Story and Photos by Joe Greeves

The roots run deep in this latest neoclassic design from Terry Cook of Deco Rides. His street cred as a multidisciplined car guy goes back decades, and you’ve probably seen his work, even if you didn’t know he was the author. Born in 1942, Terry says cars are part of his earliest memories. After cutting his teeth as a teenaged flagger at a local racetrack, he progressed to a career of automotive journalism. His long list of editorial stints included serving at magazines such as Car Craft, Hot Rod, Vans & Trucks, Car and Driver, Drag News and Drag World (published from 1963 to 1966).

Expanding his skill set and reputation, Terry presided over the legendary event Lead East for 35 years. The annual four-day festival celebrates classic music and classic cars and is held in Parsippany, New Jersey. Sold in 2017 to new owners, this extravaganza still continues to attract thousands of attendees over the Labor Day weekend.

Building on his background of automotive talents and enthusiasm, Terry established Deco Rides, pioneering flowing renditions of iconic designs from Duesenberg, Lincoln, Bugatti and more. Some of Terry’s best-known designs, Scrape and the Deco Liner, are true rolling works of art. They were inspired by the fluid design cues of celebrated designers in France, such as Jacques Saoutchik and Giuseppe Figoni. Scrape’s mesmerizing looks captured the attention of vintage car enthusiasts upon its introduction. Mattel was so impressed that the company created a die-cast Hot Wheels model of the car.

Scrape later sold for $275,000 and was on display at the Robert E. Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles for a decade and a half. Terry went on to produce a collection of Z-Series ’39 Lincoln Zephyr bodies, using the original molds to create a coupe, fastback sedan, convertible and sedan delivery versions.

Terry was awestruck when he first saw the 1939 Shah of Persia’s Bugatti in 1995 and was inspired to expand his design profile. He turned his attention to the coachbuilt era of French streamliners, offering modern fiberglass recreations of the Auburn Boattail Speedster and the Bugatti Type 57s.

Instead of focusing on huge horsepower and aggressive acceleration, Terry builds great-looking cars that adapt classic lines and proportions without raising the ire of purists. His combinations of vintage styling and cutting-edge technology allow you to drive in reliable comfort and arrive in grand style. In so doing, Terry puts a fresh twist on old favorites.

“We’re dragging these 1930s classics into the 21st century with a hot rod flavor, gusto and verve. In doing so, we’re paying tribute to these great stylists and craftsmen,” he says. “I call them Tribute Rods — we start with a classic and then smoke it over.”

The inspiration for his latest ride, and his last hurrah since he’s now retiring and selling off all his molds, began some 18 years ago. It was the famous Maharaja Duesenberg, a spectacular, one-of-a-kind roadster created for Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar (1908-1961) of Indore, India. Thought to be the last Duesenberg made before the company closed its doors, the Maharaja was the feature vehicle at the Louis Vuitton event in New York City in 1999 where Terry had his custom Lincoln on display. Studying the flowing lines of the two cars, he had an epiphany: He realized his 1939 Zephyr fiberglass Deco Rides convertible body could become the basis for the ultimate tribute car — but not without a few significant alterations.

Since the original Doozy had a massive 153.5-inch wheelbase, the first order of business was to scale everything down to 88% of the original in order to match the new 135-inch, rectangular steel chassis from Fat Man Fabrications. The chassis rolls on a Ford 9-inch rear end with four-link suspension and a Mustang II independent front.

Providing brisk and steady acceleration is a 502 ci Chevrolet crate motor, flowing smoothly through a TCI TH400 automatic. The combination is guaranteed to create an imposing road presence and propel the heavyweight car effortlessly through modern traffic.

With the chassis and powertrain established, Terry turned his attention to the necessary body modifications. The Zephyr’s fiberglass shell provided the distinctive cab and rear, but a new front end was needed to complete the look. Renowned craftsman Marcel De Ley of Marcel’s Custom Metal fabricated a steel Duesenberg Model J grille shell and front fenders. He also hammered out a steel hood and side panels, along with a stylishly raked brass windshield frame.

Several other specialists lent their talents to bring the ambitious project to competition. Ed Flanagan of Mendham, New Jersey, did a masterful job modifying the Zephyr body to replicate the Maharaja, and Marty Baker of NEL Metal Restorations in Philadelphia crafted the chrome on the car. Sholley’s Trim Shop in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, handled the interior and convertible top, while Brian Matthews of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, built the custom-fitted luggage.

Lastly, it was Howard Kelly and the team at Bad Donkee Hot Rods of Hanover, Pennsylvania, that coordinated the work of the previous artists. They wrapped up all the final details, including additional fabrication, wiring, body prep and laying down the distinctive orange and black shades that match the original Maharaja Duesenberg perfectly. The finished car exudes all the automotive elegance of the ’30s, complete with a bonnet that will arrive well ahead of the car’s occupants and a stylish tail treatment to admire as it rolls silently by as well.

The Maharaja not only looks impressive, but it is also right at home in the new millennium, boasting power windows, power disc brakes, power steering, air conditioning and a defroster. It has a removable top that reveals the stunningly bright orange leather interior, tall floor shift and a center-mounted gauge cluster in an engine-turned bezel. The trunk is also a work of art, with posh accouterments suitable for a regal family picnic.

The road isn’t easy when the goal is to arrive at the top of the podium. After 18 years of work, this one-of-a-kind revisionist version of the famed Maharaja Duesenberg is for sale. Terry describes it simply enough as “an affordable mini-Maharaja you can drive and enjoy.” The tasteful mix of glamour, brawn and intricacy means the new owner won’t have to take it on the road to enjoy it. He can get star-struck simply gazing at it in the garage.