1931 duPont Model K Dual Cowl Phaeton
1931 duPont Model K Dual Cowl Phaeton. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

The duPont name is associated with many products, but automobiles isn’t usually among them, although Pierre duPont was president of General Motors from 1920 to 1923 after founder Billy Durant was ousted for the second and last time. Pierre didn’t do this because of his interest in cars, but to protect duPont’s heavy investment in GM, and give it more credibility with America’s eastern bankers.

E.I duPont deNemours and Co. of Wilmington, Delaware, was formed in 1802 to produce gunpowder. It expanded into an extensive chemical empire developing many industrial and consumer products, including such registered names as nylon, rayon, dacron and cellophane.

There was also a duPont car, one of the highest quality automobiles built in America. duPonts ranked with such marques as Packard, Cadillac, Stutz, Lincoln and Cunningham, and was even mentioned in the same breath as Duesenberg.

duPont Motors was created during the First World War by E. Paul duPont, scion of the Delaware duPonts. During the war it produced marine engines, and when peace came it switched to upscale cars. In spite of duPont’s investment in General Motors, duPont Motors took pains to distance itself from any GM connection.

E. Paul’s resources enabled him to hire the best automotive engineering and management talent available. The first product of duPont Motors, the Model A, was shown at the 1919 International Salon in New York’s Commodore Hotel. This was a by-invitation-only occasion where the wealthy mingled with the finest coachbuilders and car manufacturers of the day, and hopefully placed orders.

The duPont Model A had a 3,150 mm wheelbase and was powered by a four cylinder engine of their own manufacture. duPont would subsequently use a variety of engines such as Continental, Wisconsin, and Herschell-Spillman (a company better known for midway carousels than for car engines).

Bodies were supplied by several reputable coachbuilders, including Wolfington of Philadelphia, Murphy of Pasadena, and Merrimac of Merrimac, Massachusetts.

The Model A’s luxury, style and quality was well received in the right circles. It was replaced by the slightly revised Model B late in 1920, which was built until 1924. As evidence of duPont’s exclusivity, from 1919 to ’24, only 118 Model As and Bs were produced. Each was tested personally by E. Paul, and owners were coddled and carefully instructed on their new duPont’s intricacies.

Model C came in 1923, powered by a Continental six, soon followed by the Model D with a Wisconsin six. The Model E arrived in 1927, and supercharging was tried on it without success. In 1928 the Model F, essentially a Model E with its wheelbase stretched 279 mm to 3,454 mm, was introduced, but only three would be built.

To complement the Roaring Twenties duPont entered the eight cylinder market in 1928 with the 3,851 mm wheelbase Model G, powered by a 5.3 litre 125 horsepower Continental side-valve eight. Its sparkplugs, distributor and wiring were enclosed under a stylish, ribbed aluminum cover, giving the appearance of an overhead valve engine.

A two-passenger, 3,425 mm wheelbase speedster version of the Model G was purchased by Canadian-born Hollywood actress Mary Pickford as a birthday gift for her husband Douglas Fairbanks. duPont had planned to race it in the 24-hour endurance race in LeMans, France, but it was ineligible because LeMans required four seats.

duPont therefore constructed two four-passenger speedsters for LeMans. One was not ready in time, but the second acquitted itself well before retiring, apparently due to its sandbag ballast breaking through the floor and bending the driveshaft. It was running as high as eighth place after three hours. This led to the introduction of a “LeMans” model in 1930.

A duPont also ran in the 1930 Indianapolis 500, the first year of the so-called “junk” formula that allowed stock cars to enter. In attempting to avoid a pile-up the duPont hit the wall after 22 laps, ending the company’s official participation in racing.

In the late 1920s E. Paul duPont bought the Indian Motorcycle Co. of Springfield, Massachusetts, and moved duPont assembly there. This is where the Model H, the last duPont and one of the rarest – only three built – was produced in 1930-31. It had a 3,683 mm wheelbase, and was mounted on a lengthened Stearns-Knight frame.

In 1932, the Depression claimed duPont, as it did many ultra-luxury car manufacturers. These huge, prestige automobiles conceived in the prosperous twenties suddenly became out of sync with the hard times of the thirties.

Never a large producer, duPont built a total of only 537 cars between 1919 and 1931, but it left a legacy out of proportion to its meagre numbers. They were luxurious, exclusive cars for the rich, and the very rich, including comedian Will Rogers and boxer Jack Dempsey, who loved them.

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