Few cars can tell the confused story of American racing in the 1930s better than this Duesie, which was seemingly under construction by Augie Duesenberg as a supercharged 91 cu in (1500cc) machine when the AAA Contest Board brought in new rules for the 1930s season intended to make racing more accessible. This “junk” formula favored modified passenger cars, raised maximum engine capacity to 366 cu in (6.0 liters), outlawed superchargers and brought back two-man bodies that accommodated driver and riding mechanic.
Board track impresario Harry Hartz bought the featured car, its engine enlarged to 142 cu in to suit the new regime, and hired Indianapolis veteran Fred Frame to drive it in the 1931 “500”. Faced with a mammoth 40-car field, “Fabulous Fred” duly delivered the goods, finishing second just 43 seconds behind Lou Schneider’s winning Miller.
After the race, Hartz sold the Duesie to Frame, who in 1933 – the same year he won the Elgin Road Race in a stripped Ford V8-40 roadster – had a new chassis and monoposto body crafted by Myron Stevens for competition on short tracks where both superchargers and single-seaters were allowed.
Engine wizard Frame – remembered as the builder of the potent “Hooker T” Ford racer, which boasted a Miller dohc head with four carburetors and ate a stock crank every seven laps – increased the engine’s swept volume to 168.7 cubic inches (2770cc) with a long-stroke crankshaft and fitted a Duesenberg “side-winder” supercharger.
Fred’s “Side-Winder” was perhaps the best-known of the racing Duesenbergs of the 1930s, racing on both East and West coast tracks. It was updated for a second appearance in the Indy 500 in 1938, but failed to qualify. After campaigning the car on the “outlaw” IMCA fairground circuit that year, Fred Frame retired from racing.
The veteran Duesie raced on into the 1940s as part of the stable of “Duchess” Dorothy Gruman, a pint-size fireball with “diamonds on her fingers, sable furs around her shoulders and a song in her heart” who was a near-legendary figure on the West Coast race scene.
Years later, Briggs Cunningham found it in a chicken coop in Santa Rosa, California…
Photos – Peter Harholdt
Briggs Cunningham imported the first Ferrari to race in the US and you can see it in the museum. Learn more