First production Duesenberg passenger car makes triumphant return to Indiana

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1921 Duesenberg Model A Coupe front three-quarter Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum

The first Duesenberg passenger car ever sold to the public is back home in Indiana after spending nearly 100 years in Hawaii and California. Built in Indianapolis, the 1921 Model A Coupe was donated to the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Automobile Museum in Auburn and was presented to the museum on December 30.

Brandon Anderson, the ACDAM’s executive director and CEO, calls the Duesenberg “one of the most significant donations in this museum’s 45-year history.”

The black, two-door coupe was donated by CyrAnn and James C. Castle Jr., descendants of its original owner Samuel N. Castle, son of the founder of a Hawaiian sugarcane cooperative that eventually became Dole Food Company. According to the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum, the coupe received an oversized passenger compartment that was specially designed for Castle’s seven-foot frame.

Although The New York Times speculated in 2013 that this Duesenberg could be worth as much as $50 million, Hagerty valuation editor Andrew Newton calls that estimate “ambitious, to say the least.” 

A 1935 Duesenberg SSJ (Special Short Chassis Model J), one of only two produced, sold for $22M at Gooding & Company’s 2018 Pebble Beach auction—”and the SSJ is considered the ultimate Duesenberg road car,” Newton says. “Although this Model A coupe is definitely a historically significant automobile, it’s unrealistic to think it’s worth twice the price of an SSJ. Regardless, it’s great to know that the coupe is now in a place where everyone can see it and appreciate it.”

Duesenberg brothers Fred and August had already made a name for themselves in the motorsports community when they decided to begin building passenger cars. Castle was their first customer and placed his order in 1919; the vehicle was completed in 1921 and shipped to Hawaii. Among the Castle Duesenberg’s race-inspired innovations are four-wheel hydraulic brakes and an OHC straight-eight engine. Coachwork was provided by the Bender Body Company of Cleveland.

1921 Duesenberg Model A Coupe original image
Duesenberg Motors

Amazingly, Castle’s Duesenberg was eventually used as a work truck during its time in Hawaii.

Records show that upon Samuel Castle’s death in 1959, ownership of the car was transferred to nephew James Christian Castle, and the Duesy was transported to San Francisco and placed into storage. Upon James C. Castle’s death in 1994, ownership moved to his son, James Jr., and his wife CyrAnn. The car underwent a three-year, 10,000-hour restoration beginning in 2010, and the restorers asked the museum for research assistance. They relied on only four photographs of the car in its original form, and “they saved everything that could be saved that wasn’t rotted out,” Anderson says.

Upon completion of the restoration in 2013, the car won the Classic Cars of America Trophy at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Best of Show at the Niello Concours at Serrano, and the Automotive Heritage Award at the Amelia Concours d’Elegance.

Anderson says the Castles ultimately decided “that this vehicle is so incredibly important that the public should be able to see it. They did look at other museums. They actually thought about the Smithsonian [since] this is pure American history. They knew that this was the right home for the vehicle.”

Anderson got behind the wheel of the car earlier this week. “It drives like a dream,” he says. “It’s like a brand-new car. It’s incredible.”

The Castle Duesenberg will be shown at the Concours d’Elegance at Boca Raton, Florida, on February 9, in celebration of Duesenberg’s 100th anniversary. Also on display will be the ACD Museum’s one-of-a-kind 1927 Duesenberg Model X Speedster and its 1926 Duesenberg Model A Chassis.

Upon the Castle Duesenberg’s return from Florida, it will go on permanent display in the museum’s main showroom.

“The Castles’ generosity,” Anderson says, “will allow for future generations to appreciate the history of Duesenberg, automotive design and engineering, the evolution of the automobile, and the legacy of the Castle family in perpetuity.”

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