March 2015 Car of the Month
1927 Duesenberg Model X Boat Roadster
This car is a one-off prototype representing the combination of a Duesenberg chassis and McFarlan coachwork.
At a young age, German born Fred and August Duesenberg immigrated to the United States with their family. Both brothers were self-taught engineers with a focus on racing which began with racing bicycles. That interest would later transition to building cars for passenger use and later, cars for racing. In 1920, Fred and August started a new company called Duesenberg Automobiles and Motors in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1921, the Duesenberg Model A was introduced. The Model A was very advanced, having an overhead cam valve train, high horsepower for the size of the engine, and the introduction of hydraulic brakes to passenger cars. Although Fred and August were great idea men with great products, their business was a failure and in 1923 one investor of the company attempted to push them into receivership. This attempt failed; however, their future was in doubt. On the verge of going out of business in October 1926, Duesenberg Automobile and Motors was purchased by E. L. Cord who now had controlling ownership of the Auburn Automobile Company. The company was renamed Duesenberg, Inc. and was a part of Auburn Automobile. Fred came along with the company in the purchase; however August did not.
The Model A ended production in 1926 and now efforts were turned to a replacement for the Model A with minimal funding. The result was the construction of 13 prototypes known as the Model X. The Model X was fundamentally a Model A with some improvements which included boost-ing the output of the Model A engine by 12 horsepower by changing the head design. Of these 13 proto-types, a few were sold and the remaining chassis were either repurposed for Model J chassis or used for parts. This particular Model X has a body built by McFarlan of Connersville, Indiana. McFarlan was a very low production, high end auto maker with a reputation for their coachwork. The body style of this Model X is called a Boat Roadster because of the rear of the car is shaped like the front of a boat. Being built as a show car, no roof was made. Although this Model X Boat Roadster never led to a production version, it was the pattern for the similar looking 1928 Auburn Speedster including the boat tail shape and slanting doors. The Model X was not sufficient in the eyes of E. L. Cord and he directed Fred Duesenberg to design a larger, more powerful car which lead to the Duesenberg Model J.
Of the 13 Model X’s built, this Boat Roadster is one of only four remaining. It was sold to Duesenberg racing sponsor, Arnold Kirkeby, who was also the owner of hotels in Chicago and California. After Kirkeby sold the Model X in the early 1930s, it passed through numerous owners and at some point was modified with an entirely different front end and the running boards were removed. Over the years without proper care, its condition fell into a sad state. The last owner of this Model X was University of Michigan English professor, Dr. Peter Heydon. Dr. Heydon and his team spent three years on restoration to bring this grand, one of a kind back to its original build.
Donated to the Museum by Rita and Peter Heydon of Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Experience the passion as you step back through time to the golden era of automobiles. Walk the same hallways as the automotive giants of yesterday. Touring the museum will give you an impression of what a day at Auburn Automobile Company must have been like in the 1930s.