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Sixteen-Valve Duesenberg to Return 100-Years Later to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

One hundred years ago on this upcoming Memorial Day, Sunday, May 29, 2016, this Duesenberg team racing car, driven by Wilber D’Arlene finished in second place in the 1916 Indianapolis “300.”

Yes, the Indy “Three-Hundred” – the only time the “Memorial Day Classic” has run at that shortened distance. The race was the last to be held on the famous brick-paved oval track until after World War One was over and racing resumed in 1919. Dario Resta won the race in a Peugeot EX3 entered by Alphonse Kaufman, the America importer of the Peugeot.

1915 Duesenberg Racing Car II

  • At the 2012 Amelia Island Concours D’Elegance Duesenberg display with dirt on its tires from an earlier run at Churchills Downs. It was the first racing car to run again on that track since 1910 when the last race was held there.  

The 1915 racing car D’Arlene drove in 1916 at Indy was the most advanced of the team cars, and is powered by one of Fred and Auggie Duesenberg’s 16-valve “walking beam” 300 c.i. four-cylinder engines; it followed the earlier 8-valve version. After the race, it was fitted with the latest version of bodywork and later sold to racing driver Jimmy Benedict of New York, who was a riding mechanic for the Duesenberg brothers on occasion.

The car survived its long racing career at the hands of the colorful second owner Lou Hoyt, who raced it until the early-1930s. In 1941, it was purchased from Hoyt’s widow by Charlie Fisher who was assisted by the late Duesenberg Historian Fred Roe. The pair towed it home from Haverstraw, NY to the Boston area behind Roe’s 1926 Cadillac sedan and Fisher first ran it at Thompson Speedway in Connecticut just after World War Two.


  • The four cylinder 16-valve engine has two intake and exhaust valves per cylinder and twin spark plugs. The valves are actuated by two camshafts and eight vertical 16-inch long rocker arms per side (intake on right, exhaust on left). In this view the cast aluminum valve covers are removed. The original tubular exhaust header has survived. 

In 1993 vintage racer, author and publisher Joesph Freeman of Boston, MA purchased the Duesenberg and ran it that year in the Montery Historics at Laguna Seca. Since then it has competed in vintage racing events at: Savanah, GA, the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Lime Rock, the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England, Churchill Downs and other venues along with numerous concours.

Your editor has been fortunate to maintain the Duesenberg and drive it in vintage races on occasion for the last twenty years. For the last four years, it has been on display at both the Larz Anderson Museum and the Owl Heads Transportation Museum. Over the fall, winter and spring it has been prepared here at The Old Motor for the return to Indy to take part in the on-track vintage racing event May 26-28, 2016 as part of the celebration of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. 

  • The four-inch exhaust pipe sweeps down the right-hand side of the Duesenberg just below the riding mechanics elbow. The exhaust note at idle sounds much like a large caliber gattling gun set on high that turns into an angry howl at racing speeds. 

1915 Dusenberg Racing Car IIII

29 responses to “Sixteen-Valve Duesenberg to Return 100-Years Later to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

  1. Big job ahead! On behalf of your readership, we are all waiting for the best stories and videos. Enjoy the daylights out of this and if you get sick or need a root canal, I’d be happy to sub in for you. Best of luck!

  2. What a great life experience to have. Enjoy your time at Indy. And thanks again for showing me the car last fall. It’s an amazing treasure.

    • Lee, Thanks, it is quite an experience and it gives you a whole new perspective of the track after having driven around it a racing speeds.

      This will be the second time for me there with the Duesemberg, the first was in 2002. Since then a lot of fine tuning has produced more speed and power out of the engine so it should be able to keep up with some of the newer cars.

  3. This is a dumb question, but I have always wondered why these engines were designed with such long and massive rockers. It would seem that this would limit the engine’s speed. Obviously it doesn’t, but???

    • What actually limits the maximun r.p.m. in this case is the engines extremely long 6 3/4″ stroke. If engine speed was not an issue yes, the long rockers would be a limiting factor.

  4. So, rear brakes only, burned elbows for the riding mechanic and chain drive? Sounds crazy, sounds like a real adrenaline pump, sounds like quite an event.

  5. What was the compression ratio on this Duessy, and what was the octane rating of the gasoline ? (I watched the race from the Tower Terrace in 1961)

  6. This appears to be the car owned (before Joe Freeman) by my late friend Bob Sutherland, of Denver. Can you verify that? Thanks.

    • Sara No, the brakes are drums with an outer set of contracting shoes actuated by the pedal and an inner set by a lever.

      Last time at Indy running over 100 mph I needed to slow down quickly for another car and even using both sets at that speed it took forever to even get down to about 60 mph.

      Rear wheel brakes are generally ineffective.

  7. Ettore Bugattti was alledgedly known to have said: “I build my cars to GO not to STOP!

    Another engine with “very watchable & enetertaining rocker arms” is a four cylinder 1910 or 11 (?) Stoddard -Dayton speedster engine at idle speed : The whole top of the engine has “Teeter-Totters” that span the width of the huge cubic inch engine, left cam operating right valves & vice versa! I remember a ride from Phoenix to Scottsdale at 10 PM: at 80 MPH as Tom Barrett drove the last (Concour’s ) car – home to his ranch , on a back desert road , the night being pierced by the acetylene headlamps and exhaust pulses from the open cut-out, not too far from the Mechanic’s seat! (me) . NOT to worry about horsepower loss from exposed moving parts! With huge cubic inches & torque, you can still hear each individual cylinder at 80 MPH! I can only imagine the Duesenberg as even better YET! ( circa: early 70’s)

  8. The Duesenburg brothers would be proud that this great car is still traveling around the world, and all over the U.S.

  9. Fantastic article and what a great lifetime experience, David. One fine point. The last race(s) at the Brickyard before the WWI shutdown was actually the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The three races held at that event were swept by Johnny Aitken in the Speedway’s “Peugeot.

    Honestly, I hesitated to share this because I don’t want to come off as some ego trying to trump your wonderful story and outstanding experience. I just thought you might be interested, as well as your readers. Keep up your exemplary work and devotion to the history we both love.

  10. Just wanted to say thanks for keeping this fine auto in racing shape! We are privileged to be able to see and hear this remarkable piece of history.
    I’ll be at Indy Sat. the 29th and hope to see your car then.

  11. In the 1990s Joe Freeman took me for quite a ride around the Milwaukee Mile in this Duesenberg at near-racing speed. A ride I will never forget!

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