The Rochester-Duesenberg ReVere, explained
It’s always busy around the garage. I like to restore a car to 100-point concours level if I can, drive it down to about 15 points, and then re-restore it. So the shop always has cars and motorcycles being torn apart or put back together. We recently finished restoring a 1920 Rochester-Duesenberg ReVere, a car you may not be familiar with. To tell its story, we have to go back a bit.
After Fred and Augie Duesenberg were involved with Mason and Maytag, they left to start their own engine company in 1913, designing what would become known as their “walking-beam” four-cylinder engine. It had overhead valves, but the valves were horizontal instead of vertical. And instead of pushrods, the engine had very long rocker arms—the so-called walking beams—that extended all the way from the camshaft in the block up to the valve stems at the top. The valves opened to a small chamber above the main combustion chamber that included the spark plug, which meant the plug lit a rich mixture that burned downward into a leaner mixture—what engineers today would call a stratified charge. It made more power and used less fuel while avoiding some of the heat and lubrication problems that dogged early overhead-valve engines.
It became the most successful racing engine of the teens, favored by early board-track racers like Eddie Rickenbacker. It was basically a cheap way of getting overhead-valve efficiency without overhead cams, which were still expensive to manufacture. Even so, the brothers weren’t making any money from it. World War I was a profitable diversion, during which they built aircraft engines. Afterward, the Duesenbergs wanted to get into building larger eight-cylinder engines, but their New York investors wanted to make money, so they forced the sale of the rights to the walking-beam four to Rochester Motor Company, which sold versions of the engine to Biddie, Roamer, ReVere, and others. There were at least 350 automakers in 1917, so it was sort of the same way you buy a Dell computer, which is a collection of components from other companies.
ReVere was named after the Revolutionary War hero, the “one if by land, two if by sea” guy, and was managed by a swindler named Newton Van Zandt. He came from a piano company and knew nothing about cars, but he knew how to separate people from their money. The whole thing went under in a stock scam, and Van Zandt absconded with a bunch of cash, later surfacing in New Jersey trying to pass off a lightly disguised ReVere as a brand-new design of his own making. He was found dead in his New York hotel room in 1921. The papers said it was a heart attack, but who knows?
Though they didn’t make many, the ReVere was actually a pretty good car. The brains behind it were Adolph Monsen, a talented engineer and perfectionist who had previously made cars under his own name in Chicago, and two racing drivers, the most famous of whom was Gil Anderson. He was a Norwegian immigrant who drove for Stutz and raced in the first six Indianapolis 500s, finishing third in 1915.
Built in Logansport, Indiana, north of Indianapolis, the ReVere had that Duesenberg racing engine, a Brown-Lipe four-speed, and a lot of aluminum in the body. Before he ran off, Van Zandt hired Erwin “Cannonball” Baker, of Cannonball Run fame, to drive a ReVere coast to coast and everywhere in between, covering more than 16,000 miles. “America’s Incomparable Car” was the slogan, and one of the first customers was Alfonso XIII, the king of Spain. The car represents classic boutique manufacturing of the day. Get the fastest engine, the best transmission, a well-designed chassis, high-end Buffalo wire wheels, and build a car.
I got mine 25 years ago, and I’ve read that there aren’t more than five or six Rochester-Duesenberg engines left. To restore it, we had to make the pistons, the rods—pretty much everything. And my crew did it beautifully. I’m looking forward to driving some points off it.
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