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Model A Phaeton
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  Duesenberg Model A Phaeton
 

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Country of origin:United States
Produced from:1921 - 1926
Numbers built:500 - 650
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:December 17, 2007
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Click here to download printer friendly versionSpeed played a major part in the lives of brothers Fred and August Duesenberg from a very young age. They first made a mark as bicycle racers at the end of the nineteenth century, but quickly turned to mechanical assistance to go faster still. The Duesenberg's first design was for a single cylinder bike engine. By the mid teens, they were developing racing car engines and eventually complete racing cars. With advanced four-valves-per-cylinder, straight four engines, the Duesenberg racing cars were very successful. During the War years, the brothers also built eight, twelve and sixteen cylinder engines for a variety of military purposes.

Starting with a clean slate, the brothers developed their first straight eight automobile engine for the 1919 racing season. Unlike the previous pushrod Duesenberg engines, it featured an overhead camshaft. There were some teething problems with the design, but gradually the new engine became competitive. In 1921 a three litre Duesenberg had the honour of becoming the first American car to win the French Grand Prix. Later in the decade, dual overhead camshaft engined Duesenbergs would also win the illustrious Indy 500 three times and many other races in the United States.

The brothers had bigger plans for the eight cylinder engine and in November 1920, they took the wraps off the first Duesenberg passenger car at the Automobile Salon in New York's Hotel Commodore. After Duesenberg's recent racing success, the sudden opportunity of buying one of these racing cars really got the crowd talking. What also helped was the prominent location of the prototype in the hotel's foyer where the car's unpainted and very shiny aluminium coachwork grabbed everybody's attention. It was not all show as under the glitter the Duesenberg 'Model A' also sported some production car firsts.

The Model A shared its SOHC straight eight with the successful racers and as such became the first production car with an eight cylinder engine. That eight cylinder unit displaced just over 4.2 litre and produced a decent 88 bhp. Mated to a three-speed gearbox, it was installed in a ladder frame, which was suspended by live axles front and rear. Another novelty was the use of hydraulically assisted drum brakes at every corner. The Model A's racing heritage was not forgotten as the brothers ensured that the car was as light as possible by using aluminium for a variety of parts.

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  Article Image gallery (8) Chassis (1) Specifications