What should I find in my latest Motor Sport but more words of wisdom from that automotive expert, Mr. Cecil Clutton. With prompt reaction to any who question his impartiality he puts forth a variety of “facts” to support his contention.
But let us look at the standards used by Mr. Clutton, and see if they are even remotely valid.
His latest premise seems to be that since the Duesenberg J was not used in racing competition it could not back up its claims and consequently was not as good as it set out to be. This is quite an interesting supposition since it relegates, if we are to be consistent, a few other cars to the same category. Certainly not as good as they set out to be (by Mr. Clutton’s standards, not mine) are all Rolls-Royce Phantoms, the V12 Hispano (curious, in his book Mr. Clutton calls this “a post-vintage-thoroughbred if there ever was one”), 8A and 8B Isotta Fraschinis, the Bugatti Royale—but why go on, the list appears endless. At any rate none of these cars, comparable to the Duesenberg in cost and usage, blazed any paths to racing glory. The fact of the matter is that these cars, including the J Duesenberg, were never intended for competition purposes. Perhaps to Mr. Clutton the pinnacle of automotive development is an imitation leather body stretched over a curtain-rod frame, powered by an engine so overstressed and temperamental as to just, with luck, last through one race. Fortunately, the manufacturers mentioned above, and others, had no such narrow views.
As to performance, in 1935 a Duesenberg on the salt fiats of Bonneville, Utah, travelled for 24 hours at an average speed (including stops for gas and tyre check) of 135.47 m.p.h. A one-hour average of 152.145 m.p.h. was set. These were International Class B (5- to 8-litres capacity) records, broken later only by aviation powerplants harnessed to special chassis. The Duesenberg engine and chassis were very nearly stock. This particular automobile weighs 4,800 lb. It is still in existence, as are over three-fifths of all model-J Duesenbergs ever built. Perhaps Mr. Clutton can tell me if a like percentage of the Duesenberg’s competitors are still in service?
Turning briefly to Mr. Clutton’s suspicions of American power output, I must confess difficulty in understanding what relationship there is between a modern passenger car and a 1908 Itala which has any bearing on the power of a Duesenberg. Apparently the J engine produced ample power for its size. I note that John Cobb, in his first attempt to break the Duesenberg records, ran the salt flats at 152.116 m.p.h. for the hour; 134.85 for the 24 hours. This, just a shade under the Duesenberg’s speeds, in his Napier-Railton with about three times the engine capacity.
If I may, I would like to quote another author, Mr. J. R. Buckley. In his book, “Cars of the Connoisseur,” he puts it very aptly:
“One frequently hears that no really worthwhile motor cars have ever been made in America. This is as unkind as it is untrue. It is also, may I say, a statement indicative of an uninformed mind.”
If the restored example which Mr. Clutton claims to have driven has “lethal steering,” then the front end is improperly aligned. However, I cannot help but wonder if Mr. Clutton might tend to find faults where none exist. I have driven several Duesenbergs, own two, and find steering and handling characteristics to be excellent, as long as the front end is in proper alignment. Having driven a number of other marques, including Hispano V12, Delage, Minerva, Rolls-Royce, as well as such fine American cars as Packard, Lincoln, Auburn and Chrysler, I have yet to find any which surpass the Duesenberg for all-around, fast, over-the-road performance and longevity. This, Mr. Clutton, is precisely what it was intended for.
Like Mr. McMillan, I would like to commend Motor Sport for covering the many phases of motoring in an unbiased and highly interesting fashion.
William S. Snyder.