Words by Sean Smith / Photos by Sean Smith & Michael DiPleco

When you hear the word Duesenberg you have images of massive luxury machines created for the captains of industries or robber barons. Your imagination might also conjure up large two-door roadsters piloted by stars of the silver screen. These lime green engined behemoths were tremendously expensive. Owners of these cars breathed rarefied air.

All those swells could offer up thanks to a couple of immigrant brothers from Lippe, Germany.

Frederick was born in 1876 with his brother August following in 1879. In the mid-1880s, the family left Germany and settled in Rockford, Iowa.

Intrigued with mechanical things, Fred was helping with the family finances by repairing farm equipment. The brothers also became part of the big bicycle craze of the time. Fred started working on them, and he then became a racer and finally a manufacturer. From there, he moved on to motorcycles.

1915 Duesenberg being raced on the track

1915 Duesenberg being raced on the track

In 1903 Fred’s bicycle empire had crumbled. The brothers opened a garage and were getting into racing cars at that time. A well-to-do lawyer Edward Mason learned about what the brothers were doing and put some money behind them; from that partnership, the Mason automobile was created and arrived in 1906 sporting a potent two-cylinder engine.

In 1913 Fred and Augie left Iowa and opened the Duesenberg Motor Company in Minnesota. They used leftover Mason double-drop frames and refined their unique “walking-beam” engine known for its eight 16-inch long rocker arms and horizontal valves and went racing.

Racing wisdom called for big engines in oversized frames, but the brothers had created a nimble and competitive racer; soon, members of the motoring world were taking notice. In 1913 Willie Haupt drove a Mason to a 10th place finish. The Duesenbergs managed to do this with very little money, although, by 1914, the three-car team had notched up some impressive wins on the A.A.A. circuit.

Right view of the 1915 Duesenberg

Right view of the 1915 Duesenberg

To make ends meet, they sold engines to other competitors, and through that, they landed another patron, the industrialist James Harbeck. For him, Fred and Augie produced marine engines. This work provided the brothers with the finances to redesign their race engine and chassis.

For the 1915 season, the Brothers improved handling by shortening the rear of the Mason frame added new rear spring hangers and shorter leaf springs. They replaced the earlier 8-valve engine with an all-new 16-valve 298.2 cubic inch “walking-beam” four, just under the 300 CI engine displacement limit the A.A.A. sanctioning body put forth.

In 1916 Wilber D’Arlene finished in second place at the 1916 Indianapolis race with the feature car. At the end of the 1916 racing season, the Duesenbergs sold all of the four-cylinder cars to make way for the new SOHC 8-cylinder Team cars. James A. Benedict from Katonah, New York, a riding mechanic for the Duesenberg team, purchased the racer D’Arlene drove at Indy.

With the Duesenberg re-named the “Benedict Special,” he jumped in the deep end by taking on top professional drivers and the latest race cars at the Sheepshead Bay Speedway in the fall of 1916. After 100 hard-fought miles on the board track, Benedict found himself in 6th place at the checkered flag. From there, he drove his racer home to Katonah. He didn’t race the car again until the following fall in Sheepshead Bay.

At the “Colossus of Brooklyn,” the Benedict Special was really showing its age. It was up against the latest Duesenbergs, Frontenacs, Peugeots, and V-12 Packards, only placing 10th overall. For him, big-time racing was in his rearview mirror, although dirt track racing was a different matter. James took on

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By: Sean Smith
Title: A Racer That Started a Legend
Sourced From: sportscardigest.com/the-duesenberg-racer-that-started-a-legend/
Published Date: Fri, 11 Mar 2022 16:45:56 +0000

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