Automotive

2017 Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: Resurrecting an American icon

2017 Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeto...
The replicas will celebrate the quintessential American luxury cars of the 1920s and 30s
The replicas will celebrate the quintessential American luxury cars of the 1920s and 30s
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"This is the car that we're going to be doing. The Phaeton dual cab."
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"This is the car that we're going to be doing. The Phaeton dual cab."
The 2017 Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton will be styled after the 1930s convertibles
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The 2017 Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton will be styled after the 1930s convertibles
A 1930 Duesenberg II Torpedo Phaeton
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A 1930 Duesenberg II Torpedo Phaeton
The 2017 Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton will be styled after the 1930s convertibles
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The 2017 Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton will be styled after the 1930s convertibles
The replicas will celebrate the quintessential American luxury cars of the 1920s and 30s
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The replicas will celebrate the quintessential American luxury cars of the 1920s and 30s
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: under construction
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: under construction
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton headlight design
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton headlight design
The headlight - "I put my initials in there to take credit for it."
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The headlight - "I put my initials in there to take credit for it."
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: the front Grille
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: the front Grille
"There's the chassis without the body on it of course"
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"There's the chassis without the body on it of course"
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: side hood panels
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: side hood panels
"This is a piece that mounts the headlight, a really trick piece. We had to make a pattern, shape that, lathed it in, ground it."
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"This is a piece that mounts the headlight, a really trick piece. We had to make a pattern, shape that, lathed it in, ground it."
"Gas tank, we made that."
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"Gas tank, we made that."
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: gas cap
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: gas cap
"We made the brake pedals out of rubber, we made a die for those out of plastic, machined all that and then cast them."
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"We made the brake pedals out of rubber, we made a die for those out of plastic, machined all that and then cast them."
"We made the hinges, these little bullet hinges."
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"We made the hinges, these little bullet hinges."
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: hubcap detail
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: hubcap detail
"That one spins, but all it does is allow you to take off the hubcap. On the real Duesenberg you'd use that to take the whole wheel off."
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"That one spins, but all it does is allow you to take off the hubcap. On the real Duesenberg you'd use that to take the whole wheel off."
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: supercharger tubing is a signature detail
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: supercharger tubing is a signature detail
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: "you get it finished, and then they don't know what color to paint it."
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: "you get it finished, and then they don't know what color to paint it."
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: front grille
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: front grille
"I connected it to the thermostat, so it works the same on the replica."
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"I connected it to the thermostat, so it works the same on the replica."
"The louvres on the hood would open and close, when the engine was warm they'd open up and when it cooled down they'd close."
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"The louvres on the hood would open and close, when the engine was warm they'd open up and when it cooled down they'd close."
"That's the spare tire mount I was talking about, that was tough to build."
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"That's the spare tire mount I was talking about, that was tough to build."
"We started making the hood out of aluminum, it's a lot easier to work with than fiberglass"
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"We started making the hood out of aluminum, it's a lot easier to work with than fiberglass"
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: dash panel under construction
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: dash panel under construction
"Partially assembled, we had it together and apart probably 20 times."
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"Partially assembled, we had it together and apart probably 20 times."
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: frame and disc brakes
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: frame and disc brakes
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: signature front fender shape
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: signature front fender shape
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: steering wheel
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: steering wheel
"The steering wheel, close to done. That was a lot of work."
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"The steering wheel, close to done. That was a lot of work."
"The front bumper had to have that curve, so we made this thing where you heat up the bumper and bend it around. We have to make that all over again."
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"The front bumper had to have that curve, so we made this thing where you heat up the bumper and bend it around. We have to make that all over again."
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: supercharger tubes
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: supercharger tubes
"All the brackets for the hood, here's some of the crank handles we built"
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"All the brackets for the hood, here's some of the crank handles we built"
"We got those whitewalls from Coker tyre, same size and all."
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"We got those whitewalls from Coker tyre, same size and all."
"These are plugs for making the headlights. We made a chamber to hydraulically press those headlight forms."
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"These are plugs for making the headlights. We made a chamber to hydraulically press those headlight forms."
"We used a solid front axle off a Ford pickup truck, because the Duesenberg had solid axles"
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"We used a solid front axle off a Ford pickup truck, because the Duesenberg had solid axles"
"Steering wheel - we machined that ourselves out of solid billet."
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"Steering wheel - we machined that ourselves out of solid billet."
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: body under construction
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: body under construction
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: rear fender under construction
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: rear fender under construction
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: body under construction
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: body under construction
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: old prototype used a Mustang engine
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: old prototype used a Mustang engine
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: old prototype used a Mustang engine
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: old prototype used a Mustang engine
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: under construction
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: under construction
"Putting the hood and stuff on - we got tired of working with fiberglass. We're going to do everything in aluminum on the new car"
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"Putting the hood and stuff on - we got tired of working with fiberglass. We're going to do everything in aluminum on the new car"
"We used a solid stainless hubcap instead of spoked wheels"
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"We used a solid stainless hubcap instead of spoked wheels"
"We used a solid stainless hubcap instead of spoked wheels"
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"We used a solid stainless hubcap instead of spoked wheels"
"We used a Mustang rear end and we put disc brakes on it"
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"We used a Mustang rear end and we put disc brakes on it"
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: dash under construction
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: dash under construction
"You can see all these holes, they're the mount points for the original Duesenberg motor"
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"You can see all these holes, they're the mount points for the original Duesenberg motor"
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: frame under construction
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Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: frame under construction
"The chassis we built - I think we made 4 frames all together"
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"The chassis we built - I think we made 4 frames all together"
"Here's the dash cutout"
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"Here's the dash cutout"
"Here's a drawing I made of the hubcap, one of the most detailed things on it. The little serrations and stuff. I drew it first and then turned it into a CAD file and we actually machined it."
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"Here's a drawing I made of the hubcap, one of the most detailed things on it. The little serrations and stuff. I drew it first and then turned it into a CAD file and we actually machined it."
Eddie Paul with one of his earliest movie creations: the famous Craterface car from Grease
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Eddie Paul with one of his earliest movie creations: the famous Craterface car from Grease
Eddie Paul with a replica shark, after it was attacked by a real shark in the water
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Eddie Paul with a replica shark, after it was attacked by a real shark in the water
View gallery - 57 images

