By on August 11, 2015



1929 Duesenberg Model J by LeBaron

As part of this gig, I see a lot of cars. Besides attending the major corporate auto shows like the North American International Auto Show here in Detroit, from spring into late fall almost every Sunday will find me at some kind of car show. Car museums are also some of my favorite places. Having entered my teens during the 1960s, when there were E Type Jaguars, Corvettes and Mustangs, it was easy for me to dismiss cars from the ’50s as old-fashioned, let alone vehicles from the pre-war classic era. As Mark Twain pointed out, though, I’ve learned a few things since I was a young man and my perspective has changed.



Lincoln Model K

No, I’m still not going to make a tri-five Chevy my daily driver, but I have gained an appreciation for older cars and I’ve decided that if I was wealthy and was looking for car to arrive in, it wouldn’t be a late model Ferrari, Lamborghini or Rolls-Royce. It’d be some kind of dual cowl phaeton from the late 1920s or early 1930s.



1929 Stutz Model M Four-Passenger Speedster by LeBaron

It wouldn’t necessarily have to be a Duesenberg Model J, though its position as the ranking aristocrat of American automobiles makes it the preferred choice. I’m sure that a “senior” Packard, Chrysler Imperial or a V-12 or V-16 Cadillac, would make a similar, if slightly more restrained, statement.



1931 Chrysler CG Imperial Dual-Cowl Phaeton rebodied in the style of LeBaron

It’s not because they’re the most luxurious cars. The dual cowls I’ve seen are no fancier than the coupes and sedans made by the same companies. In fact, there are fewer appointments for the rear passengers than there are in conventional limousines of the same vintage. In a lot of cases the passenger compartments in the back are even a little bit snug — somewhat of a surprise considering just how massive those cars are.



The rear passenger compartment in a dual cowl phaeton can be a little bit cozy as you can see in this Murphy style Duesenberg.

So why do I think dual cowl cars are so fabulous? To begin with, the phaeton roof line is one of the masterpieces of automotive styling. There is a reason why Dean Jeffries made the Monkeemobile a phaeton, beyond the need for seating for all four band members in the back. The long roof (one reason why enthusiasts are attracted to station wagons) and the way it peaks in the back and then slopes towards the front of the car simply looks good.



1935 Duesenberg Model SJ, rebodied in the style of Murphy

Then there’s the dual cowl aspect. Though they are not exactly limousines, they’re functionally equivalent, the owner rides in back, so there is that side of being able to show off your wealth by having a chauffeur. Also, the second cowl gives it the look of a parade car, whether or not the roof is up or down. It’s easy to visualize Queen Elizabeth doing her queenly wave from the back seat.



1930 Packard Deluxe Eight. As impressive as “senior” Packards are, the grille and hood on a Duesenberg J are about a half foot taller.

Will we ever see a modern dual cowl car? I’m not sure that modern car shapes work with the concept, but it would be interesting to see what some of today’s talented car designers could create.



1941 Chrysler Newport, a later take on the dual cowl idiom. Could a modern dual cowl work?

Technically speaking, not all of the cars pictured here are dual cowl phaetons. The Stutz company apparently preferred a different nomenclature, instead calling their dual cowl a “four passenger speedster”, perhaps because of the scalloped, cut-down door.



1928 Stutz BB4 Dual Cowl Touring Car

No matter what you call them, they’re magnificent automobiles.

As the Great Depression wore on, by the late 1930s big open cars were no longer fashionable. Perhaps those who retained their wealth or managed to amass new fortunes did not want to appear to be showing off that wealth or perhaps closed limousines afforded them some level of anonymity at a time when rich folks might have wanted to keep a low profile. Either way, I don’t know of a dual cowl car made since before WWII. The original Chrysler Newport, which was used as a pace car for the 1941 Indy 500, has a second cowl, but it was primarily a concept show car and only six of them were made.



Pierce Arrow 1930 Model B Sport Phaeton. Note the Pierce Arrow’s signature “Dawley” headlights that were faired into the fenders.

With the Monkeemobile, Dean Jeffries was able to successfully apply a phaeton roofline to a 1960s era car. It would be interesting to see what contemporary designers could do applying a phaeton roof and a second cowl to today’s shapes. Do you think it would even be possible to make a modern dual cowl phaeton?

If you had an unlimited budget, which car would you choose to arrive in style?

Photos by the author. You can see the complete galleries and more dual cowl phaetons here.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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25 Comments on “Nothing Arrives in Style Like a Dual Cowl Phaeton...”

  • avatar

    The opening picture brings back memories of the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg show in Harrisburg in 1968, when I was taken to the show by an ex-employee of my father’s (he had a Cord 810 cabriolet) and not only got a ride in a Model J tourer, but was allowed to drive it back to the show on the Pennsylvania Turnpike! At the owner’s chiding of my being too cautious, I had it up to 75 and was passing traffic.

    Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and if I hadn’t been already hooked on antique cars at that point (I was about to turn 18, and my first antique, a ’37 Buick Special, was about two months away), it would have certain done it.

    Back then, that J was only worth about $10,000, so the owner had no problem with driving it to the show. Nowadays . . . . .

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    Nice post. Are any TTAC’ers going to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival this year? If so, anyone interested in an impromptu meetup?

  • avatar

    I’m amused at our slightly different take on vintage cars, given that we’re approximately the same age.

