Duesenberg, Cord and Tucker – More Great Marques for American Car Month at autoevolution


Back when Hollywood stars were contract players, the Duesenbergs from 1928 to 1937 were the top of the line when it came to style and performance. If you had a Duesenberg Model J in your garage in the Hollywood Hills, you had most certainly arrived as American Royalty.

The 1930s models, particularly the Duesenberg Model Js, were pure guts and glory. These beasts could reach 60mph (97 kph) in a startling eight seconds and at the top end, they hit more than 130 mph (209 kph). And in terms of value, a Model J would set you back around $400K in today’s dollars.

The Cord L-29 was, aside from being drop-dead gorgeous in an old school way, the first American front-wheel-drive car to be offered for sale to the public. Designed by engineer Cornelius Van Ranst the novel drive system was derived from Indianapolis 500 race machines of the day and took advantage of the same layout and inboard brake system.

Built in Auburn, Indiana, the Cord was also the first front-wheel-drive car to make use of constant-velocity joints which are now ubiquitous in nearly all front-wheel-drive vehicles. The L-29 came with stunning instrumentation which included a temperature gauge, oil pressure gauge, and speedometer on the left with a gas gauge, oil level gauge, and Ammeter to the right of the steering wheel.

Granted, it was a bit of a dog when it came to speed with an Auburn 4,934 cc (301 cu in) 125 hp, but the crankshaft shoved out through the block and the flywheel mounted there made a brutish statement. A bit of a problem was that all that beautiful coachwork made the 4,700 lb (2,100 kg) L-29 a real log that could only reach 80 mph (130 km/h), but the styling was so head-turning that it made no sense to roll by less fortunate onlookers any faster. It was said that handling was superb, and a price of just $3,000 USD ($45,000 in 2020 USD) made it very competitively priced in comparison to the Cadillac, Lincoln, Packard and Stutz models of the era.

But the Cord 812 models were Auburn’s great leap forward when it came to styling, performance and celebrity clientele. The 812 starred in Hollywood films and dotted the movie studio parking lots and they were owned by stars of the time such as Gary Cooper, Tyrone Power, and Clark Gable.

One Auburn ad featured a boulevardier of an older man. The text read, “Of course, I own a Cord, and naturally, it’s Super-Charged. As someone said, a man counts his years only when he has nothing else to count. I like to go places and do things… Since I dislike the commonplace, it is only natural that I want my motor car to give me pleasure in addition to transportation.”

The Tucker 48, commonly – but incorrectly – referred to as the Tucker Torpedo, was a piece of genius conceived by entrepreneur Preston Tucker while he lived in Ypsilanti, Michigan. It was produced during a short run in Chicago, Illinois in 1948, and just 51 cars were made before the company was forced to declare bankruptcy and cease all operations on March 3, 1949.

The end was documented in an excellent 1988 film, Tucker: The Man and His Dream by director Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola himself owns and displays his 48 at his winery.

According to the movie and various books, the failure of the company was said to have come from a tidal wave of negative publicity initiated by various competitors, a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation and a sensational stock fraud trial. Those allegations proved to be without merit and led to a complete exoneration for Tucker.

But the real story was the car. The 48 was originally meant to be priced at just $1,000. The actual ended up closer to $4,000.

The 48 featured a 335 ci motor which produced 166 bhp and 372 lbs/ft torque, offered 4 wheel independent ‘Torsilastic’ suspension, a 4-speed manual electronic pre-select transmission, a pop out safety glass windshield, a padded dash and doors and upper doors cut into the roof line. The Tucker could reach 0-60 in 10 seconds and had an estimated top speed of 120 mph.

In 2011, NBC featured the car on the ‘It’s Worth What?’ television show and estimated the value of a 1948 Tucker sedan at $1.2 million. Tucker #1043 sold at auction for $2.9 million at an auction in 2012.