Lexicographers differ whether the proper spelling is “Duesie”, “doozie” or “doozy,” but agree that
the word coined in the 1930s as a convenient metaphor for anything so singularly grand or formidable as to
defy the usual Webster offerings. Its derivation was the Duesenberg Model J.
The J idea belonged to automotive empire builder Errett Lobban Cord; its execution to engineer
Fred Duesenberg. Enormously successful as a race car producer, Duesenberg was a lamentable businessman.
His Indianapolis company was heading for financial disaster when Cord acquired it in 1926. Yet Cord told
Fred to design a car the likes of which America had never seen, cost no object.
Introduced in December 1928, the J Duesenberg was unabashed overkill ─ massive, weighty, of
heroic proportion everywhere. Its race-inspired straight-eight engine boasted over twice the horsepower of
its nearest American competitor. In 1932, when the 265 hp J was supercharged into the SJ, horsepower
jumped to 320, the factory advertising 129 mph in top gear. With ram’s head manifolding, as on the SSJ you
see here, horsepower climbed further.
Only two examples of the “super-short” 125-inch SSJ chassis were produced. (Standard wheelbase
lengths were 142 ½ and 153 ½ inches.) Gary Cooper bought the car you see here. Not to be upstaged, Clark
Gable quickly decided he had to have a Duesie “just like Coop’s” and talked the local dealer into lending him
the other one.
Duesenbergs tended to be purchased by people who were famous. America’s most expensive
luxury car by far ($8,500.00 for chassis alone), its flamboyance attracted movie stars, maharajahs, trendy
royals, dynamic tycoons, even a gangster or two. Just 480 Duesenbergs had been built when E.L. Cord
disbanded his automobile empire in 1937.
A half century later the Duesenberg remains a legend. Appropriately. It was an uncompromisingly
superlative car. And, oh, to have been there when Cooper raced his friend Gable through the Hollywood
Hills in this bobtailed SSJ.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
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