After a false start back in 2005, Dave Hartje's plans to revive the Duesenberg luxury car brand are back on track. Instead of reinventing the brand with a futuristic new sportscar concept, the team is getting set to go into production with a series of replicas celebrating the quintessential American luxury cars of the 1920s and 30s. In full control of production this time is Eddie Paul, a remarkable individual we've written about many times before. In the glitz, glamour and rampant fakery of Hollywood, there's a quiet subculture of serious, can-do guys who get things done fast, on time and on budget – and Paul is one of them.

Editor's note: there is an ongoing dispute between Brightcliff Limited and David Hartje regarding his right to use the Duesenberg trademark.

He built the cars for Grease, which I'll admit is enough to get me squealing like a schoolgirl. But that's not to mention all the cars for Fast and the Furious 1 and 2, xXx, Cobra, E.T. and some 60 motorcycles for Streets of Fire – as well as dozens of other movies, TV shows and promo vehicles he's worked on over the last 38 years. He was one of the stunt drivers that jumped the General Lee in the Dukes of Hazzard TV series, as well as dozens of other stunt appearances.

Eddie Paul with one of his earliest movie creations: the famous Craterface car from Grease
Eddie Paul with one of his earliest movie creations: the famous Craterface car from Grease

He's also proven himself many times over as an inventor, whether pioneering new 3D filming techniques, or developing new pump designs, or even building mechanical sharks that appear so real and swim so convincingly that not only do they look great on screen, but they've actually fooled other sharks in the wild, and paid the price for it.

Eddie Paul with a replica shark, after it was attacked by a real shark in the water
Eddie Paul with a replica shark, after it was attacked by a real shark in the water

In the case of the new Duesy, though, it's back to creating cars – but with one big difference. "[The movie jobs are] always under extreme deadline. The quality doesn't have to be that good, just good enough for a camera that's ten feet back," Paul tells us at his home in El Segundo, California – a house he built himself, of course. "This project is totally different. I'm really looking forward to this, it's a project we can take our time with and make it look perfect. It'll be a nice change."

