I have been collecting model cars – I prefer to call even the 1:32 scales model cars and not toys – since the age of 3. Initially they came as gifts for a car crazy kid and were extensively used in my imaginary world of fast cars, wide clean roads with lane markings and clover-leaf intersections. You see, I was a 1970s kid in India. I had never been to ‘Bombay’ which was one of the few cities in India to boast of roads wider than two lanes. Most of the highways (could you call them that?) were single lanes. “National Highways” were strips of tarmac, two lanes wide with rare markings. Clover-leaf intersections and flyover were something I had seen in “Life” magazine and Hollywood movies. So all these things descended in my imagination as a child who loved cars. I have till date mustered around 150 odd models of cars, trucks, buses, aircraft even a locomotive with scales ranging from 1:64 (for the locomotive) to 1:18. You see, 1:18 scale models were not even available in India till the late 1990s. So I shall share my little garage with you over the next few weeks.
The first car I want to share is the Deusenberg SSJ. Its an extremely rare car and was the epitome of American automobile technology of the 1930s. The model I have is a 1935 SSJ.
Duesenberg was founded by brothers Fredrick and August Deusenberg in 1913 in Minnesota, USA. They started with building race cars and engines. They contributed to the American was effort during World War I by supplying engines. However, the company faced financial trouble and was bought over by Auburn Automobile Company owned by EL Cord in 1926. He retained the Duesenberg brand to build ultra fast and luxurious cars which could compete against European offerings like the Rolls Royce, Isotta-Fraschini and Hispano-Suiza.
The Duesenberg followed the extant trend in luxury automobiles wherein only the engine and chassis were offered by the manufacturer. Body and interiors were custom built for each customer by third-party coach builders. These cars were very fast as the engines were based on race-engines. Cost of a complete cars, including the coachwork ranged between 13,000 to 25,000 dollars at a time when the annual income of an average physician in USA was around 3,000 dollars. These cars were a must have for the rich and famous in USA. If you had made it in Hollywood, you had to have one.
Duesenberg introduced the Model J in 1928 at the New York Car Show. The Model J was available in long wheel base measuring 3.90 m (153.5″) or short wheel base 3.62 m (142.5″). As a special order, you could also order and extended wheel base car with a wheel base of 4.06 m (160″) or a super-short chassis measuring 3.18 m (125″). In 1932, Duesenberg introduce the super charged version of the Model J called the SJ. The SSJ refers to the Super Short Chassis Super Charged Model J from the company. The car model I have is one of these super short chassis SSJs.
Only two SSJs were ever built. One was owned by Hollywood start Gary Cooper and the second was “lent” by the company to Clarke Gable of “Gone with the Wind” fame. These cars had a extra short chassis measuring 125″ with body manufactured by LaGrande. They were powered by supercharged inline eight cylinder petrol engine displacing 6,878 cc (419.72 Cu-inch). Breathing through four valves per cylinder and operated by Double Overhead Cams (DOHC), something which became common in around the 1990s, these engines churned out 320 BHP at 4,200 rpm and 576.2 N-m (425 ft-lb) at 2,400 rpm. All this power and torque was transmitted to the rear wheel through a 3-speed gear box. This engine could push the Duesenberg SSJ to a top speed of 225 KM/ h (140 mph), and we are talking 1935 here when the best cars could barely manage to reach 160 KM/h (100 mph). The SSJ could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph (0-97 KM/h) in 8 seconds with an unsychronised gearbox.
Suspension duties at the front were done by a rigid axle mounted on semi-elliptic leaf springs and double acting hydraulic lever shock absorbers. The rear suspension comprised a live axle mounted on semi-elliptic leaf springs and double acting hydraulic lever shock absorbers. Stopping power was provided by hydraulically assisted drum brakes front and rear.
It was love at first sight with the Duesenberg after I saw it in a book on American Automobiles. It is one of the most beautiful cars I have seen, a true piece of automobile art and with a technology, power and speed to boot. I had to have one in my collection. I searched for it for nearly four years before I could lay hands on one of the models as they are pretty rare to come across in India. This search was before the launch of Amazon.