Duesenbergs were more expensive than Rolls-Royces and pretty much more powerful than anything else on the road, but being launched in the years prior to the Great Depression meant the brand had little chance to succeed, and sadly it didn’t.
Just over a thousand Duesenbergs were made before the company was folded in 1937, and with such a low production run it means virtually every Duesenberg has an interesting story behind it. This 1930 Model J with coachwork by LeBaron has a simply fascinating story, as told by Jay Leno in a recent episode of “Jay Leno’s Garage.”
It was originally bought by a 17-year-old named William Ashton, using funds from the sale of stock owned by the boy’s grandfather. Ashton held onto the car until 1958 when he sold it to a World War II veteran who paid for it using proceeds of gold and diamonds raided from bank vaults in Berlin during the war, and which he brought back hidden inside a motorcycle—which Jay Leno also happens to own.
Things then take a grim turn as you’ll find out in the video.
The car was built in 1928 but was only sold in 1930, with the practice at the time being to affix the model year based on the year of sale. It’s also a matching numbers car, which is rare for a Duesenberg as owners frequently swapped engines and even bodies.
The engine is a 420-cubic inch (6.9-liter) inline-8 which develops 265 horsepower—an insane figure for this era of car. It also features overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, hemispherical cylinder heads, and a warning light to remind drivers when to conduct a service. According to Leno, the car can easily hit 100 mph.
Leno’s now owned the car for about three decades, and it’s not the only Duesenberg in his collection. He also owns a 1931 Model J bare chassis and another 1931 Model J with only the one previous owner.