Nothing Arrives in Style Like a Dual Cowl Phaeton

1929 Duesenberg Model J by LeBaron
As part of this gig, I see a lot of cars. Besides attending the major corporate auto shows like the North American International Auto Show here in Detroit, from spring into late fall almost every Sunday will find me at some kind of car show. Car museums are also some of my favorite places. Having entered my teens during the 1960s, when there were E Type Jaguars, Corvettes and Mustangs, it was easy for me to dismiss cars from the ’50s as old-fashioned, let alone vehicles from the pre-war classic era. As Mark Twain pointed out, though, I’ve learned a few things since I was a young man and my perspective has changed.

Nothing Arrives in Style Like a Dual Cowl PhaetonLincoln Model K
No, I’m still not going to make a tri-five Chevy my daily driver, but I have gained an appreciation for older cars and I’ve decided that if I was wealthy and was looking for car to arrive in, it wouldn’t be a late model Ferrari, Lamborghini or Rolls-Royce. It’d be some kind of dual cowl phaeton from the late 1920s or early 1930s.
Nothing Arrives in Style Like a Dual Cowl Phaeton1929 Stutz Model M Four-Passenger Speedster by LeBaron
It wouldn’t necessarily have to be a Duesenberg Model J, though its position as the ranking aristocrat of American automobiles makes it the preferred choice. I’m sure that a “senior” Packard, Chrysler Imperial or a V-12 or V-16 Cadillac, would make a similar, if slightly more restrained, statement.
Nothing Arrives in Style Like a Dual Cowl Phaeton1931 Chrysler CG Imperial Dual-Cowl Phaeton rebodied in the style of LeBaron
It’s not because they’re the most luxurious cars. The dual cowls I’ve seen are no fancier than the coupes and sedans made by the same companies. In fact, there are fewer appointments for the rear passengers than there are in conventional limousines of the same vintage. In a lot of cases the passenger compartments in the back are even a little bit snug — somewhat of a surprise considering just how massive those cars are.
Nothing Arrives in Style Like a Dual Cowl PhaetonThe rear passenger compartment in a dual cowl phaeton can be a little bit cozy as you can see in this Murphy style Duesenberg.
So why do I think dual cowl cars are so fabulous? To begin with, the phaeton roof line is one of the masterpieces of automotive styling. There is a reason why Dean Jeffries made the Monkeemobile a phaeton, beyond the need for seating for all four band members in the back. The long roof (one reason why enthusiasts are attracted to station wagons) and the way it peaks in the back and then slopes towards the front of the car simply looks good.
Nothing Arrives in Style Like a Dual Cowl Phaeton1935 Duesenberg Model SJ, rebodied in the style of Murphy
Then there’s the dual cowl aspect. Though they are not exactly limousines, they’re functionally equivalent, the owner rides in back, so there is that side of being able to show off your wealth by having a chauffeur. Also, the second cowl gives it the look of a parade car, whether or not the roof is up or down. It’s easy to visualize Queen Elizabeth doing her queenly wave from the back seat.
Nothing Arrives in Style Like a Dual Cowl Phaeton1930 Packard Deluxe Eight. As impressive as “senior” Packards are, the grille and hood on a Duesenberg J are about a half foot taller.
Will we ever see a modern dual cowl car? I’m not sure that modern car shapes work with the concept, but it would be interesting to see what some of today’s talented car designers could create.
Nothing Arrives in Style Like a Dual Cowl Phaeton1941 Chrysler Newport, a later take on the dual cowl idiom. Could a modern dual cowl work?
Technically speaking, not all of the cars pictured here are dual cowl phaetons. The Stutz company apparently preferred a different nomenclature, instead calling their dual cowl a “four passenger speedster”, perhaps because of the scalloped, cut-down door.
Nothing Arrives in Style Like a Dual Cowl Phaeton1928 Stutz BB4 Dual Cowl Touring Car
No matter what you call them, they’re magnificent automobiles.
As the Great Depression wore on, by the late 1930s big open cars were no longer fashionable. Perhaps those who retained their wealth or managed to amass new fortunes did not want to appear to be showing off that wealth or perhaps closed limousines afforded them some level of anonymity at a time when rich folks might have wanted to keep a low profile. Either way, I don’t know of a dual cowl car made since before WWII. The original Chrysler Newport, which was used as a pace car for the 1941 Indy 500, has a second cowl, but it was primarily a concept show car and only six of them were made.
Nothing Arrives in Style Like a Dual Cowl PhaetonPierce Arrow 1930 Model B Sport Phaeton. Note the Pierce Arrow’s signature “Dawley” headlights that were faired into the fenders.
With the Monkeemobile, Dean Jeffries was able to successfully apply a phaeton roofline to a 1960s era car. It would be interesting to see what contemporary designers could do applying a phaeton roof and a second cowl to today’s shapes. Do you think it would even be possible to make a modern dual cowl phaeton?
If you had an unlimited budget, which car would you choose to arrive in style?
Photos by the author. You can see the complete galleries and more dual cowl phaetons here.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS
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