It’s a Duesy: A Colorized Look at America’s Most Luxurious Car

October 29, 2022

You have probably used the phrase, “It’s a Duesy,” once or twice in your life. The phrase means “it’s the real deal, it’s top quality”. It started in the late 1920s and can trace its origins back to one of America’s most luxurious and expensive automobiles, the Duesenberg Model J. 

A colorized photo of a 1931 Duesenberg Model J convertible with "Duesenbird" hood ornament. (Photo by James Potter/The Enthusiast Network via Getty Images/Getty Images)

As we will see in these colorized photographs, the Duesenberg Model J was in a class by itself. It was the Rolls Royce of American-made cars, but brothers Fred and Augie Duesenberg of Duesenberg Motors had terrible timing. Let’s take a look at the Duesenberg Model J and the Duesenberg brothers.

The Duesenberg Brothers Had a Need for Speed

Frederick and August Duesenberg personified both the American Dream and the superiority of German engineering. The brothers, called Fred and Augie, were both born in Lippe, Germany but immigrated to the United States as youngsters. They grew up on their family’s Iowa farm. As boys, Fred and Augie were more interested in tinkering with mechanics than they were in farming. They also had a need for speed.

The brothers opened a bicycle shop in Rockford, Iowa, in the 1890s because Fred Duesenberg had become seriously involved in bicycle racing. In fact, he set several world records during his time as a competitive bike racer. To help him train, the brothers designed and built a motorcycle. They were so successful that they tried their hands at building an automobile. For a short time, they were in business with a friend, Fred Maytag, but he soon left to start his own company making washing machines.

German Engineering

A colorized photo of Fred and Augie Duesenberg. (pinterest)

Fred and Augie Duesenberg must have inherited some of that famous German engineering. At the very least, they had an eye for detail and a drive to produce superior machines. In 1914, Fred Duesenberg designed a 12-cylinder motor that was used for high-speed motorboats and aircraft. The motor was good enough to be used in racecars. Eddie Rickenbacker was the first racecar driver to drive a Duesenberg-powered automobile in the Indianapolis 500. He finished tenth in the 1914 race.

Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company

After spending World War I designing and building aircraft engines for the military, Fred and Augie Duesenberg started the Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company in Indianapolis in 1920. They started with the Duesenberg Model A, a vehicle that was commissioned by Samuel Northrup Castle, a businessman and politician. The Model A was a beautiful and powerful car. At the time, it had the largest engine available in a commercial vehicle with a 260 cubic-inch straight eight, 88 horsepower engine. It was also the first vehicle to have hydraulic brakes on every wheel.