1960s and 1970s Duesenberg Concept Cars

Duesenberg Model D
In the Duesenberg tradition, the Model D concept car was big. It rode a 132-inch wheelbase and, at 245 inches, was longer overall than a Cadillac limousine.
In the Duesenberg tradition, the Model D concept car was big. It rode a 132-inch wheelbase and, at 245 inches, was longer overall than a Cadillac limousine.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The Duesenberg Model D concept car was the one and only car built by the 1960s Duesenberg Corporation. It had been started by Fritz Duesenberg, son of one of the original Duesenberg founders, with real-estate baron Fred J. McManis, Jr. as president.

Their initial vision was a $10,000 super-luxury sedan on a 120-inch wheelbase, but that soon grew into an even costlier car with a 132-inch chassis and, briefly, an aluminum V-8 with more than 500 cubic inches and 300 horsepower.

Targeted yearly volume was variously quoted at between 200 and 1,000 units by sources ranging from the Wall Street Journal to monthly "buff" magazines. Moreover, as Fritz told Car Life's Ed Janicki: "We plan no annual changes [though] we might consider a change or modification after 10 years. With this price, you couldn't sell [one] and then obsolete it in two years."

After selecting a final design from 15 working sketches submitted by the Exners, Fritz okayed a prototype of what came to be called the Duesenberg Model D. Construction was entrusted to the famed Ghia works in Italy -- logical, as Ghia had built most of the elder Exner's Chrysler show-car designs of the Fifties.

Also per Duesenberg tradition, the Model D's full instrumentation included a stopwatch and altimeter.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Engineering work became a joint effort between Dale Cosper, a veteran of the original Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg concern, and Paul Farago, fresh from birthing the Chrysler-powered Dual-Ghia. But there was never any rush to completion, because financing was slow and hard to come by. In fact, hopes of attracting new money prompted the prototype's first public showing, which didn't come until the spring of 1966.

Like its hallowed forebears, the new Model D had grand proportions: It was a four-door brougham sedan measuring 137.5 inches between wheel centers and 245 inches overall. The announced price was a lofty $19,500, but included automatic transmission (Chrysler TorqueFlite), automatic climate control, all-disc brakes (big Airheart units), torsion-bar front suspension, chrome wire wheels, and power everything.

Per Duesenberg tradition, back seaters could scrutinize their own speedometer and clock; they also enjoyed a separate radio, fold-out writing tables, even a TV and bar. Interior trim was top-grade leather with solid mahogany accents.

The exterior blended nostalgic elements -- razor-edge roof, center-opening doors, clamshell-shaped wheel openings -- with trendy stuff like hidden headlamps. With 350 horsepower from a stock 440 Chrysler V-8 (the 426 Hemi was considered but rejected, as was all-independent suspension), the Model D had good performance for a 5,700-pound biggie.

The fully functional 1963 Model D concept car was styled by former Chrysler chief designer Virgil Exner and built by Ghia of Italy.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

But this first modern Duesenberg never went any further. Though plans were afoot for limousine and four-door convertible models, simple start-up of sedan production demanded $2.5 million, and the money was nowhere to be found.

So, after a few months in the limelight, Duesenberg Corporation faded away, which was a real shame. According to the few who've driven it, the Model D handled well for its size and had all the luxury anyone could want.

But the potential demand for such a costly "retro" car in 1966 was tiny if not non-existent, and the concept itself was probably flawed. As Car and Driver later opined, the Model D seemed the "perfect 1934 dream car. ... [Fred and Augie Duesenberg] would have kept up with the times."

One more Duesenberg concept was coming in the late 1970s, which you can learn about on the next page.

For more on concept cars and the production models they forecast, check out: