Watch Jay Leno show you a Duesenberg that doesn’t exist
Of all the automotive things you’ve seen, a car that doesn’t exist is probably not one of them. Not only because that statement’s an oxymoron, but because most owners are slow to admit that their prized car is not the real deal. Jay Leno is not that type of guy. His 1931 Duesenberg Model J is a very grand car—and a bit of a fake.
The Duesenberg brothers created a car like no other but their venture fell victim to poor timing. Fred and Augie were self-taught engineers who perfected their designs and ideas gradually: The Model A, their first mass-produced automobile, rolled off the line in 1921, but the vehicle was basic by our standards of a Duesenberg. The Model J and the later, supercharged, SJ variants were responsible for building the brand as we remember it today: The heavyweight champion of 1920s automotive luxury.
Leno’s long, black Model J is aptly named a LeGrande Coupe. It has a downright massive 153.5-inch wheelbase despite seating only two passengers. (For scale, a 1960 Cadillac Eldorado has a wheelbase a full two feet shorter than this Duesy’s.) One of the interesting historical tidbits Jay offers is that all 481 Duesenberg Model Js were built in 1928 or ’29 but, due to the Great Depression, took nearly a decade to sell.
Leno’s particular car offers an interesting thought experiment. Many of these big luxury cars were destroyed over the years, especially during World War II scrap drives, and this Model J didn’t escape unscathed: Its body was removed and discarded, but the chassis survived. Decades later, Duesenberg expert Randy Ema created an exacting replica of the body directly from the factory plans. Does that make this Model J a fake? You decide.
The best part about this car’s non-original status is that Leno can drive and enjoy it guilt-free. Most Duesenbergs live museum lives due to their value and rarity, but this car has already been recreated and restored once: There’s less to preserve. Even from watching the video, you can see why Leno loves to drive this beast, too. The big twin-cam engine boasts 265 hp, which might not sound like much in an era in which 707-hp Hellcats languish on used car lots—but consider that, in the 1930s, the Model A Ford was advertised with 40 hp—and that was plenty for the common man.
Duesenberg didn’t market to the common man, of course, and the Duesy is refined in every way that a Model A Ford is not. From the gearshifts to the suspension to the steering, the LaGrande lives up to its name. Leno thinks it drives like a modern car, since it has the power and capability to keep up with today’s traffic. Crucially, the Duesenberg also has four-wheel hydraulic brakes to help rein in its imposing mass.
From where we sit, Leno’s Model J might be the greatest car that doesn’t exist. Do you agree? Let us know in the Hagerty Community below.