette I ever saw with four dual side-draft Weber carburetors, a 1964 Coupe (see below).

CorvetteWebers

Restoration Revival

PiersonBrosCoupe2

A growing movement among hot rodders is the recognition of historic early cars. This one is a bit confusing. They call this ’36 Ford 3-window “The Pierson Coupe,” owned by Jim Bobowski. But there is another Pierson Coupe, owned by Petersen Museum co-founder Bruce Meyer. The latter is a more radical, record setting dry lakes racer, with most of the character of the donor car eradicated. This one is milder, but with a racing history of its own (see below).

PiersonBrosCoupeHotRodCover

The Grand International?

Deuce507

Born in Stockholme, Sweden, The 507 Coupé (Don’t forget the accent) was imported by Martin Lundquist. In correct hot rod tradition, it takes a Deuce, adds a Grille from an Adler, a Dash from a Lincoln Zephyr, and many custom-made pieces to realize a truly unique vision.

Hot Cat

BugundyE-Type00

Another ride you might not associate with hot rodding, but worthy of inclusion in any car show, the Jaguar XK-E remains a benchmark in automotive design. This 1962 “HotCat,” entered by Marty Habouan of Anaheim, CA,  has not been limited by the slavish attention to originality common in concours. It benefits from the substitution of a modern 5-speed transmission in place of the Moss original (with its non-synchro first gear), and three dual Weber Carburetors (below) instead of the three SUs that came with the car.

BugundyE-TypeWebers00

Stay Tuned

They have not yet posted the results of the judging, so we don’t even know which of the roadsters we saw are included in the rumored eighteen candidates. We’ll be back with stats and pix as soon as we have them.

Carma is a publication of
The OM Dude Press
a service of
Options in Mobility
Author, Editor, Publisher, Reporter, Historian, Archivist:
Dick Stewart.
All photographs are by the Author unless otherwise indicated.

Click on the images to view more detail. If the cursor is a plus sign in a circle, clicking again will yield full resolution.

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It’s Not All Roadsters At the Grand National

The Other Cars at the Grand National

Okay, we all are very excited to see which of the slick open cars nominated for America’s Most Beautiful Roadster (AMBR) will take home the replica trophy and have it’s owner’s name inscribed on the nine foot tall perpetual trophy. But it’s Sunday Morning, and the awards have not been given yet, and won’t be for hours while they give out the other hundred or so trophies. Meanwhile, there are other cars at the Show.

There’s another Hot Rod Show

In Detroit they hold a show called the Autorama. It’s a lot like the Grand National they tell me. (My travel budget won’t stretch that far.) One difference is that their most prestigious award, the Ridler, is not limited to one class of car. Last year it went to a radical custom Buick.

RidlerRiviera000
Over in Motor City the big rod and custom show is Autorama. Their Big Award is the Ridler, more akin to a concours’ Best in Show than the AMBR. In 2014 it was awarded to J. F. Launier of Osoyoos, British Columbia for his customized 1963 Buick Riviera, displayed here along with this year’s AMBR contenders.

If They Did Award a Best in Show

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I’m not sure what measures the Ridler judges use, but I’d certainly include originality, creativity, and faithfulness to the concept among mine. Ron Berry of Washington, Utah, certainly embodies all of that, with no small touch of humor for their entry in the Radical Van Class. Note the curve of the roof exactly matches that of the lifestyle-correct surfboard, and the wealth of correct styling cues, with just a touch of aggressiveness.

VWVanCustom0001

The Volkswagen Type 2 Microbus was the preferred transport for a generation of “Alternative Lifestyle” types. (See Arlo Guthrie’s Alices Restaurant Massacree.) I can imagine one of them seeing this version and observing in a fog of chemically-enhanced memory, “Yeah! That’s exactly how I remember it!”

You Don’t Know What I Got

Google “Little Deuce Coupe Images” and you’ll see a bunch of pictures of Clarence Catallo’s 1932 Ford 3-window coupe that was featured on the cover of Hot Rod magazine in July, 1961. The car was not at the Show, and they don’t say which images are copyright-protected so I’ll leave it to you to look it up. It’s a bit radical for a Deuce, with canted quad headlights and a grille reminiscent of some Chrysler 300 models of the mid ’60s.

But it inspired a young Brian Wilson to feature it on the Beach Boys  album of the same name, so now that car is forever so labeled. Funny thing is, Catallo’s car did not fit the description in the song. Instead of the traditional “flathead mill,” it carries a monster supercharged Oldsmobile engine

LittleDeuceCoupe000

In all the 250 plus photos at the Grand National Roadster Show, not one showed a Ford flathead and lakes pipes. This is “The Borde’s Coupe,” a 3-window ’32 Ford powered by a Ford flathead V8. No doubt it has a competition clutch and four on the floor, but there are no lakes pipes to roar. No top speed was claimed, either.

