Before the legendary 911 there was the 356, the first car made by the Porsche car company in 1948. Designed by Dr. Porsche’s son Ferry from Volkswagen Type I components, the first 50 cars were hand made, followed by a planned production run of 500 cars, which ended up being more than 5,000 cars by 1954. Iteratively upgraded as the 356A, 356B, and 356C, it was the mainstay of the Porsche lineup until the 911/912 was introduced in 1963.
This is the car that established BMW as both an enthusiast brand and as a credible international auto manufacturer. This is the vehicle from which Bob Lutz, who worked at BMW from 1971 to 1974, crafted the “Ultimate Driving Machine” marketing campaign, which still resonates more than 40 years later. It was the success of the “New Class” cars, the 1500/1600/2000 models, that allowed BMW to survive financially and start branching out into luxury models like the first 5 series cars in the early ’70s.
From the faux Egyptian hood ornament to it’s bright red wire wheels, this car just screams “Roaring 20s”. I’m not sure exactly what the difference is between an open touring car and a phaeton. Perhaps Stutz didn’t like the term phaeton. In any case, Harry Stutz’s company got its start building race cars and selling slightly civilized versions of them to wealthy folks. The Stutz Bearcat had one of the first multivalve engines, with four valves per cylinder, and it introduced the underslung chassis, allowing for a lower center of gravity and better handling. When the “cylinder war” of the early 1930s began, Stutz didn’t have the resources of companies like Packard, Cadillac, and Marmon that were developing V12 and even V16 engines, they responded by hiring Fred Duesenberg to design a DOHC inline eight with 32 valves, and ended up selling more cars with that engine than their competitors did with their twelves and sixteens.
You’ve got to give Pierce Arrow some credit. Selling cars to the most traditional part of the market, high end luxury, Pierce bucked tradition with their so-called Dawley headlights. Designed by Herbert Dawley, their chief designer, the headlight housings were faired into the fenders. His patent claimed that their wider spacing than used by conventional inboard headlamps provide better illumination of the road. They also gave Pierce Arrows a distinctive look in an era when cars really looked alike, save for their radiator shell/grille shapes. The frog-eyed look does stand out. To accommodate their more traditional customers, Pierce did offer conventional headlights as an option, though based on the Pierce Arrows I’ve seen at car shows and in museums a majority were ordered with the Dawleys.
It seems to me that most of the attention paid to prewar Lincolns focuses on the Zephyr and Continental, both of which appeared in the late 1930s, which were both a departure from the upright traditional luxury cars of the classic era. Perhaps that’s why the classic Lincolns, like this Model K, don’t get as much attention as the senior Packards and Duesenbergs, when people think of classic luxury automobiles. That’s a shame because those big Lincolns give nothing up in terms of style to the other great marques of the era. Henry Ford bought Lincoln out of bankruptcy in the early 1920s in part to give his son Edsel something to play with (the other part was to humiliate Lincoln founder Henry Leland, who had a role in Henry’s second automotive venture, the Henry Ford Co., becoming Cadillac after Ford’s backers asserted control). Edsel can legitimately be considered one of the fathers of automobile styling and the classic Lincolns show it.
We’ve featured this particular dual cowl Duesenberg by LeBaron before. It’s in the collection of the Gilmore museum, which is where the photos at that link were taken. This set is from the 2015 Concours of America at St. John’s. All Duesenbergs are special but the LeBaron bodied “sweep panel” dual cowl phaeton literally set the style. There were 481 Duesenberg Model Js built. LeBaron built bodies for 38 Model Js, 27 of them dual cowl phaetons. Actually, the first Model J built, #J-101, was a LeBaron dual cowl phaeton with LeBaron’s signature “sweep panel” two tone styling. LeBaron went on to build 18 Model J Duesenbergs with that style body, a bit more sporting with its cut-down doors, a cowl that echoed the curved of the sweep panel, and a lower beltline than traditional “barrelside” phaetons. The sweep panel look was so popular that over the years a number of Model J sedans have been rebodied in that LeBaron style. This particular Duesenberg, J-111 / 2133, was the tenth Model J built. It was displayed by Duesenberg in 1929 at auto salons in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and then used as a demonstrator at the company’s LA dealership. Duesenbergs were popular with Hollywood actors and other celebrities and this phaeton’s provenance includes being owned by the son of comedian Buster Keaton. It’s now part of the collection of the Gilmore Car Museum.
E. L. Cord and the Duesenberg brothers built 481 Model J Duesenbergs, most as rolling chassis whose buyers had them fitted with custom bodywork. According to Wikipedia, 378 of those cars are known to survive in one form or another. The way it was explained to me is that there are three different kinds of “real” Duesenbergs. There are numbers matching engine and chassis combinations that still wear the original bodywork. Then there are more or less intact chassis that have been rebodied at some point after the classic era. Finally there are those cars assembled from parts. This Murphy bodied dual cowl phaeton is no agglomeration of parts but is as real a deal as a Duesenberg can get. One of only three dual cowl phaeton Duesenbergs by Murphy, it’s been owned by Charles Letts Jr. since 1954, when he paid $4,000 for it.
That was a goodly sum 61 years ago, more than enough to buy most Cadillac models. Still, Letts probably made a good purchase since a fully authentic Duesenberg with an original body is today worth at least a million dollars and maybe as much as three million.
For years it’s was well known that just 47 Tucker cars existed. Preston Tucker’s company managed to finish 37 production examples before he was effectively shut down by the SEC. Another 13 cars were left uncompleted on the assembly line. Twelve of those cars were finished soon after the Tucker Corporation folded. Another was assembled from parts in the 1980s. Over time, four Tuckers have been destroyed. In addition to the cars, the Tucker factory assembled a rolling chassis to use as a mule for testing Preston Tucker’s novel gearless automatic transmission that he hoped to eventually offer. That chassis was numbered 1052 and eventually was gathered up in a lot of NOS Tucker parts.
A couple of Tucker enthusiasts tried to assemble those parts but it wasn’t until Tucker fan John Schuler acquired them that the project got off the ground in 2010, more than 60 years after Tucker went out of business. While there was almost a complete body, Classic & Exotic Service of Troy, Michigan fabricated a new roof, floor pan and rear doors and completed the assembly.
Tucker #1052 had its first public showing at the 2015 Concours of America at St. John’s, where it won a blue ribbon.
In the past, Cars In Depth hasn’t featured very much close-up photography because our main 3D rig for still shots has too wide an intra-lens distance (aka “stereo base”) to shoot details like badges and hood ornaments. The most important rule in stereo photography is to make sure you’re far enough from your target to avoid extreme parallax. I call that avoiding the “finger in front of your nose” effect. Normally you shouldn’t get any closer than 30 times the distance between the lens centers.
The JVC GS-TD1 camcorder we use to shoot video, though, has just a 32mm stereo base, and it has a still photo mode (though the resolution isn’t a high as with our still rig). That means the closest we can get is only about a meter, just right for shooting hood ornaments. The RM Sotheby’s Motor City auction this year was a great opportunity to test it out. They had a number of prewar classics, including Packards, Pierce Arrows, Cadillacs and a Duesenberg that date to the era when drivers called them “mascots”, not hood ornaments. One has to take care about the background behind the target, since when you’re doing close up work, there can be extreme parallax between the target and items behind it, but so far for the most part I’m happy with the results.