The Mechanics Behind the Duesenberg J
The Duesenberg J was an enormous automobile. Two wheelbase lengths were offered: 142.5 and 153.5 inches. And the cars were heavy -- the lightest of them, the open styles on the shorter wheelbase, weighed close to 5,500 pounds. But under the hood was a fabulous 419.7-cubic-inch, dual-overhead-camshaft straight eight. Fitted with four valves per cylinder, it produced a mind-boggling 265 horsepower and 374 pounds/feet torque.
By comparison, America's second most powerful production car in 1929 was the Pierce-Arrow, rated at 125 bhp. Duesenberg advertised that "with a standard touring body and with top and windshield up and fenders on, this car has attained 116 m.p.h., while a maximum speed of 89 m.p.h. has been reached in second gear."
The big engine, designed by Fred Duesenberg and manufactured by Lycoming (a Cord-owned company), was as smooth as it was powerful. The drop-forged crankshaft, cradled in five oversized main bearings, was made of double-heat-treated chrome nickel steel. It was counterweighted, and statically and dynamically balanced. And then, just to be doubly cautious, there was a vibration damper consisting of two cartridges, each containing 16 ounces of mercury. Any vibrations that might be set up in the shaft were damped out almost instantly by the movement of the mercury in the cartridges.
Nobody talked about gas mileage. Those who had to ask obviously couldn't afford a Duesenberg anyway. Fuel was fed to the big 1-1/2-inch Schebler carburetor by no fewer than four fuel pumps, one of them mechanical, the others electric. Full pressure lubrication was accomplished by means of a gear-driven oil pump with a capacity of 22 gallons per minute. Meanwhile, an eight-gallon cooling system made sure there were no problems with overheating.
A hypoid axle, highly unusual in those days, helped make possible the new Duesenberg's low profile. Ross cam-and-lever steering was used, and under-girding the chassis was a frame stout enough to support a freight car. As for the brakes, they were probably the best in the industry -- hydraulics, of course, with huge 15 x 3-inch drums.
Shortly after introduction time an adjustable vacuum booster, controlled from the dash, was supplied, making it possible for the driver to match the big Duesenberg's braking action to the conditions of the moment-anywhere from gentle, for icy pavement, to very abrupt.
Learn about the production of the Duesenberg on the next page.