Nostalgia is real as this Duesenberg cruises Laguna Beach

In an age when it's hard to tell truth from fiction, perhaps in some cases it doesn't matter.

It's the image and feeling of nostalgia that counts.

So when you see a 1932 Duesenberg, cream and red with powder-like whitewalls, dripping with pre-World War II mystique, being driven around Laguna Beach with a "for sale" sign ignominiously attached to its door, you can't help but wonder what it would cost.

The Duesenberg, despite its very German sounding name, was an all-American car, often called the Duesy. The company was started in 1913 in St. Paul, Minn., by two brothers, Fred and Augie Duesenberg. They were brilliant, self-taught engineers whose hand-built cars were considered the best of their time.

In 1914, just a year after the company started, a Duesenberg finished in 10th place at the Indianapolis 500. Eventually, it would go on to win the race in 1924, 1925 and 1927, along with other international races.

Only about 300 of these rare engineering marvels were built, and yet here was one driving along Forest Avenue in Laguna Beach on a Saturday afternoon — for sale.

To give you a sense of scale, only 37 cars in history have ever sold for more than $10 million at public auction. About two-thirds of those have been old Ferraris. The only real non-brand "supercar" on the list? A 1931 Duesenberg, which sold for $10.3 million in 2011 at Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

So what do I do when I see this Duesy drive past me? I turn around and follow the driver, of course.

He wends his way through downtown Laguna and up Park Avenue. Eventually, he makes it up to Top of the World, where he pulls into the lot of Alta Laguna Park. I cringe as he parks fairly close to a mere BMW convertible.

It turns out George Hardy's 1932 Duesenberg is a replica. It's built on a 1968 Cadillac frame, and he's selling it for $27,500. If you're interested, you can email him at 32dusie@gmail.com.

After learning of its replica status, I felt a little deflated, admittedly. And to be clear, Hardy doesn't hide the replica fact. It's right on his "for sale" sign.

Besides, if it were an original Duesenberg, you would not park it in a public parking lot. You probably wouldn't drive it much at all. You would haul it to car shows on flatbed trucks and let it sleep on double-fluffy, split-microfiber pillows.

There's rare and then there's super rare.

"It gets a lot of attention," Hardy admits.

That's both a blessing and a curse. It's the main reason he's selling it. He's just grown weary of having to explain everything whenever he goes to Ralphs — what year is it, where did he get it, how much does it cost, can they take a picture.

Hardy understands the interest. It's partly what caused him to buy the car in 1994. He got it from a doctor in Villa Park. It was already built and in decent shape.

Overnight, he was able to transport himself to another time. The Duesenberg, after all, was advertised as "the world's finest motor car."

And the rich, famous and infamous bought them. This was Al Capone's car, along with a who's who list of other notables: Greta Garbo, Howard Hughes, Mae West, William Randolph Hearst and members of European royalty such as the Duke of Windsor, Prince Nicholas of Romania, Queen Maria of Yugoslavia, and the kings of Italy and Spain.

The car simply exudes status, pomp and circumstance.

Hardy calls it a "parade car," something to elevate and honor our existence. Somehow, cars like this can do that in ways the modern-day Plymouth Prowler cannot.

It's a way to accentuate a long-ago lifestyle. Nowadays, we tag "retro" on something from the 2000s that might last three weeks in popular culture.

This car, however, isn't retro; it's time travel.

So the Hollywood-like attention that Hardy gets reinforces the fact that people inherently crave star power. It's the spark that happens when you're invited to a Roaring '20s costume party. You might not know how to dance the Charleston, but you'll give a go at the Gin Rickey.

If you think these notions are whimsical, think again. Old generations have a way of staying around and resurrecting themselves. Replicas ensure that.

But more to the point, human nature ensures that.

The allure of a quintessentially American icon, especially a car, will always thrive when you least expect it.

It was only the coincidence of the Great Depression that stopped cars like the Duesenberg.

Now, as disposable money flows, as status becomes trendy again, look for more Duesys.

Look for carefree elegance, replica or not.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at hansen.dave@gmail.com.

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