From The Vault | 1929 DuPont Model G Speedster

Each week of November, “From The Vault” will highlight a signature vehicle in the acclaimed collection of the Petersen Automotive Museum. Having undergone a 13-month renovation, the museum will re-open to the public December 7, 2015. Leslie Kendall, curator of this series, is the museum’s chief curator.

Some of the most striking cars of the Roaring Twenties were manufactured by E. Paul DuPont, a member of the same well-known family that made a fortune producing paint and chemicals. Based in Wilmington, Delaware, DuPont Motors, Inc. was established during World War I to manufacture marine engines for use during the conflict. When the war ended and marine engines were no longer needed, the company shifted to automobile production. Their first car, the Model A, debuted in 1919 at the Commodore Hotel in New York, a venue that insured the new automobile would be noticed by all of the right people. 

As the 1920s progressed and the American economy boomed, DuPont began to build ever larger and more luxurious vehicles targeted at the growing number of motorists seeking to proclaim their new affluence. They built four- and six-cylinder vehicles until 1929, the year that their largest car, the eight-cylinder Model G, debuted. Desiring to prove the new car’s capability, the company entered four Model Gs in the Grand Prix d’Endurance at Le Mans. Then to take advantage of the publicity generated by their participation in a competition of such international acclaim, DuPont produced both two- and four-place versions of their racecar for sale to the public.

Inside the cockpit of the 1929 Du Pont Model G Speedster, coachwork by Merrimac.

A total of 273 DuPont Model Gs of all types were constructed in a variety of body styles including a phaeton, coupe, sedan, victoria, limousine, convertible, and speedster. The smaller, lighter two-place speedster could reach approximately 100 miles per hour and sold for a high $5,335 when new. It could be ordered with either a disappearing or non-disappearing top. The press was enthusiastic about the powerful new model and it found favor with a large number of influential buyers. Famous DuPont owners included Will Rogers, Jack Dempsey and Douglas Fairbanks, who received one as a gift from his wife, Mary Pickford.  

Every DuPont Model G had hand-built coachwork by some of the best known body makers of the day, such as Derham, Waterhouse and Merrimac, the firm that built their boattail Speedsters. The large majority of cars were equipped with flat radiators while the most sporting variants, including the Speedsters, had rounded radiator shells to enhance their Art Deco appearance. Attractive though inefficient, Woodlight headlights were fitted as standard equipment. The Model G was powered by a Continental straight-eight engine modified by DuPont for increased horsepower and fitted with an ersatz valve cover to give the appearance that it was equipped with overhead valves, an advanced feature during the 1920s. Customers could choose either a three- or four-speed transmission.

Also: From The Vault | The 1948 Davis Divan

Records show that eleven two-passenger DuPont Speedsters were originally constructed, six of which are known to survive. Of the six, it is believed that three had a rounded rear deck and three were equipped with the considerably more exotic boat-tail bodies like this car. The rakish vehicle was delivered new to Los Angeles and sold by area dealer E.A. Van Trump, Jr. Inc. to W.H. Hodgeman complete with factory-installed disappearing top and optional four-speed gearbox. After almost two decades in the hands of its original owner, the DuPont was acquired in 1938 by Howard Newcome, who treasured the car for twenty years before selling it to the Harrah Automobile Collection. It was ultimately sold out of the Harrah Collection and remained in original, though worn condition until the late 1980s when it was restored to its current concours standard, at which time the genuine Lalique Eagle’s Head radiator mascot was fitted.

The genuine Lalique Eagle’s Head radiator mascot of the 1929 Du Pont Model G Speedster, coachwork by Merrimac.

The extremely rare DuPont came into the possession of the Petersen Automotive Museum in 1999. After a careful preparation, it was then shown at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance where it generated an overwhelmingly positive reaction from both aficionados and the general public alike. It has since been shown at numerous other venues, including The Quail: A Motorsports Gathering, the Palos Verdes Concours d’Elegance, and at the Palm Springs Desert Classic where it won the coveted trophy for Most Important Prewar Car.

Driving the DuPont offers a combination of surprising challenges and unexpected delights. Unlike modern cars that have a door for every seating position, accessing the cockpit involves entering through the single passenger side door and sliding across the bench seat and behind the wheel. Starting the engine requires careful manipulation of the choke and spark advance while pressing the floor-mounted starter button, but once underway there is seldom a need to make adjustments. Though heavy, the DuPont is not difficult to steer even at very low speeds and the engine has so much torque that shifting its four-speed transmission is rarely required, even going up steep grades. Yet while it has the appearance of a sports car, it is somewhat ponderous in corners and the hood is so long that it can be difficult to see the road ahead. It is not a car to be rushed.

Unmistakably American, the DuPont was intended for the growing stretches of open road that were beginning to connect major population centers during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Whether in Los Angeles traffic or on the lawn at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, it stands out as the embodiment of the carefree spirit of a more innocent time.

Article originally appeared in The Finish LineAll images courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum.