JOHN WAYNE AIRPORT — The Duesenberg was the first American super-car, a luxury available only to royalty and stars like Greta Garbo and Clark Gable.
With their sleek design, side-mounted spare tires and impeccably restored chrome and paint, 10 Duesenbergs — a car produced from 1913 to 1937 — will be on display at the Lyon Air Museum from July 9 to July 24.
The cars belong to Gen. William Lyon of Coto de Caza, the home-building magnate and retired Air Force commander who founded the museum at John Wayne Airport.
Lyon's son, Bill Lyon of Newport Beach, said the collection is extraordinary not only because of the Duesenbergs' beauty, but because of their history.
The cars on display include a Duesenberg used in 1938's "It's a Wonderful Life" and 1982's "Annie."
"All these cars are important to us aesthetically, but to recognize the design and the period it was in ... There was this much attention to design, detail, luxury and power in America," Bill Lyon said. "It's certainly not given enough credit."
"Duesies," as they were nicknamed, were owned by movie stars, big industrialists and Indian royalty. They cost at least $13,000 at a time when Ford Standard Roadsters cost $380 and doctors made less than $3,000 per year. Today, well-kept examples can cost collectors more than $1 million.
Built by hand, the autos were first made a few years after the Model T Ford was introduced.
In addition to their stunning design, Bill Lyon said Duesenbergs were also advanced for their time. They were equipped with lights reminding the owners when to change the oil and engines designed with upward of 400 horsepower.
Duesies won the Indianapolis 500 in 1924, 1925 and 1927.
William Lyon said his aim in showing the collection is "to share this whole thing ... rather than having them sitting in a garage."
The Lyon family also hopes the exhibit will attract more people to the Lyon Air Museum and its educational outreach efforts.
If You Go
What: Duesenberg car exhibit
Where: Lyon Air Museum, 19300 Ike Jones Road, Santa Ana
When: Saturday to July 24; Museum open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily
Tickets: $12 for general admission; $9 for senior citizens and veterans; $6 for children aged 5-17; free for children under 5.
More information: http://www.lyonairmuseum.org