Cars We Love: 1935 Duesenberg Model J Dual Cowl Phaeton

When E.L. Cord, the owner of Indianapolis-based Duesenberg, Inc. told Fred Duesenberg to design the best, biggest, fastest, and most expensive car in the world, the Model J was the result. And it was a success – it was the fastest American-made car (top speed of 119 mph), with the most powerful engine (210 horsepower), and the most expensive – a completed Model J cost $13,000 to $19,000, or even more in some cases. To give you a little context, at the time a doctor earned less than $3,000 per year. The Model J was not only pricey, beautiful, and powerful, but also technologically advanced – it featured dashboard lights that alerted the driver to the need for an oil change or a battery check.

Not surprisingly, the car became a coveted status symbol among the rich and famous; owners included Al Capone, Greta Garbo, Howard Hughes, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, William Randolph Hearst, and several members of European royalty. Cooper and Gable reportedly raced their Duesenberg SSJs (the supercharged version of the Model J) against each other in the Hollywood Hills. We wonder which of these handsome leading men prevailed…? A popular saying at the time was something along the lines of, “The only car that can pass a Duesenberg is another Duesenberg – and that’s with the first driver’s consent.”

“Dual Cowl Phaeton” refers to an open car with no windows in the body (phaeton), with the front and back passengers separated by a “cowl” or bulkhead.

Around 475 Model Js were produced before Duesenberg Inc. collapsed in 1937.


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Photo Credit: BastiaanImages, James Tworow (1, 2)


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