1921 Duesenberg Straight Eight
By 1919, the Duesenberg name had become synonymous with craftsmanship, performance and advanced engineering. The brothers that brought that name to renown were German born Frederick and August Duesenberg. From arrival in the U.S. in 1885 through the industrial revolution, the gifted engineers developed aircraft and marine engines for WWI, championship winning bicycles, motorcycles, and most famously, race cars. In 1919, the two looked to commercialize with two final ventures both based in Indianapolis, IN – Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company, Inc. to produce luxury passenger cars, and the Duesenberg Brothers Racing team, focused on competition cars. Both entities would utilize the ingenious and powerful inline-eight engine design they had developed in the 1910s.
After some false starts, and a few prototypes, Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company, Inc. produced its first car line in 1921– the Straight Eight, later known as the Model A. Originally announced in 1920 and equipped with a conventional flathead engine, the Duesenberg brothers delayed production when they decided at the last minute to produce the passenger cars with their race car derived powerplant. Though the change crippled the new company’s launch, it was this engineering prowess that would go on to make the brand legendary. A period Los Angeles Times headline read – “Duesenberg Eight Here: Products of Famous Motor Builder Reach Los Angeles and Beat Expectations by Several Miles.” The single-overhead cam straight-eight engine was like nothing else produced or included in a passenger car at the time and was an industry first.
Samuel Northup Castle placed an order in 1919 and would become the first owner of a Duesenberg passenger car when he took delivery of his Straight Eight in 1921. Castle, an early car enthusiast, came from a family of Hawaiian missionaries and was a founder of Castle & Cooke Co., a Hawaiian sugar cooperative. Duesenberg built the chassis and engine at their plant in Indianapolis, and Castle worked with an outside coachbuilder, in this case the Bender Body Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, to craft a body to his liking. This would become customary for the marque and high-end luxury automobiles of the period. Never was a custom-built car body as needed as it was for the seven-foot tall Castle who likely dwarfed most contemporary car interiors. Because of this, the unique coupe features an ultra-spacious interior both in height and length. The car’s cycle-like fenders, lack of running boards, and full-length belly pan contribute to a stunningly athletic form for the time, despite the gargantuan proportions of the cabin.
Not only did the Straight Eight feature striking bodywork but it was designed to, “outclass, outrun, and outlast any car on the road” according to one of its creators, Fred Duesenberg. Hydraulic brakes at each corner – four years before a major manufacturer would implement this technology and at a time where front brakes were uncommon – brought the car to a remarkably easy stop compared to contemporary automobiles using cable or rod actuated brakes. Adding to the braking performance was the overall svelte nature of the car’s design. It featured an abundant use of aluminum and touches fitting of a race car like an exhaust cut-out and the full-length belly pan. Period advertisements bragged about the car’s racing pedigree and proclaimed the Duesenbergs could be brought to a complete stop from thirty mile per hour in just a car length. The fabled overhead cam engine featuring 260 CID and a hemispherical combustion chamber returned 88 horsepower and did so reliably and efficiently.
Samuel Northrup Castle went on to drive the Straight Eight extensively upon acquiring it in Hawaii. So much so that he eventually shipped it back to Indiana where the Duesenberg company refreshed and updated the coupe to a more modern appearance in the late 1920s. It received a Model J steering wheel, luggage rack and lights. Upon return to Hawaii it saw plenty more use with Castle at the wheel – even being put to work for farm duties and to survey plantations. When Northrup passed away in 1959, he was warmly remembered in his obituary for his love of his prestigious vehicles: “He drove old cars which he kept in tip-top mechanical shape. His shiny tan 1929 fish-tail Packard roadster was a familiar sight. And his black 1921 Duesenberg was in active use until a few years ago.”
The Duesenberg remained in the family, though it went to California to Castle’s nephew, James C. Castle in the 1960s. With the exception of a Napa Valley Concours in 1968, the first Duesenberg remained in storage until the 1990s. In 1994 when James C. Castle passed away, ownership was transferred to his son, James C. Castle Jr. and his wife CyrAnn. Though loved throughout its life, storage and use had not been kind to the one-off, almost century year old vehicle. In 2010, the couple commissioned Bruce Canepa of Scotts Valley, CA with the resurrection. After a painstaking 10,000-hour restoration the car was debuted at the 2013 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Leading up to the Duesenberg centennial, the family began to look for a home for the Straight Eight. Working with Gordon McCall and Eric Killorin, the Castles were connected with the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum of Auburn, IN and in December 30, 2019 the car was donated to the museum. The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum is the preserved original corporate headquarters building for the Auburn Automobile Company which acquired the Duesenberg marque in 1926 by company president E.L. Cord.
Paint and exterior
This vehicle is in restored condition. It was repainted in black when it was fully restored by Canepa restoration.
Upholstery and interior
This vehicle’s interior is in restored condition. It features dark blue leather upholstery. It was reupholstered by Canepa restoration.
Original Engine: Yes
Liquid-cooled, Duesenberg SOHC inline-8 cyl/88 hp with 1bbl updraft carburetor. Restored/Rebuilt. Engine no. 1001
This vehicle was originally used by the Castle family in Hawaii. It is now driven and displayed. Its displayed mileage is 32,507 miles.
Wheels and tires
23” steel wire wheels, knock-off hubs. 33x5” Universal bias-ply tires
Four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes
3-speed sliding-gear manual transmission, floor shifter