The Mike Kollins 1958 Duesenberg

Okay, you got us. There is no such thing as a 1958 Duesenberg. Such was simply the dream of the late Mike Kollins of Detroit, and we’ve bought into it, too.

 

 

The last real Duesenberg had been built more than two decades before, a crime too horrible for Kollins to let stand. Imagine instead that Duesenberg had not gone out of business in 1937, but continued to build the Model J into the 1950s—around the same magnificent twin-cam, straight-eight engine, but with up-to-date chassis and contemporary bodywork. That was his vision.

Kollins, an engineering manager at Packard and Chrysler, was a racer, historian, and consummate Motor City car guy. He crewed for Frank Brisko at Indy as a teenager, falling in love with the Speedway and with the Duesenberg legend. But by the time he could afford his own Duesenberg, the marque was long gone, obsolete.

So back in 1950 Kollins started building his own Duesey, convinced that with some updates, the make could still run with anything on the road. He bought a 1930 J with a Judkins four-passenger coupe body (2358/J-333), and tossing aside everything but the engine, transmission and accessories, he erected his creation on a brand-new 1950 Packard Super convertible bare frame, with a reinforced K-member added to support the weight of the massive Duesenberg straight eight.

 

The all-steel, two-place convertible body was fabricated by an unsung collection of Detroit body men. A brass badge on the right front fender celebrates the hypothetical carozzeria Kollins Le Grande. (Le Grande, spelled various ways, was Duesenberg’s in-house coachbuilder label, but the actual work of Central Manufacturing, Union City, or Walker.) Clearly, the major challenge in Kollins’ design was hiding the straight-eight’s considerable size inside modern package dimensions.

 

To reduce the engine’s extreme height, Kollins installed four Carter side-draft carburetors and relocated the distributor from the cam cover to the generator drive. He bumped the compression ratio up to 7.5:1 while he was at it, and with an overbore he increased the displacement to 435 cubic inches, confidently claiming 400 hp. (The stock Duesey was rated at 265 hp.) Still, the hood opening is six-plus feet long, while the tall central hood blister, wrapped tightly around the cylinder head, stretches from the authentic Duesenberg grille straight back through the windshield — an ingenious solution and a powerful styling statement.

 

The shifter for the Warner three-speed gearbox sprouts from the bottom of the dash, while a full set of Duesenberg gauges fills the engine-turned instrument panel. As enormous as the car is for a two-seat roadster, the proportions are spot-on, and the build quality is easily as good as the Italian stuff of the time.

 

Detail development recalls the Facel Vega and Dual Ghia, while the thick wheelhouse moldings and the wire wheels are borrowed from the Packard Caribbean. The sweep spears and side panels are a perfect complement to the profile, and help to disguise the massive surface area of the  flanks. The embossed aluminum material may be period theme for 1958, but today it seems insufficiently elegant for a Duesenberg.

 

Kollins updated his Duesenberg continuously, adding power steering and other features. He spent eight years completing his dream (thus the 1958 model designation) while working and raising three kids. For 30 years Kollins was a respected official at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and in 2001 the Society of Automotive Engineers published his four-volume history of the early auto industry. A car guy’s car guy and a true student of the automobile, he passed away in 2003 at the age of 91.   Today, his truly one-of-a-kind 1958 Duesenberg resides in a private collection.

 

 

 

This story by MCG originally appeared in the October 18, 2004 issue of AutoWeek, and has been edited and adapted for the web.

 

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21 thoughts on “The Mike Kollins 1958 Duesenberg

  1. I think that hood might be longer than that of my Mark II.

    The man had amazing vision.

    • re Mark II: Good eye. The Duesey was designed circa 1950 with the help of former Packard designers Ed MacCauley, John Rhinehart, Dick Teague and Charley Phanuef. Charley and John later went to Ford.

  2. I remember seeing this car at the RM Hershey auction in around 2008. I liked it, though it’s a bit scruffy. Does the son still own it?

    • I like it, too. The car seems to polarize — people tend to love or hate it. According to SCM the car has sold at auction twice–there, that’s what I know about it at the moment. Been some years since I spoke to the son.

  3. @Chip Lamp, No longer family owned. Glad it’s still around.@MCG I can’t imagine anyone worth knowing -not- finding something to like in this effort, but then I admit I find it to be stunning (in a positive way).

  4. The car was auctioned by RM at Phoenix, then again at Hershey. The car is in the hands of a collector in California. Thank You for your interest. Richard Kollins

    • @Richard Kollins: Thanks for checking in, good to hear from you. It’s great to have this car around as a memorial to your Dad. Whenever people see it or talk about it, he will be remembered.

      • Mr. Kollins, My name is Stan Szychulski. I think you will remember my dad (Tony). If you feel like it please contact me.

        • I could not forget your dad, not just the stories, but my first ride in his red XK140 DHC. My uncle Chet also has kind stories, your dad worked on his Austin Healey – more good stories. How are you doing?

          • Alive and kicking. Turned 68 this year! If you want send me a email from you. Too much personal stuff to be posted here
            Stan

      • a comment appeared in quotations in my email notifications on this thread which may have since been deleted. “…Okay, you got us. There is no such thing as a 1958 Duesenberg. Such was simply the conceit of the late Mike Kollins of Detroit, and we’ve bought into it, too.”

        Perhaps I’m weak on my semantic knowledge of the meaning and use of the word “conceit”, since I normally only see it in a negative light.

        In this instance I’m happily forced to read it as high praise for Kollins’ vision, determination and bankroll. I expect I’m not alone in being content to consider the car as a Duesenberg despite the company’s demise decades prior.

        Seems to me that the late stylist Virgil Exner penned and built a Stutz in the early 1960s. We all know there were no Stutz’s built in the 1960s, right?

        As it were, while primarily Duesenberg based with Packard underpinnings, I don’t believe it was badged as a Duesenberg. The car’s Kollins LeGrande badging seems to bear this out. I expect it was may have been necessary to title the car as a Duesenberg but am unclear on how the State of Michigan would have addressed this over half a century ago.

        This car would appear in my wife’s driveway when she and Kollins’ son were young adults and it was years before I ever saw images of the machine. It has, in those tales, always been referred to as a Duesenberg, hence my vision of the car was some 1930s behemoth. Finally seeing images of car as it really was, has done nothing to tarnish my (Le)Grand impression of it, despite it’s turning in to something completely different than I originally expected.

    • The original tail lamps were Packard sourced, later changed for better visibility.

  5. @Mark Hershoren: In art, a conceit is simply an extended metaphor. Like saying a woman is a rose or a butterfly and then describing her as one. A flight of fancy, if you will. No negative connotation was intended.

    • Admittedly, when the article was first published, I did not like the word conceit, but thats life. The writer who interviewed me was genuine, and thats what really counts. Analogies context are sometimes misunderstood. Just ask Melinda when she asked me how much I love her. I responded ‘as much as a perfect lap at Monaco’ and she looked puzzled.

  6. ~ Mr Kollins, the senior, seems from the article to be a dedicated student of engineering with the perseverance a man with a dream. i’m grateful to Richard Kollins for following through with the factual details.

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