In case you need a primer, flatheads had their valves in the block, opening upward into a space comprising, with whatever space was left above the piston at top dead center, the combustion chamber. Intake and exhaust took circuitous paths to and from the valves, with exhaust passing through the block between the cylinders.

This arrangement was not optimal for intake breathing and exhaust scavenging. Hot rodders would enlarge the intake and exhaust ports (the song’s “ported”), and remove some material between the valves and the cylinders (“relieved”) for the same purpose.

Displacement was enlarged to increase the volume of fuel mixture burned in each power stroke, by installing a crankshaft with longer throws (“stroked”) and widening the cylinders (“bored”)

In the end even with all the hotrodding you could do, a flathead was still at a huge disadvantage compared to the overhead valve V8s that appeared in GM products in the late ’40s. Still, tradition keeps die-hards building them. Thank goodness! Flatheads forever!

The Unexpected

Low riders, dry lakes racers, dragsters, radical customs, even surf wagons, are what you expect at a show like this. Every so often though, they can surprise you.

1929RollPhantomI000

If you had seen the Petersen exhibit “Town Cars; Arriving in Style” or visited their cars at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library recently, you may note everything forward of the cowl on this car is basically the same as the Petersen’s Fred Astaire Phantom I Rolls-Royce, only this is a 1929 “Ascot” entered by Erik Baltzar of Palm Desert, CA. I suppose in a loose sense you could say it’s a roadster, kinda. Otherwise I have no clue what it’s doing here in a hot rod show.

TC-Daimler001

If you came from the sports-car-slash-road-racing side of motoring, you may, like me, have been influenced by Don Sanford’s The Red Car, This could be the very 1948 MG TC at the heart of the book’s young protagonist’s story, except . . .

TC-DaimlerEngine001

You could be forgiven for thinking Brian and Bart Trinchero had violated this British Icon by stuffing a Mopar Hemi in it. That’s because the 2.5 liter Daimler V8 under that supercharger is a hemi – of sorts. It’s the engine you’d have found in a Daimler SP250.

The New Petersen is Coming

If you’ve seen the pictures of the new facade of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles (opening December 1, 2015) you may have been startled by the flamboyant look. Keep in mind though, that the founder of the Museum, Ronald Petersen, got started on his road to publishing greatness with a little magazine called Hot Rod.

FlamedMercPetersenInset000

Click on the image above and note the similarity between the flame job on Jimmy Ruiz’ 1949 Mercury and the exterior treatment on the new Petersen Automotive Museum. I think I’ll carry a copy of this picture around in my wallet so I can explain the inspiration to doubters.

Artistry, Color, and Patience, Patience, Patience

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The Detail in the paint and metal work on Michael Herrera’s 1950 Chevrolet Fleetline Mild Hardtop low rider can only really be appreciated up close and personal, so click on the image to enlarge it.

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Summer Madness, a 1963 Chevy Impala SS, one of several low riders entered by members of Lifestyle Auto Club of Los Angeles exhibits the intricate detail the best of these cars present. Even the trunk and hydraulics are lavished with the same paint layering and pinstriping as the rest of the car. She’s real fine, this 409.

The Other Extreme

1926ModelTWInset

Fords were being raced long before the V8 years. Dawn and Dustin Smith’s Mint-T from Spokane, WA, looks authentic, stripped for the track, although I doubt Henry Ford ever approved a chrome-plated carburetor.

I am on dealine to get this out before the awards are presented, so I will be free to publish the results. I trust I got a picture of many of the award-winners, and I hope you’ll join me here to read about them.

Carma is a publication of
The OM Dude Press
a service of
Options in Mobility

Author, Editor, Publisher, Reporter, Historian, Archivist:
Dick Stewart.

All photographs are by the Author unless otherwise indicated.

Click on the images to view more detail. If the cursor is a plus sign in a circle, clicking again will yield full resolution.

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Auto Show Trends – Luxury

How the Other 0.01% Drives

Actually, those others are quite often driven. A busy CEO often uses travel time to get work done. That’s why many luxury auto makers are equipping their top lines with all the accoutrements of a mobile office. This year the acknowledged “Standard of the World,” Rolls Royce, declined to participate in the Auto Show, but there were plenty of pretenders to incite envy.

Mercedes-Maybach S600

Even on Press Days it’s sometimes difficult to get a clear shot of the popular cars. Here a couple of researchers benchmark the new Mercedes-Maybach S600 for its competitors. Unable to sell the Maybach name on its own merits, Mercedes has now applied the label to a model line at the top of their range. A $140,000 car must step out quickly and acquit itself well on the Autobahn, so its twin turbo V12 develops 523 horsepower and 612 pound feet of torque.

