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Dream But Don Drive

June 2024
1min read

One is inclined to fantasize about driving a legend like the SJ Duesenberg, but it’s worth remembering that Duesenbergs are huge, multiton machines bereft of such modern niceties as power steering, power brakes, or a sophisticated suspension. Their engines, while powerful, rely on an abundance of cubic inches, aided by a centrifugal supercharger that supplies maximum power only at peak revs. So the SJ is hardly a stoplight rabbit or a particularly nimble cat on twisty sections of road.

The exhaust note (still used in commercial soundtracks) is a marvelous basso profundo, a throaty murmur at idle that rises into window-shattering thunder when you activate the optional “cutout” that bypasses the mufflers. Its three-speed nonsynchromesh transmission is operated by a long, spindly shift lever that springs, weedlike, from the floorboards beside the driver’s right foot. The throws are long and imprecise, making rapid up-and-down shifting difficult at best (trucklike double-clutching helps), but the Duesenberg engine possesses so much broadshouldered torque that one gets the impression the car would perform perfectly well with only one forward speed.

The steering is slow, vague, and heavy. Sheer inertia resists turning quickly, much less slowing down (even with the vacuum servo-assist brakes), making the notion of thundering along a narrow country road aboard this sixthousand-pound monster seem, in the context of modern machinery, positively suicidal.

This is a sixty-year-old automobile, and for all its beauty, craftsmanship, and engineering splendor, it remains an artifact of another time. Look, love, lust, but do not drive.

—B.Y.

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