by Michael Ferner
One of the great names of all time in racing, Fred Duesenberg started out as designer-cum-test driver for the Mason Motor Car Co. in Des Moines, Iowa. He developed a tough little two-cylinder car, nicknamed the “mountain goat”, and raced it himself successfully in hill climbs in the Middle West. In 1910, Mason was bought by the washing machine company Maytag (go figure!), but Fred continued to run a little racing team under the name of Mason – not Duesenberg, or Mason-Duesenberg, as many modern sources want us to believe – but he and his brother Augie also sold engines to special builders, and these carried the name of the brothers.
By 1914, Mason had become very successful in oval and road racing with Fred’s latest design, the innovative and clever “walking beam” four-cylinder, but Maytag had ceased production of cars, and the brothers left the big company to strike out on their own with their business, probably the first company in the world specialising in the (modest) volume manufacture of racing cars and engines! Soon, the Chevrolet brothers and their Frontenac company would follow suit in this niche market, and Harry Miller completed the threesome that would dominate US racing well into the thirties.
Duesenberg most always ran a works team, but also built cars for customers, often to the same spec: Ogren, Hoskins, Crawford, ReVere, Meteor, Roamer – all these companies raced thinly disguised Duesenbergs, and many Duesenberg-engined specials competed against them and the works cars. In 1919, Duesenberg initiated a wave of straight-8 engine designs, a popular trend for almost twenty years. A year later, and Duesenberg, meanwhile an Indianapolis (IN) company, began production of luxury automobiles for the road, and with that the focus shifted. By 1922, Miller had built up an enormous advantage in racing over its rivals, and the fortunes of the brothers began to slip, designs began to get messy.
By the late twenties, the Duesenberg Motor Co. had been bought by Auburn-Cord, and the racing team became entirely an afterthought, and was almost single-handedly run by Augie. In effect, it was now a “speed shop” like many others in Indianapolis, and it ran the old Duesenberg designs only by default. Thus, when the “junk formula” hit, it did what most racing shops did in the country, it recycled its old hardware. Meanwhile, Fred Duesenberg and the mother company also took a renewed interest in racing, and hence 1930 saw two new and entirely different Duesenberg designs in racing!
Last updated by Michael Ferner on 15 Dec 2009.
All text is copyright Michael Ferner 2009 - 2018.