Mercedes-Maybach S600 Rear Seating

Maybach-monogrammed throw pillows, reclining hot-stone massaging seats, thigh bolsters, inlaid woods, integrated multimedia screens, swiveling writing surfaces, barefoot-friendly fur-like carpet – what’s left out? For the busy 0.01-percenter on the go the Maybach S600 has everything except a conscience.

Performance Perception.

In 1963 you could get luxury in a Cadillac, Imperial or Lincoln, with a huge thirsty pushrod V8 to allow you to keep their ponderous weight up with traffic. However, getting one of these behemoths to deviate from a straight line was a tense proposition, best accomplished at a sedate pace. Moreover, Ford, Chrysler and GM had ceased equipping their luxury cars with manual transmissions long ago, so driver involvement was nil.

On the other side of the Atlantic, European tax policy pretty much saddled luxury cars with mouse motors, underpowered by American standards. Jaguar was almost there (Their motto was “Grace, Space, Pace”), but in 1963 along came Maserati with the first car from either side of the Atlantic to combine luxury with true road performance.

In 1963 the company, long known for its successful racing cars and elegant sports and touring roadsters and coupes (A 1964 Mistral Coupe was the last post-war car to win Best in Show honors at Pebble Beach until this last August.), brought out the first in a line of sporting sedans, with elegant styling by Frua and the straightforward name “Quatroporte” for their four doors, and stuffed them full of de-tuned racing V8.

1963 Maserati Quatroporte

The sixth and perhaps oldest surviving first-generation Maserati Quatroporte, on loan from the Riverside International Maserati Museum, displayed at the entrance to the Los Angeles International Auto Show. In 1963 260 horsepower in a luxury sedan was no big deal, but quad cams, four Weber carburetors, a four-speed manual gearbox, and the ability to change direction without drama were downright exotic. Remember when you could actually see out of cars?

2015 Maserati Quatroporte

Carrying on the tradition of athletic sedans as Maserati celebrates their centennial, the latest Quatroporte boasts 406 horsepower from its twin turbo V6. At about $115,000, it’s a bargain compared to what you’d have to bid for the earlier car if you found one at auction.

While Mercedes’ Maybachs may be excellent cars in which to be driven,  Bentleys, with multiple Le Mans wins when you could drive your car to a race and win (their welded wire mesh grilles are a conscious reminder), carry an aura of sporting credentials even in their most luxurious models. After all, while Rolls Royce has an Owners’ Club, the Bentley counterpart is a “Drivers’ Club.”

Bentley Flying Spur W12

The Bentley Continental Flying Spur has been around since 2005. It was updated in 2013 with structural, cosmetic, and performance upgrades. The current models include the W12 (two narrow-angle V6s on a common crankcase) version shown, with the Volkswagen corporate six liter twin turbo engine that now develops 500 horsepower and 487 pound-feet of torque. It needs all that to motivate its two-and-three-quarter tons of mass.

The Pretenders

With a few exceptions (Are you “Smart?”) there are few incompetent cars today. We’ll attempt a review of the mainstream cars some time, but really, you know the players. Where is the true luxury line drawn these days, though?

Were not referring to “Entry Level Luxury,” that domain of 3-series BMWs, Mercedes C-Class, Audi A4s, Lexus IS and Infiniti whatevers. No, we mean big luxurious boats with soft leather, roomy rear seats and real wood on the dash, and engines that allow you to play a little when the mood hits you.

Cadillac has done well here recently. Last year we highlighted their 556 horsepower Corvette-powered CTS-V, but that’s an outlier. Their flagship sedan (Where are you when we need you, Sedan DeVille?) is “in development” and will have a boring alphanumeric name.

You all know about S-class Mercedes (other than the Maybach above), 7-series BMWs and Audi 8s, but those are all creeping into one percenter territory. What about the twenty percenters?

Equus

The Hyundai Equus came first, and I don’t have a picture of the Kia K900. It’s a shame, because the K900 is easily the prettier car. The Equus’ belt line rises too high above the fender haunch – what I call “old man pants” – like its belt has been pulled up over a paunch instead of riding on its waist.

The Korean twins, Hyundai and Kia, seem to have the lead in this category. They are offering the Equus and K900, respectively. The K900 can be had with reclining rear seats and quilted leather for about  $20,000 less (about 22%) than a Mercedes S-Class with no options, if you don’t mind forgoing the European driving dynamics, 37 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque.

