“265 Horse Power…116 Miles Per Hour,” The Motor headline screamed in 1928. “…Chassis
priced at $8,500.” The new Model J Duesenberg’s power and performance would excite the public. The
Duesenberg policy excited the American coachbuilding industry: all cars were to be custom made.
Since the close of World War I, the idea of tailoring an automobile to personal preference had
enjoyed wide appeal amongst people who could afford to spend from half-again to considerably more than
the chassis price to put a body on an automobile. Custom body houses – many of them descendant from
prominent Nineteenth Century carriage builders – flourished. The Duesenberg seemed heaven-sent to
perpetuate that pleasant situation.
No two Duesenbergs were precisely alike. How custom a car was depended upon the customer. If
desired, an entirely unique creation could be had. Most clients, however, preferred to go with variations on
the themes in Duesenberg’s portfolio. Prior to introduction, the company had sent advance blueprints of the
Model J chassis layout to America’s top coachbuilders to invite design sketches for consideration for that
portfolio. Chassis layout included radiator grill, hood, headlamps, fenders, running boards and bumpers to
preserve marque identity. The remaining “identity” was the coachbuilder’s.
Over twenty American coachbuilders dressed the Duesenberg, none more handsomely than LeBaron
Carrossiers of New York City. Rhythmic curves were a company forte. The “sweep panel” LeBaron dual
cowl phaeton proved to be the most popular four-door Duesenberg. And of the several LeBaron designs for
Duesenberg, this one was the most popular as well. Total LeBaron production for the Model J was thirtythree
Custom coachwork crashed with Wall Street, alas, and coachbuilding firms failed with rapidity
during the Depression. Just Derham and Inskip survived the Second World War, only to succumb soon after.
As for LeBaron, it was bought by the Briggs Body Company of Detroit, which in turn was acquired later by
Chrysler. Chrysler chose to revive the name in its model line-up. LeBaron’s custom tradition remained
Photos – Peter Harholdt
Most race cars were non-competitive after their first campaign — the 1927 Vauxhall was competitive for 23 years (1927–1950) and you can see it in person. Learn more