Jay Leno is a big Duesenberg fan, and has amassed quite a collection over the years. The great thing about Duesenbergs, though, is that they are all a little bit different. The 1931 Duesenberg Model J LaGrande Coupe featured on this episode of “Jay Leno’s Garage” is an example of that.
The big coupe has the same running gear as other Duesenbergs in Leno’s collection, but with custom bodywork penned by Gordon Buehrig. It’s not the only custom-bodied Duesenberg, as coachbuilt bodies were the norm for luxury cars in the 1920s and 1930s. Buehrig wasn’t kidding when he named this design LaGrande Coupe.
Behind the familiar Duesenberg grille stretches a 153.5-inch wheelbase, but a cabin that only seats two (an additional pair of rumble seats are behind it). Leno seems to like the shape, but the proportions of such a tiny enclosed passenger compartment on such a long wheelbase looks a bit odd to us.
1931 Duesenberg Model J LaGrande Coupe on Jay Leno’s Garage
Like other Duesenbergs this massive coupe is powered by an inline-8 engine making 265 hp. While it’s titled as 1931 model, it was likely built in 1928 or 1929, Leno said. Due to the Great Depression, it took several years to sell these expensive cars. At the time, the model year was the year in which a car was first sold, not when it was made.
The bodywork seen here isn’t original to the car. Duesenberg built two LaGrande Coupes, but both bodies were destroyed. Leno found this car’s chassis with a crudely-designed replacement body and had the original body recreated. Most of the metalwork was done by a father-son team using the original plans, while some smaller items were made using 3D printing.
The upside of this car being a recreation rather than a restoration is that it gets more use. Leno feels more comfortable driving the LaGrande Coupe because it isn’t as valuable as his rare all-original Duesenbergs. It’s also powerful enough to keep up with modern traffic, he said. Watch the full video to see it doing just that.