Chevy Impala

Or just get a Chevrolet Impala. It’s handsome. It’s huge inside. Its interior is beautifully designed and assembled. It has all the luxury you need, scored among the top cars tested by Consumer Reports, is available with nearly every available option at way less than half the sticker price of a stripped Mercedes S-Class, and it’s built in Hamtramck, Michigan by Americans.

Carma is a publication of
The OM Dude Press
a service of
Options in Mobility
Author, Editor, Publisher, Reporter, Historian, Archivist:
Dick Stewart.
All photographs are by the Author unless otherwise indicated.

Click on the images to view more detail. If the cursor is a plus sign in a circle, clicking again will yield full resolution.

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Auto Show Trends – Fun Stuff

The Cars that Draw us to the Show

Sporty!

Audi TT

The first car I found for one of the clients I squired around the show was an Audi TT. The iconic shape has hardly changed, but they have actually gotten lighter (a trend) and added horsepower (another trend). There is also more room in that tiny back seat than the one I squeezed into for the test drive back in the day.

Mercedes-AMG GT S

The literature does not state whether the four-liter direct-injected dry-sump V8 (inset) hidden under all that shrouding in the Mercedes-AMG GT S’ engine bay includes the specification du jure – a flat-plane crankshaft. It has a turbocharger in the valley between the cylinder banks, and the signature of the technician who assembled it from a bare block. Claimed output: 503 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque, the latter available at a mere 1,750 rpm. Many who saw it remarked that in this view it looks like a Porsche

Mercedes-AMG GT S Profile

Note the distance from the front wheel arch to the door cut. Unlike say, the recent Maserati coupes, with their short noses and compact wheelbases, Mercedes attempts to counter the Porsche 911’s advantage of rear weight bias by adopting classic front-mid engine practice, placing the mass of the engine entirely behind the front wheel centerlines. Weight distribution was stated at 47%/53% front/rear. The result is a pleasing long hood, short deck proportion like early front-engine race cars.

Porsche 911 GTS

The car we all suspect was the target of the Mercedes-AMG GT and GT S is the Porsche 911. You can be forgiven if you have trouble keeping up with all the variations thereof. This is the GT-S, just introduced the week before at Press Days. It slots between the Carerra S and the GT3. Not as quick as the Mercedes-AMG above in a straight line, but in real world driving, hard to beat. 

Maserati Alfieri Profile

Strange wheels with what look like supplementary composite bicycle spokes adorn the muscular Maserati Alfieri Concept. Better proportioned than their Maserati 2+2 coupes, it’s a more fitting example of a proper descendant of the Ghiblis of the late sixties and early seventies than their sedans of that name.

Alfa Romeo 4C

Hidden behind the Maserati exhibit, the first real offering of a returning-to-the-US Alfa Romeo, the 4C, represents a candidate to replace the Lotus Elise. At only about 2,300 pounds, its 137 horsepower Toyota-sourced turbo four has no trouble motivating its sexy carbon fiber and sheet moulding compound shape. No power steering blunts the road feel of this corner carver, although purists may protest the dual-clutch automatic transmission. No manual is available.

New Mazda MX-5 Miata

On the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the first Mazda MX-5 Miata, the ground-up redesign relieves the anxiety of lovers of light sports cars, by actually losing about 200 pounds. The best-selling two seater in history, it will share some architecture with a similar car to be built by Fiat/Chrysler as an Alfa Romeo.

Corvette Z06 Convertible

We featured Dodge’s Challenger Hellcat, with its 707 horsepower supercharged V8, in our Auto Show Pony Car edition. Chevrolet showed the convertible version of its “Regular Production Option Z06″ Corvette, whose supercharged V8 only (!) produces 650 horses. But the Hellcat weighs 4,439 pounds, while the Corvette burdens its engine with just 3,558. Both claim 650  pound-feet of torque. Which do you think is quicker?

BMWi8 and Vision Dynamics Concept

In 2009 BMW showed a concept car at the LA Auto show called the Vision Dynamics (inset). It promised 356 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. THat was with a diesel-electric hybrid power train. Today you can buy the i8 with 357 horsepower, and while its torque falls a bit short of the concept, at 420 pound-feet, it’s still impressive, with an EPA estimate of 76 mpge. As Automobile magazine says in naming it an All-Star, “The Future, Here Now.” BMW even claims that with their more cost-effective carbon fiber technology, it does not lose money on them.

Carma is a publication of
The OM Dude Press
a service of
Options in Mobility

Author, Editor, Publisher, Reporter, Historian, Archivist:
Dick Stewart.

All photographs are by the Author unless otherwise indicated.

Click on the images to view more detail. If the cursor is a plus sign in a circle, clicking again will yield full resolution.

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