|Vintage Motor Cars in Arizona
Friday, January 20, 2006
|1958 Duesenberg Kollins Le Grande|
400bhp, 435 cu. in. inline eight-cylinder dual overhead cam four valve engine with three speed transmission, independent coil spring front suspension, live axle and leaf spring rear suspension and four-wheel hydraulic brakes with Bendix servo actuation. Wheelbase: 127"
Concepts. Dream cars. One-off prototypes. These are the legends of the modern collector’s garage. Some are more interesting than others…
The year is 1958, imagine this: Eight cylinders, twin overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, hemispherical combustion chambers and quadruple carburetors. A 4,000 pound, two passenger roadster with a six-foot long hood and sexy styling that combines the best Italian thinking with clear American heritage. State of the art modern suspension and giant finned aluminum brakes powered by Bendix servos.
Sound far-fetched? Not to Mike Kollins, it didn’t.
Kollins was a larger than life character – engineer, race car driver, PT boat instructor, historian, and a 50 year veteran technician at Indy. During his lifetime, he was a car guy’s car guy. His day job was as engineering technician and test driver for Packard in the 1950s, then with Chrysler.
Lots of guys dream about building their dream car. Some even start, most never finish. Not Mike Kollins. In just eight years, start to finish, he built the Kollins LeGrande. He had the resources of his friends at Packard and Chrysler to help, so the engineering was first rate – a stack of blueprints a foot thick provides evidence of that. With his personal skills, plus help from his friends in the world of race car fabrication, there was not a corner cut anywhere.
The result was good enough to earn him a feature article in the March 1959 issue of Motor Trend magazine – as well as the admiration of just about everyone who has ever seen the car.
The project began in 1951, on the same day that Mike Kollins became a father. He had been thinking about the project for a while, but that is when he decided to celebrate by buying a 1930 Duesenberg Model J. It was a Judkins coupe, and the body was pretty shabby, but that did not matter to Kollins – all he wanted was the drivetrain, instruments, and a few other bits.
He arranged for a special frame to be built by A. O. Smith. Based on the 1950 Packard convertible, it was boxed and reinforced, and had a custom K member added at the front. Standard Packard rear suspension, but with special softer rate springs, was fitted. The front suspension was stock Packard, but the brakes were heavy-duty units with Bendix servos to ensure first rate stopping power.
The original Model J engine was disassembled and bored out to 435 cubic inches. Bigger valves were fitted, and the compression ratio was increased to 7.5:1. Kollins had a special intake manifold fabricated to accommodate four side draft Carter carburetors: standard racing practice. Not only did it breathe better, but the profile was lower than stock. For the same reason, the distributor drive was moved from the camshaft to the generator drive, putting it down low beside the engine. Kollins puts output at 400bhp, which is not a big stretch considering Duesenberg rated the stock engine at either 265bhp or 320bhp when blown.
Later, Kollins added power steering. Today, the car is remarkably easy to drive. With modern suspension, power brakes, and power steering, it is certainly more comfortable than any of the original Duesenbergs. With 400bhp and a three-speed transmission, it is a powerful car, even by modern standards.
Of course, it is the body that attracts all the attention. Somehow, despite the overall length, the car manages to look as Kollins intended – like a sports car. The height of the engine dictated a raised center section to the hood, which was gracefully faired into the base of the windshield. It takes a second look to realize that the radiator shell is pure Duesenberg – with its egg crate center it looks vaguely Italian, Dual Ghia perhaps.
A stylish LeBaron sweep panel lends the car a modern day Duesenberg appearance, while Packard Carribean wheels and fender moldings reinforce the American influence while somehow looking completely at home. The top frame is an engineering work of art, designed by friends at Chrysler and custombuilt for the Kollins LeGrande.
An extensive clipping file attests to the interest that the car generates, even in the eyes of modern journalists. From that first article in Motor Trend to a recent column in Autoweek, there is something about the Kollins LeGrande that focuses the imagination.
Sadly, Mike Kollins is not with us any more. For generations to come, however, his Kollins LeGrande will continue to generate fascination and intrigue, and just maybe a little curiosity about the man behind it all.
“Please note that the Kollins LeGrande is titled as a 1930 Duesenberg.”
Please note that this vehicle is titled as a 1930.