1921 Duesenberg Straight Eight (Castle Duesenberg)
1921 Duesenberg Straight Eight (Castle Duesenberg)
Date(s) of Construction
Original Owner and Use
Samuel Northrup Castle – Hawaii
Present Owner and Use
Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum
Display and limited exhibition
Designer / Engineer / Builder
Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company, Inc.
National Historic Vehicle Register
This vehicle has been selected based on the following criteria:
Associative Value – Events – A vehicle associated with an event or events that are important in automotive or American history.
This Duesenberg represents the launch of the most revered luxury car manufacturer in history. It correlates to the important era of the opulent craftsmanship in custom coach building and pioneering engineering.
Associative Value – Person – A vehicle associated with the lives of significant persons in automotive or American history
Samuel Northrup Castle is a considerable figure in the modern history of Hawaii. Stemming from a family that launched industrialization on the island he went on to be considered one of the state’s top engineers and industrialists. He served as a leader in many of the islands’ most prominent companies including Castle & Cooke, founded by his grandfather. Notably, as a public figure in the state, he was well known for his appreciation of fine automobiles.
Design or Construction Value – A vehicle that is distinctive based on design, engineering, craftsmanship or aesthetic value.
Duesenbergs represent the pinnacle of design, engineering and craftsmanship for the period for which they were built. The first car sold by the company is no exception. It features state-of-the-art automotive technology and is the first production passenger car featuring important advances like hydraulic brakes and an overhead cam, in-line eight-cylinder engine. The magnificent hand-crafted body is distinctive and ahead of its time. It would look as fitting as a car built 10 years later. It is further remarkable given the massively large cabin, custom built for its original customer.
Informational Value – A vehicle of a particular type that was the first produced, last produced, has an element of rarity of its type,
or is among the most well-preserved or authentically restored surviving examples.
As the first production Duesenberg passenger car maintained by the same family for virtually a century, the Castle Straight Eight provides a unique insight into the genesis of the distinctive marque.
Layout: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive
Frame: Steel, ladder type
Engine: 260 cid, I-8, carbureted, 88hp
Trans: Manual, three-speed
Suspension: Front – Solid axle, leaf springs / Rear – Solid axle, leaf springs
Brakes: Front – Drum (Hydraulic) / Rear – Drum (Hydraulic)
Weight: 4,205 lbs
Price: $7,000 (est.)
By 1919, the Duesenberg name had become synonymous with craftsmanship, performance and advanced engineering. The brothers that brought that name to renown were German born Frederick and August Duesenberg. From arrival in the U.S. in 1885 through the industrial revolution, the gifted engineers developed aircraft and marine engines for WWI, championship winning bicycles, motorcycles, and most famously, race cars. In 1919, the two looked to commercialize with two final ventures both based in Indianapolis, IN – Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company, Inc. to produce luxury passenger cars, and the Duesenberg Brothers Racing team, focused on competition cars. Both entities would utilize the ingenious and powerful inline-eight engine design they had developed in the 1910s.
After some false starts, and a few prototypes, Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company, Inc. produced its first car line in 1921– the Straight Eight, later known as the Model A. Originally announced in 1920 and equipped with a conventional flathead engine, the Duesenberg brothers delayed production when they decided at the last minute to produce the passenger cars with their race car derived powerplant. Though the change crippled the new company’s launch, it was this engineering prowess that would go on to make the brand legendary. A period Los Angeles Times headline read – “Duesenberg Eight Here: Products of Famous Motor Builder Reach Los Angeles and Beat Expectations by Several Miles.” The single-overhead cam straight-eight engine was like nothing else produced or included in a passenger car at the time and was an industry first.
Samuel Northup Castle placed an order in 1919 and would become the first owner of a Duesenberg passenger car when he took delivery of his Straight Eight in 1921. Castle, an early car enthusiast, came from a family of Hawaiian missionaries and was a founder of Castle & Cooke Co., a Hawaiian sugar cooperative. Duesenberg built the chassis and engine at their plant in Indianapolis, and Castle worked with an outside coachbuilder, in this case the Bender Body Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, to craft a body to his liking. This would become customary for the marque and high-end luxury automobiles of the period. Never was a custom-built car body as needed as it was for the seven-foot tall Castle who likely dwarfed most contemporary car interiors. Because of this, the unique coupe features an ultra-spacious interior both in height and length. The car’s cycle-like fenders, lack of running boards, and full-length belly pan contribute to a stunningly athletic form for the time, despite the gargantuan proportions of the cabin.
Not only did the Straight Eight feature striking bodywork but it was designed to, “outclass, outrun, and outlast any car on the road” according to one of its creators, Fred Duesenberg. Hydraulic brakes at each corner – four years before a major manufacturer would implement this technology and at a time where front brakes were uncommon – brought the car to a remarkably easy stop compared to contemporary automobiles using cable or rod actuated brakes. Adding to the braking performance was the overall svelte nature of the car’s design. It featured an abundant use of aluminum and touches fitting of a race car like an exhaust cut-out and the full-length belly pan. Period advertisements bragged about the car’s racing pedigree and proclaimed the Duesenbergs could be brought to a complete stop from thirty mile per hour in just a car length. The fabled overhead cam engine featuring 260 CID and a hemispherical combustion chamber returned 88 horsepower and did so reliably and efficiently.
Samuel Northrup Castle went on to drive the Straight Eight extensively upon acquiring it in Hawaii. So much so that he eventually shipped it back to Indiana where the Duesenberg company refreshed and updated the coupe to a more modern appearance in the late 1920s. It received a Model J steering wheel, luggage rack and lights. Upon return to Hawaii it saw plenty more use with Castle at the wheel – even being put to work for farm duties and to survey plantations. When Northrup passed away in 1959, he was warmly remembered in his obituary for his love of his prestigious vehicles: “He drove old cars which he kept in tip-top mechanical shape. His shiny tan 1929 fish-tail Packard roadster was a familiar sight. And his black 1921 Duesenberg was in active use until a few years ago.”
The Duesenberg remained in the family, though it went to California to Castle’s nephew, James C. Castle in the 1960s. With the exception of a Napa Valley Concours in 1968, the first Duesenberg remained in storage until the 1990s. In 1994 when James C. Castle passed away, ownership was transferred to his son, James C. Castle Jr. and his wife CyrAnn. Though loved throughout its life, storage and use had not been kind to the one-off, almost century year old vehicle. In 2010, the couple commissioned Bruce Canepa of Scotts Valley, CA with the resurrection. After a painstaking 10,000-hour restoration the car was debuted at the 2013 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Leading up to the Duesenberg centennial, the family began to look for a home for the Straight Eight. Working with Gordon McCall and Eric Killorin, the Castles were connected with the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum of Auburn, IN and in December 30, 2019 the car was donated to the museum. The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum is the preserved original corporate headquarters building for the Auburn Automobile Company which acquired the Duesenberg marque in 1926 by company president E.L. Cord.
 “Isle Industrialist S.N. Castle Dies,” The Honolulu Advertiser, February 11, 1959