Mar. 6th 2012 – Auto of the day – Auto #4

Lot No: 318

Ex-William Harrah
1923 Duesenberg Model A Touring
Coachwork by Rubay Carrosserie Automobile

Chassis no. 892
Engine no. 1260
*260ci, SOHC Straight Eight
*Four-wheel hydraulic brakes

*Ex-William Harrah Collection
*Sports model Touring body
*Rare surviving Model A

Few names in the pantheon of motoring history are as well regardied as Duesenberg. The Duesenberg Brothers, Fred and Augie, immigrants from Germany who arrived in Iowa at a very young age, carried the Fatherland’s passion for precision engineering with them when they matured into the progenitors of some of the most legendary motors to turn a wheel (or a propeller in front of a plane or behind a boat). Their varied talents and mechanical genius quickly propelled them to the top of the racing circuits in the US and Europe, and helped them refine their skills to produce the legendary cars that bear their name.

Self taught, the Duesenberg Brothers began their careers in 1905 working in their childhood home of Des Moines, Iowa for the Mason Motor Car Company. With their skills refined, the Duesenbergs began their racing exploits that made them famous in 1912 with a Mason entry powered by a 226ci four-cylinder that proved competitive against cars with engines twice as large. In 1914, Eddie Rickenbacker drove a Duesenberg-powered racer to 10th overall at Indy. WWI saw Duesenberg become a aircraft engine manufacturer, producing motors with another automotive great, Ettore Bugatti.

Following WWI, Duesenberg found itself in possession of numerous, valuable engine contracts and a good reputation earned from its racing exploits, giving the fledgling company the wherewithal and means to become independent. While continuing to refine their racing motors, most famously their 183ci straight-eight, Duesenberg dove headlong into passenger car production in its own name with the debut of its first model at the Automobile Salon in New York on November 14th, 1920. The unpainted car didn’t have the OHV 260ci straight eight that would later find its way under the hood of the Model A, but it did make clear to the world that Duesenberg had arrived.

The Model A, in its production form, was a car well ahead of its time. The 100hp, two-valve per cylinder, SOHC 260ci straight eight was closely related to Duesenberg’s race motors that would later carry the company to three Indy 500 victories and a first overall at the 1921 French Grand Prix, the first such win by an American car; it was also the first mass produced straight eight in the US. Brakes spanning 16″ in diameter occupied all four wheels and featured the first use of hydraulics on a production car, sounding the death knell for mechanical brakes. Extensive use of aluminum kept the weight down. Swift acceleration was a given, but the hydraulic brake system meant that the car could stop faster than just about anything else on the road. All this came at a cost, of course, with the Model A starting at $6,500.

The offered lot is a sports model Tourer bodied by Rubay Carrosserie Automobile, a Cleveland-based coachbuilder in which such luminary designers as Thomas Hibbard (the former half of Hibbard & Darrin), Frederick Walther (who later worked under Harley Earl at GM), and Amos Nothrup (of Pierce-Arrow and later of Wills St. Claire) cut their teeth. The elegant fenders arch around the sidemounts, which are held above running boards–a feature unique to the sports model.

The car was formerly part of the famous William Harrah Collection, where it was expertly restored. It is featured in Fred Roe’s seminal book Duesenberg: The Pursuit of Perfection on page 90. Purchased by the vendor at the dispersion of Harrah’s collection in 1986, it has been carefully kept since then, showing at the vendor’s museum in Europe. Its restoration has stood the test of time and the car still shows beautifully.

Despite its advanced technology and high performance of the Model A, poor management led to Duesenberg’s finances eventually going into the red. The company was rescued by E.L. Cord who spearheaded the development of the Model J, which was more powerful than the Model A, but with more luxurious, rather than sporting, intentions. The Model A, of which about 30% more had been produced than the Model J, was initially overshadowed by its bigger brother resulting in a small fraction of the approximately 650 cars produced surviving. Now a rare commodity and gaining in popularity as the true distillation of the Duesenberg Brothers’ vision, it is rare for a Model A to be offered for sale, let alone one with such sporting, open coachwork.

Sold for US$183,000 inclusive of Buyer’s Premium


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Auction description courtesy of

Sold US$182,000 at Bonhams Scottsdale 19/1/12

Value: $150,000 – 300,000

Comment: From one of the worlds great collections, and at a great price, a good Duesenberg

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