The 2017 Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton will be the first off the production line, styled after the 1933 model convertibles. "The top goes up and then hides in the trunk, which is kinda unique," says Paul, "It's called the six-man top, originally because it took six people to put the top up and down. We're gonna redesign that and make it a push-button electric thing."

Paul's previous prototype for a replica Duesenberg was accurate right down to the frame. "On the first one, we built the whole Duesenberg chassis. We used a Mustang engine, but you could put a Duesenberg engine in there and it'd fit right in. I made motor mounts that went from the Duesenberg chassis to the Mustang engine." But the new design will be built on a GM truck chassis, the same used for the Chevy Tahoe and Silverado, using a 6.2-liter V8 LS3 Corvette engine that makes 430 horsepower and 424 ft-lbs of torque. "You'll have something that's warrantied by Chevrolet, that's dependable," says Paul.

"This is the car that we're going to be doing. The Phaeton dual cab."
"This is the car that we're going to be doing. The Phaeton dual cab."

Everything from that point upward will be up to Eddie Paul and his team, and reproducing these beautiful cars is made all the more difficult by the fact that they're so rare. No original designs exist to work from, so Paul has been reverse engineering them. "Jay Leno's got, I think six Duesenbergs down there at his garage, he's a friend of mine," Paul tells us. "I'd go down there, he let me measure his chassis and get all the dimensions I needed. But the convertible top, that's a real challenge, because nobody has any information on how they built it. These cars are so rare, Jay doesn't even have one of these. He's got the fixed tops."

Thus, much of the new Duesenberg will come down to Paul's eye for detail and ingenuity. Everything from the steering wheel to the hood ornament, every flowing fender panel, the dashboard, the curved bumpers, the striking supercharger pipes, the cute rear brake lights that light up and say STOP … even the signature spare tire side mounts, they all have to be designed and built from scratch.

Another challenge will be to make a car with classic 1930s style, but some of today's creature comforts. The old car's windows, for example, were hand-crank jobs. The new one will have electric windows, and the old hand cranks will look the same but operate the electric switches to raise and lower the windows. There will be a stereo hidden under the dash, and the body will be a couple of inches wider so passengers aren't "sitting right up against the driver," as Paul puts it. The transmission will probably be automatic, to open the new Duesys up to a broader range of well-heeled buyers.

The 2017 Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton will be styled after the 1930s convertibles
The 2017 Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton will be styled after the 1930s convertibles

Duesenberg company owner Dave Hartje has given Paul a generous 12 months to built the first production prototype Torpedo Phaeton, as well as all the tooling, castings and processes for small scale production of about 15 cars per year. That's a far cry from the 2-week turnaround times of the movie business.

Without the need to rush things, Paul is keeping the team lean, mean and personal on this one, and plans to move to Texas to set up a 3,000 square foot workshop where he doesn't have to work under what he sees as restrictive Californian laws: "In California you can't use a plasma cutter, you can't weld, you can't paint ... EPA, OSHA, you name it, they come after you. So I went to Texas ... Texas wants innovators and people who actually build things without all the over the top regulations California has."

In a way, the new Torpedo Phaetons will be the opposite of the original Duesenbergs. Back in the day, the Duesenberg company would build the chassis and engine, and send the cars off to coachbuilders to have the body built on top. The new cars will be Duesenberg bodies on top of a GM chassis and engine.

Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: "you get it finished, and then they don't know what color to paint it."
Duesenberg Torpedo Phaeton: "you get it finished, and then they don't know what color to paint it."

But while the Duesenbergs of the 1930s were high-tech luxury race cars that were "doing 140 miles an hour when most cars were doing 60," as Paul puts it, the enduring charm that puts them in such demand as museum exhibits and showpieces comes more from their spectacular looks. The Torpedo Phaeton exudes Silver Ghost levels of historic stateliness. It evokes kings and queens of industry, with roomy running boards that could accommodate at least two tommy gun-wielding, Al Capone-era gangsters per side.

