There’s nothing like seeing a Duesenberg in person

Nathan Petroelje

Bay Harbor, Michigan, looks built for a postcard. From the clear blue waters of its namesake harbor to the tidy main drag to the world-class golf course draped along the Lake Michigan shoreline, it is a little slice of summer heaven. For one weekend in late June, that main drag, the harbor, and the surrounding lawn become an automotive enthusiast’s field of dreams.

2023’s Bay Harbor Classic Car & Boat Festival featured something for every car nut: Prewar icons, British roadsters, American muscle cars, and modern supercars like the mid-engine Corvette Z06. Between the carbon fiber, polished chrome, lacquered wood, and the sun, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could have seen the twinkling from space.

While automotive eye candy was available everywhere you turned, one car had a presence like no other: A 1933 Duesenberg Model J “Sweep Panel” Dual-Cowl Phaeton owned by Bob Grooters, one of the show’s organizers. The striking two-tone red and black paint, paired with pristine whitewall tires and loads of sparkling metalwork, set off the monolithic lines of this art deco star.

Bay Harbor Classic Car & Boat Festival 1933 Duesenberg Model J Hood ornament
Nathan Petroelje

No matter how many images you pore over on Google, no combination of pixels can convey the majesty of a Duesenberg in real life. There’s a certain scale to the car in person that gets lost in even the most artful photos. When I stood next to the driver’s seat and looked down the front of the car, I was shocked by how far away that angular hood ornament sat.

The brash grandeur of dinner plate-sized headlights and an engine cover that could double as a canoe somehow balance perfectly with subtle flourishes like the contoured metalwork atop the grille and the brushed aluminum of the instrument panel cover. The sumptuous cabin felt like the perfect perch for the industry magnates who bought these cars new. Witness a car like this, and the seven-figure price tags Duesenbergs routinely command at auction suddenly make sense.

Bay Harbor Classic Car & Boat Festival 1935 Duesenberg SJN 564
Nathan Petroelje

The ’33 Model J wasn’t even the only Duesenberg at the show; there were two others. There was also a 1935 Duesenberg SJN, a special Model J car that combined the supercharged Lycoming straight-eight engine from the SJ with the lower, wider Rollston bodywork of the JN. This white-over-black example is one of just four Rollston-bodied cars, and it’s the only one with the factory-supercharged Lycoming straight-eight. The other Duesy was a 1934 Model J four-door Arlington sedan by Derham in stunning black and red.

The rest of the Bay Harbour show boasted stunners from every era. A Jaguar owners club showed out in force, bringing everything from E-Types to XJs. A British car club brought out an original Mini as well as a few Austin-Healeys and Triumphs. There was a whole row of C8 Corvettes, the star of which was a white Z06 70th Anniversary model.

At one point, an Amphicar even puttered right through the harbor and up the boat ramp onto the main street. That harbor housed plenty of classic wooden boats, the star of which was a massive cruiser that goes by the name Pilgrim. On the lawn of a restaurant that abuts the harbor sat a collection of soap-box derby cars with sleek bodywork and wafer-thin wheels, celebrating a bygone era of mechanical ingenuity.

Up the main drag were a few German stars like a Porsche 356 Coupe and a BMW Z3 M Coupe, more affectionately known as a “Clownshoe.” A Ram SRT-10 pickup sat across the way, its hood wide open to show off the Viper-sourced V-10. If you fancied more modern exotics, a few Ferraris and McLarens were just a stone’s throw away around the corner.

If you find yourself in Northern Michigan in late June of next year, be on the lookout for the Bay Harbor Classic Car & Boat Festival. The show is free to spectators and a delightful way to spend a summer Saturday, whether or not you have a car on the lawn.




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    Actually there is nothing like hearing a Duesenberg in person.

    We often see these cars sitting at show or in a museum. But to experience one on the road is magnificent.

    We have a local here with a Duel Cowled SJ that he drives regularly and attends local cruise ins.

    The first tim3 I saw 5h3 car he came rolling into Arby’s and opened the exhaust cut out for the straight 8. It roared like an Indy car from the 20’s. It sounded as if an air plane was coming in for a landing.

    I was glad to find this owner as he felt 5he car was to be driven not looked at and it gave me a chance to experience the sound and smell many have not experienced in near 90 years.

    Got to see a 29 Hispano Suiza coupe worth $4M up close recently in a restoration shop. It was perfect–but the owner wanted power steering which they were making custom so it could not be seen. An equally impressive car—like the Duesys these cars are jewelry.

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