    Even going back as a child in the Fifties, I always found a fascination for anything pre WWII (or, actually up to about 1948, given the carryover) and nowhere near the interest in what is the ‘hot’ collectible stuff nowadays: Tri-Five Chevys make my eyes roll back (although I do admire the ’55 and completely loathe the ’57), and I’ve got an absolute disgust and disinterest in any Mustangs, Camaros, Firebirds and muscle cars that show up at any car show. I didn’t regard them as much back then, and I consider them incredibly overrated now.

    But a nice ’30’s Terraplane? Sheer poetry in motion. And I’d kill to finally get to see an Willys Americar restored to stock rather than being turned into a gasser. I guess I have a hard time considering anything an interesting antique if I rode in it as a child. They’re not antiques.

    Oh, it’s not just cars. I collect and restore antique bicycles. And Schwinn Sting Rays hit me with an equal amount of incredularity and eyes rolling back as a Hemi Cuda.

    • 0 avatar

      The ’55 Chevy is a man’s well-tailored suit. There’s a black one at the GM Heritage collection that’s stunning.

      I also tend to ignore ’60s muscle cars at car shows, unless they’re actually special, like a real Yenko or ’69 ZL-1 Camaro.

      These days, when I go to a car event what I look at and shoot photos of is primarily determined by “can I get a decent story out of it?”. I’m also drawn to the unusual and the oddball, but I have to temper my own tastes with the unquestionable fact that ’57 Chevys and ’69 Camaros are popular for a reason.

  • avatar

    So the rear door opens, and then the cowl is folded forward so you can get in? That must have been Jeeves’ job, because otherwise he’d get hit in the back of the head if he was still at the wheel.

  • avatar

    If there is a more gloriously useless and self-indulgent body style than a dual-cowl phaeton, I have not seen it. Maybe sedan-chairs count. Phaetons are wonderful.

  • avatar

    What’s the blue hatchback in the pic with the Newport? Like an early Crossfire concept?

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Great write up Ronnie!

    If funds were no object, a lifestyle I don’t anticipate having to deal with, I would for sure go with a Duesenberg. Mostly because I would enjoy yelling at my family to hurry up the, Duesenberg is leaving. Of course using some sort of nasally Brit sounding voice.
    Syke, not sure why you loath the 57′. I get they are over done and everywhere. But, my family loves ours! Great cruiser, easy to fix/modify and just makes me smile every time I get behind the wheel. I have an appreciation for anything old that someone has put thought and wrench time into. For the most part their is a great story behind ‘why’ the individual has the ‘pedestrian’ 69 Camaro, as an example of overdone, that paints a better picture.

  • avatar

    Chrysler had a dual cowl concept in the 90s! Oh how I love Chrysler concepts from the mid-90s to mid-00s. I want a Dodge Demon/Copperhead, Chrysler Phaeton, Chrysler Firepower, Jeep Rescue, and Chrysler Chronos!

    • 0 avatar

      That Phaeton is as ridiculous as the Packard Twelve concept! But I love the wheels.

      • 0 avatar

        I am okay with anything that has a 12 foot wheelbase, dual cowls, and a V12.

      • 0 avatar

        Though technically a phaeton is a large open car with at least four seats, there’s nothing about that Chrysler concept that says to me “phaeton”. It has a retractable hardtop that’s shaped like a sedan’s, not like a classic phaeton’s soft top, and the second cowl and windshield seem like an afterthought. Not Chrysler’s best concept from the 1990s. Allpar thinks they made its V12 out of two 2.7 liter V6s. Makes sense. The Aston Martin V12 was originally two Ford Duratec V6 engines welded together.

        I’m surprised nobody’s ever made a crate version of the LS based V16 in the Cadillac Sixteen show car.

  • avatar
    Big Wheel

    If I hit the Lotto, I’d love to have a Duesenberg. Already got a coffee table book, & a small model. Fabulous cars. Everything done by hand, no computers or CAD/CAM. Powerful engine that dwarfed everything in output until the 1950’s. 265-horsepower, 32-valve, DOHC inline-8 that displaced a whopping 420 cubic inches (6.9 liters). The supercharged SJ’s (only 32 factory built) supposedly put out 320 hp.

    I would not be able to pass up a dual cowl phaeton or a Murphy disappearing top. And the special Duesies are spectacular:
    J-437 Weymann Tapertail (1 of 1)
    SJ-513 20 Grand by Rollston (1 of 1)
    SJ-585 by Gurney-Nutting (1 of 1)
    SJ-397 Rudolf Bauer by Rollson (no S), (1 of 1)
    SSJ-563 & 567 by Central-LaGrande (2 of 2)

    The list goes on.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s generally accepted that E.L. Cord, a salesman by vocation, exaggerated the power rating of the Duesenberg Model J engine, picking a number that was just a bit higher than one cited by Mercedes-Benz at the time. As delivered by Lycoming, the normally aspirated Js were closer to 200 hp. Dyno tests show just over 200 hp in normal tune. Still, when you consider the power output of Cadillacs and Packards of the era, even 200 hp is impressive.

      • 0 avatar

        I think the V16 Cadillac made like…175? And the V12 Lincolns were less than that.

        So 200 hp out of an 8 cylinder engine in the early 30s is genuinely impressive.

        Yep, a ’32 K-Series Lincoln V12 was rated at 150 hp and the Cadillac V16 at 165 hp.

        • 0 avatar

          As beautiful as the Duesenberg DOHC straight eight is, the original Cadillac V16 may be the best looking engine ever. Intended as underhood eye candy, once it was engineered, Harley Earl’s Art & Color section styled it. I can’t think of another engine that was actually styled.

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