Celebrating Duesenberg in Style
La Jolla Concours d'Elegance honors this year's featured marque April 21-23
The La Jolla Concours D’Elegance has become a renowned statement of style, and this year’s celebration of great classic automobiles will be no exception. The honored marque in 2023 has been awarded to Duesenberg, which automotive historians have deemed synonymous with scientific pioneering, grace, and opulence. One of the handpicked Duesenberg cars on display this year with a fascinating history to tell is a 1933 model best known as the “Twenty Grand.”
The Evolution of Duesenberg Elegance
Although the car company started by Fred and August Duesenberg didn’t survive America’s Great Depression of the 1930s, the magnificent machines are still heralded for their engineering elegance. More than 90 years ago, Duesenberg’s straight-eight engines sported dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder along with hydraulic brake systems, designs well ahead of their time. The prodigious power and confident braking propelled Duesenberg race cars to win three Indianapolis 500 titles and become the first American car to win a world Grand Prix race.
Duesenberg matched its engineering prowess with grand style to offer a compelling ultra-luxury alternative to European rivals that included Rolls-Royce and Bugatti. And while small production automakers relied on coachbuilders to fabricate bodies to attach to their completed chassis, Duesenberg hired Gordon Buehrig as chief designer for its new Model J series that debuted in 1928. The youthful Buehrig was responsible for half of the prestigious Model J styling and set the Duesenberg template for other world coachmakers who produced magnificent bodies for the series.
In 1933, $20,000 was the equivalent of nearly a half-million dollars today, and that was in what historians mark as one of the worst years of our nation’s Great Depression. And yet, that was the price attached to Duesenberg’s Arlington Torpedo Sedan, a supercharged 300-horsepower SJ model unveiled at the Century of Progress, best known as The Chicago World’s Fair.
Buehrig delivered a close-coupled, low-profile style with a built-in torpedo-style trunk, and renowned New York coachbuilder Rolliston fabricated the body with unmatched attention to detail. While the magnificent Duesenberg was quite a hit in Chicago, the Depression-era timing for this level of opulence was not, and the bodywork was “modernized” for the 1934 show. The reworked car had modified fenders to cover the chassis, it featured steel wheels, and was painted black with a green leather interior, softening the art deco look. After touring around between Chicago and New York shows and dealerships, the car was acquired by Shreve Archer of Minneapolis.
A Legend’s Rebirth
The magnificent Duesenberg show car was enjoyed by a handful of owners through the decades until it was acquired in 1978 by renowned collector J.B. Nethercutt. The famous “Twenty Grand” showstopper couldn’t have landed in better hands. Nethercutt loved the Duesenberg heritage and his beautifully restored cars had already won the prestigious Pebble Beach Best of Show awards.
Nethercutt’s knowledge of Duesenberg history recalled the original creation of the Arlington Torpedo Sedan and he was committed to restoring it properly to its World’s Fair stature. That was hardly a small undertaking. To accomplish the task, Nethercutt retained the combined knowledge of designer Buehrig along with Duesenberg’s former president Harold Ames and Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club historian Ray Wolff. A number of Nethercutt’s fellow collectors who could add perspective were also consulted. The resulting vehicle has won numerous Best of Show honors and thrills visitors to The Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar, California. There, the multi-storied museum and car collection continues today under the leadership of Jack and Helen Nethercutt, who succeeded founders J.B. and Dorothy. Admission is free to the public, and it’s a must-see destination for car enthusiasts.
On View in La Jolla
The 17th annual La Jolla Concours d’Elegance begins with the VIP Party on Friday, April 21 followed by the Tour d’Elegance on Saturday. Enthusiasts strolling around La Jolla Saturday night from 5 to 9pm will find Porsches on Prospect to check out, and Ferraris will be found Sunday at the Motor Car Classic lining the street outside the Concours entrance. Of course, the main attraction, featuring celebrated Duesenbergs including the Twenty Grand and more than 140 additional renowned classic automobiles, is Sunday’s La Jolla Concours d’Elegance, complete with multiple VIP experiences amid breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. lajollaconcours.com