The rebuild of the first Duesenberg nears the finish line
Over the past two seasons, we’ve checked in on the rebirth of the world’s first production Duesenberg at the exotic restoration shop run by ex-racer Bruce Canepa in Scotts Valley, Calif. Last fall, the neglected colossus — hauled out of storage in Hawaii by Californian Jimmy Castle, whose ancestor bought the unique Model A in 1921 — sat forlornly near far more racy Porsches and Ferraris, patiently waiting as pony-tailed restorer Dave Stoltz worked with a half-dozen black and white period photos as his principal guide.
This spring, my visit found the car disassembled, a massive automotive puzzle waiting to be pieced together from either reworked original parts, diligently sourced period parts or, in many cases, hand-sculpted parts that mirrored what was on the car when it left the factory.
With summer in full swing and the car’s 2013 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance unveiling less than a month away, it was time to see how Stoltz was doing. In a few words, the car was now a car. Sitting on four massive wheels and slim white-walled tires, the jet-black Duesy was without its engine cover and trunk, but otherwise, with a slight squint, resembled the machine the elder Castle — a giant of a man whose custom interior reflected his size — had collected from Duesenberg’s Midwestern headquarters nearly one hundred years ago.
While not as preposterously elegant as Duesenberg’s fabled Model Js, driven by Gatsby-esque leaders and celebrities during and after the Great Depression, this stout Model A nonetheless represents the first time the company shifted gears from racing toward production cars, making it one of the most important American cars still in existence. Although this particular car has never left the Castle family, it required significant work due not only to age but modifications over the years to cope with Hawaii’s lava-hard country roads.
So much so that it almost wasn’t restored.
“Jimmy asked me to restore the Duesy and I said ‘No,’” Canepa says with a broad grin in his office surrounded by motorsports books and trophies. “It’s not like I didn’t have the facilities to do it. It’s just not what we do. But he insisted.”
Castle, whose fleet of regionally-based vintage racing cars Canepa has long overseen, was adamant that the car not be over-restored to something better than new, and that it be driveable. Canepa says his friend “is not the car-show type, but we’re eager to see how it will do in its class this year. There are about 10 Duesenbergs coming. I told Jimmy if we can score in the top three, that’s a win.”