The new team at Duesenberg Automotive Company, LLC doesn't want these cars to be museum pieces, the guys want them out on the road, causing whiplash when people see them on the freeway and causing crowds to gather when they're parked. It makes sense to build them on a warrantied platform ... and that LS3 engine should put any performance concerns to bed.

We'll keep an eye on this project as it develops, but as we stated earlier, Eddie Paul has a hard-earned reputation for getting the job done, and now that manufacturing is completely under his control we can expect things to progress rapidly.

View gallery - 57 images
7 comments
Spacebrat1
'That's a Duesy!' remember riding on the running boards of one at Ramstien AFB in 1957. My Dad's Chief Master Sgt at the Weather Squadron had found one and rescued it. too cool. was 8 or 9 at the time. Go Eddie!!! lb/bluesawtooth
Lewis M. Dickens III
Dave Hartje is to be admired.
I was a close friend of Gordon Buehrig and grew up near Bob Gregorie... the two greats of that era. And I put on a show at Detroit's Scarab Club (An Artist's Club in Detroit) so we became close friends.
Gordon's favorite of that period was the 20 Grand which was one of 4 cars displayed at the Chicago worlds fair. It was stunning and the first auto with a gray/aluminum metallic body. Gordon used to love to play around in the paint shop. Also where he created that beautiful Michigan Black Cherry Cord color.
The current restoration of that car housed at the Nethercutt Museum is incorrect.
Gordon was out in San Francisco wandering around one evening and he looked in a window of a book store and spotted "vers une architecture" by Charles Edouard Jeannerret, AKA Le Corbusier. After perusing it he picked it up and said that it inspired the hell out of him so they exchanged letters.
He felt that the 20 grand was most inspired by that book with the 4 Soss olive nuckles and the huge chromed flex tube exhausts which were honest expressions of the modern machine age.
Dave's work is beautiful, no question about that, but 4 nuckels are better and the wind shield seems a bit off.
Building these replicars is a lot like building a very accurate Federal Style home (you don't know what that is).
Replicas is not what Gordon was about nor LeCorbusier as well. They were about the futrue eschewing the past.
Very nice to honor them, but why not do what each loved the best. Why not do Godon's model A.. he loved that as well.
There is a part of me that is disgusted with my City, Detroit. We have never honored and respected our past. I sure wish that Terry Adderley would Buy a replica of the 20 Grand, properly colored and put it on display is a great Automotive Museum in our Complex little City that played a absolutely huge role in advancing mankind and creating the 20th Century in replacing the horse.
bergamot69
The quintessential American luxury car of its time- enormous, loudly and unapologetically ostentatious, yet elegant with it. Definitely the thing for a Hollywood star to be seen driving along an art-deco street.
Hardly the kind of car then for your average understated European. But that wouldn't be the point, would it?
Eddie Paul, I applaud you.
StWils
I would like to suggest a feature change that would be useful and a useful comment on both the old & new. Instead of window hand cranks that just replicate the original while hiding the switch that operates modern electric motors I would like to have the cranks act as an optional mechanical over-ride for the modern motors. Anyone who has ever driven a car with electric windows or, worse, (guess how I know), an electric roof window, knows that these goddam things ONLY Fail at the least possible convenient time. If they only failed in warm pleasant weather and close to home then you really do not get an opportunity to appreciate how valuable a mechanical crank over-ride would be. Make the window cranks be useful, functional, and attractive. A simple mechanical intervention cannot be hard to implement here.
owlbeyou
Jay Leno's got six of them? Lucky bugger, if that's true.
Someone who has an intimate understanding of the challenges of coachbuilding can really appreciate Eddie Paul's efforts.
After having read this article, a wish to see a Duesenberg and a Bugatti Royale side by side came to mind. Two very grand and different cars of the same era. That would be sweet!
bergamot69
@StWils,
From experience, the only vehicles I've experienced problems with electric windows with have been far Eastern- Japanese and Korean. And the problem wasn't with the motors or other electric component, but with the pantograph- style lifting arms that bend if the guides are worn, or not lubricated.
Never had that problem with any European car window mechanism, even old and poorly maintained ones (I've owned a fair few bangers in my time).
ronbros
Absolutely FANTASIC for looks its an 11.