The 1932 Duesenberg Model

There’s an email floating around about an extraordinary 1/6th model of a 1932 Duesenberg SJ. I’ve added some information to it, from various sources. Here’s the exquisite model:

The model, built by Lou Chernot, really is astounding in its craftsmanship. There are lots of details here:

The engine, all built to exact scale, actually runs. He described having to initially spin the engine with a drill motor for about 30 seconds to get it to start, but once warm it starts easily. He does not run the engine now that it’s been installed in the car. There are videos of the engine starting like this one. He kept the four-valve-per-cylinder design, and built working, scale oil and fuel pumps and even the clutch.

It has a generator and distributor and standard capacitor/points system, I understand.

This model is of the very rare 320-horsepower supercharged Duesenberg SJ. Only 36 were made, and the first one dates to May, 1932. The body and chassis for the Duesenberg J that this was based on were manufactured in 1929 and 1930, but because of the Depression, they didn’t sell as many as hoped. The interiors and coachwork were not added until later, and were custom-built for the cars by more than a dozen coachwork shops in the US and Europe.

No existing dynomometer at the time could measure the horsepower these cars could put out; new ones had to be created.

A modified (“special-bodied”) version of this car was the fastest car in existence. It did a one-hour average speed of 152 MPH at Bonneville Salt Flats, back when few cars could hit 100 MPH. It averaged 135 MPH in a 24-hour run, covering more than 3,200 miles in that time.

The designer, Fred Duesenberg, died about the time the car was released, from an accident while driving an SJ convertible.

The 1932 Duesenberg was the longest, heaviest, most expensive car in America at the time — and earned the “What a Duesy!” accolades. We still have the word “doozy” perhaps partly as a result.

Here’s a real Duesenberg SJ from 1933:

And another one, running. Electric start, and battery on board:

Note how different the body style was. You could make this decision after buying the chassis and engine, when you arranged for the body and interior to be built.

The cost, back then, would be perhaps a million dollars in today’s equivalent. For reference:

  • How Much things cost in 1932:


  • Average Cost of new house $6,510.00



  • Average wages per year $1,650.00



  • Cost of a gallon of Gas 10 cents



  • Average Cost for house rent $18.00 per month



  • A loaf of Bread 7 cents



  • A LB of Hamburger Meat 10 cents



  • New Car Average Price $610.00


That “New Car” was not a Duesenberg SJ! Based on differences in coachwork, they typically went for $15,000 to $30,000, sometimes more. Ten or twenty times the average wage (though the unemployment rate was 24%!), the supercharged Duesy SJ was several times the cost of an average new house.

This was despite massive price deflation at a scale we’ve never seen since. Bing Crosby’s song “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” was a hit this year, and there were only two hit songs. It was an interesting time: Mussolini and Stalin were in place, but Hitler would not become chancellor until the following year.

As an aside on that 24% unemployment for 1932 … For reference — though the percentages are different, we have about three times as many people unemployed now as we had back then. At least twice as many, even counting the lowball numbers the government now uses, discounting certain groups of people.

The Duesenberg company failed later in the Depression (when Cord, the owner, had many financial troubles), and a few years later (WWII) some Duesenbergs were being sold for $100 or just scrapped for metal. This was a car famous as the mark of Great Wealth, driven by the top Hollywood stars and heads of state.

They’re worth a lot now, of course. Jay Leno has several.

But there is a new Duesenberg! The company was just re-created, and new 2013 models are supposed to be offered soon. There are supposed to out-class the Rolls Royce. Their website is not working now, but earlier had this text:

Duesenberg Torpedo® Coupe
A new Duesenberg luxury automobile to bring the United States back into the top segment of the World automotive marketplace – the Duesenberg Torpedo® Coupe. It is now being designed by famed California automobile designer Jeff Teague, of Teague Design Inc. (, with a planned market introduction in 2013. The Duesenberg Torpedo® Coupe will offer the ultimate luxury motoring for four passengers, along with a unique blend of automotive innovation and the finest comfort features.

By the way, 1932 was decades before Global Warming, of course. But the year this car came out, tornadoes killed 184 people in one day (March 12, 1932). And New Orleans had just been completely flooded by hurricanes. It was a time of “weird weather” — like always.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle