Tag Archives: Gordon Buehrig

The Auburn Automobile Company made its mark on Indiana with style.

A stylish Auburn in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit is the 1935 Auburn SC Cabriolet. Visit the Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit today.

1935 Auburn SC Cabriolet
1935 Auburn SC Cabriolet

The company’s most notable model—the Auburn boattail speedster designed by Gordon Buehrig in 1934—had the look that would be remembered for many years to come. Today the speedster is still regarded by enthusiasts as one of the most stylish cars ever made.

The legendary designer Gordon Buehrig started to work for Auburn in 1934. He designed the Auburn 851 with a Lycoming straight-eight engine. The car was introduced in August 1934, which was one of the first mid-year introductions. Buehrig also designed the Auburn 851 boattail speedster with a Lycoming supercharged 150 h.p., straight-eight engine, and a price tag of $2,245. Its success was legendary. An 851 speedster became the first fully equipped American production car to exceed 100 m.p.h. for 12 hours at the Bonneville salt flats in Utah in July 1935. The Auburn 851 speedster with its tapering tail, pontoon fenders, and four chrome-plated exhaust pipes is regarded by many as one of the most beautiful cars ever built.

The Auburn Automobile Company was incorporated August 22, 1903, with Charles, Frank, and Morris Eckhart listed as directors and officers. Capital was set at $7,500. By 1903, the Auburns were more substantial and were offered with pneumatic tires.

In the 1910’s, Auburns were known as good solid cars and competed well in the marketplace. With increased competition, late in the decade, Auburn’s sales began to falter. Introduction of the Auburn Beauty-Six in 1919 briefly gave sales a short-lived boost. In 1924, Auburn was producing only six units per day. Over 700 unsold touring cars filled the storage lot.

Auburn took a dramatic turn when the Chicago investors installed Errett Lobban Cord as general manager in 1924. Cord agreed to work without a salary with the understanding that, if he turned the company around, he would acquire a controlling interest.

Upon arriving in Auburn, Cord ordered the sluggish inventory repainted in snappy colors and had trim and accessories added for a more engaging look. The inventory was soon sold. In 1925, he updated the Auburns with the addition of Lycoming straight-eight engines to the line-up. He then paid a reputed $50 for a flashy new design in time to put it on the floor of the 1925 New York Auto Show—all without putting the company one cent in debt. This new styling theme was used for nine years and featured a graceful beltline that swept up over the top of the hood to the radiator cap and two-tone color schemes.

Cord could turn the company around. Sales increased rapidly, and in 1926, Cord became president of the company. Starting in 1926, Cord conceived a self-sufficient organization, like Ford, that could produce practically all the parts needed for automobiles, eliminating the need to buy a lot of material outside. He believed he could reduce costs this way. To accomplish this goal, Cord acquired control of Ansted Engine Company, Lexington Motor Car Company, and Central Manufacturing all based in Connersville, Indiana, Lycoming Manufacturing Company (and subsidiaries) of Williamsport, Pennsylvania; Limousine Body Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan; and Duesenberg Motors Company of Indianapolis. Growth in the company continued. In five years E.L. Cord had increased production 1,000 percent. On June 14, 1929, the Cord Corporation was organized with a capitalization of $125 million as a holding company to centralize growing activities.

The powerful Auburn 8-115 with Lockheed four-wheel hydraulic brakes was introduced for 1928. Styling innovations were a trend at Auburn in 1928, with the introduction of the five-passenger Phaeton Sedan—a sporty touring car that could be converted into a closed sedan. Premiering this year was the first Auburn boattail speedster designed by stylist Alan H. Leamy, who provided the genesis for Buehrig’s version.

The aerodynamic Auburn Cabin Speedster was introduced in 1929. That year’s catalog boasted, “Here is tomorrow’s automobile design. Automobiles, as well as planes, must minimize wind resistance to attain increased speed. The Cabin Speedster is a subtle compound of racing car and airplane, sky-styled, and designed by the famous racing driver and aviator, Wade Morton.”

Unfortunately, critical acclaim and styling achievement did not add up to a commercial success. The Depression finally caught up with Auburn in the mid-thirties. The last Auburns were built in 1936.

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The luxurious Duesenberg Twenty Grand

Twenty Grand Duesenberg

The luxurious Duesenberg Model SJ Arlington Torpedo Sedan “Twenty Grand” debuted in 1933 in Chicago at the Century of Progress Exposition, in the Travel and Transportation Building. It was the most luxurious and expensive Duesenberg ever built. $20,000 was both its price tag and its namesake for the car soon became known as the “Twenty Grand.”

In 1932, preparations were underway at Duesenberg in Indianapolis, to create a sensational show car for the lakeshore event. Gordon Buehrig, then chief designer, adapted several of his own earlier coach styles into an all-new Torpedo Sedan.

The men in the plant installed a 320-horsepower supercharged engine in a long wheelbase chassis. The Rollston Body Company, noted for elegance, brought Buehrig’s design to life. Duesenberg body lines never had appeared so sleek as on the “Twenty Grand,” its dramatically long hood was completely uninterrupted by superfluous stylization.

A “V” shaped windshield slanted back aerodynamically. The four exposed exhaust pipes from the supercharged engine were covered with polished flexible stainless steel tubing. Mounted on the rear was a folding luggage rack, with a durable fabric resembling some exotic new leather, giving an amazing smoothness, covered the top.

The Torpedo Sedan was painted in a metallic lacquer of chromium color, described in the original publicity as a “platinum” hue, “stripped in dawn beige.” Inside, the upholstery was of imported gray leather, bound with silver patent leather. The plush seats were patterned as four separate armchairs. The sumptuous interior, bestowed instrument panels for both the front and rear passengers, paneled in two-tone burl walnut, inlaid with silver.

As with all Duesenbergs, the creators proclaimed for the “Twenty Grand” a top speed of 130 miles per hour, exceeding 100 miles per hour in second gear alone.

The show car was an enormous hit in Chicago, allowing the Depression-era world’s fair crowd to inhale, for a moment at least, the aura of glamour surrounding the “Twenty Grand,” whose price could just as well have applied to an elaborate home in 1933.

The most expensive Duesenberg that had yet been built never sold to an extravagant customer while it was new, and its unique design was never duplicated.

Today, the “Twenty Grand” is displayed in the Nethercutt collection in San Sylmar, California.

In the day, the “Twenty Grand” was the ultimate motorcar of era produced in Indianapolis. For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.

Indiana Auto Facts

I would like to share some interesting Indiana auto facts that I have learned over the years.

The Inter-State Motor Company was started in 1908, when the Commercial Club of Muncie, spearheaded by the five Ball brothers, J.M. Marling, and Tom Hart decided to open an automobile production plant. After World War I it was eventually sold to GM.

1910 Lambert touring car
1910 Lambert touring car

John Lambert (1860 – 1952) along with his father and brother, established an engine plant in Anderson, known as the Buckeye Manufacturing Company. In 1902, Lambert formed the Union Auto Company in Union City to produce a rear-engine automobile with gearless, friction-drive. In 1905, Lambert closed this firm and formed the Lambert Automobile Company in Anderson. For the next 12 years, the company manufactured automobiles, trucks, fire engines, and farm tractors. All used the friction-drive pioneered by Lambert. Cars using engines from this company were manufactured until 1917. Lambert received over 600 patents for his automotive designs.

William B. Barnes (1898 – 1987) invented “overdrive” a device that would increase the life of the engine, yet improve fuel efficiency. In 1932, Muncie’s Warner Gear backed this development.

Adolf Schneider (1891 – 1987) and his brother Heinrich, invented the hydraulic torque converter for diesel locomotives in their native Switzerland in 1924. Later, Schneider came to the U.S. where there a better chance of manufacturing it. Warner Gear eventually agreed to work with Schneider.

Ralph Teetor (1890 – 1982), blind since age five, is best known for the invention of cruise control. Teetor was inspired to invent the device while riding with his lawyer. The lawyer would slow down while talking and speed up while listening. The rocking motion so annoyed Teetor that he determined to invent a speed control. It was well received at its debut in 1961, in a Chrysler Imperial.

Perry Remy, 19, and his 14 year-old brother Frank, opened an electrical contracting business in Anderson in 1895. Later they incorporated as the Remy Electric Company, manufacturers of electrical equipment for gasoline engines. The company was a success, due largely to Perry’s design for the magneto: in 1910, nearly 50,000 were produced. United Motors Corporation bought Remy and its chief rival, Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company in 1916. The Delco Remy merger under General Motors, took place in 1938.

1936 Cord sedan
1936 Cord sedan
Copyright © 2008 Dennis E. Horvath

Gordon Buehrig (1904 – 1990) started his career in 1924, as chief engineer for Gothfredson Body Company and then worked for a variety of other auto companies. In 1929, he became chief body designer at Duesenberg in Indianapolis. He designed many of the famous Duesenbergs, the Duesenberg radiator ornament and the classic 1935 Auburn line. He is most famous, however, for the 810 Cord which drew huge crowds at its debut at the 1935 New York auto show. The car ushered in aero-dynamic styling. It had disappearing headlights, front-wheel drive and step-down entry. The Museum of Modern Art in New York, honored the 810 Cord in a 1951 show stating, “the originality of the conception and the skill with which its several parts have been realized make it one of the most powerful designs in the exhibition…”

C.C. Adelsperger, S.R. Bell and J.W. Wogoman founded Union City Body Company in 1893. It produced bodies for horseless carriages made by a number of companies operating within 100 miles of its shop. Bodies for Haynes, Apperson, Davis, Lexington, Clark, Premier, and Chandler automobiles were all produced at Union City. As the company’s reputation grew, it received contracts to make bodies for some of the nation’s most beautiful automobiles including the Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg and Pierce-Arrow. By the late 1920s, however, many of Union City Body’s customers were closing their doors and the company turned to manufacturing theater seating in order to remain in business. In the 1950s, the company began focusing on parcel delivery trucks.

Maxwell Logo

When Maxwell-Briscoe built its plant in New Castle in 1906. At the time, it was the largest automobile plant in the nation. Maxwells were made there until 1925. The newly formed Chrysler Corporation purchased the plant that year making it one of its original eight plants.

Tom and Harry Warner, Abbott and J.C. Johnson, Col. William Hitchcock and Thomas Morgan founded Warner Gear Company of Muncie in 1900. Warner Gear’s first major contribution to the industry was the differential. The company also produced transmissions, steering gears and rear axles and had broad appeal among the nation’s automobile makers. Warner was the first company to develop a standardized transmission in 1926. It could be mass produced at half the cost of specialty transmissions and was suitable for use in almost any automobile. This successful innovation saved the company during a time when specialty manufacturers across the country were closing their doors. A merger with Borg & Beck, Marvel Carburetor and Mechanics Universal Joint Company in 1928 created Borg Warner Corporation. The diversity of its products kept the company stable during the Depression years.

That’s the story of some of Indiana auto pioneers. For more information on Indiana auto pioneers, follow this link.

Indiana Cars in My Four Car Fantasy Garage

What would be the cars in my “Four Car Fantasy Garage?”

If you’ve been following my blog for some time, you know my selection will be heavily slanted to Indiana-built automobiles. In fact, my selections are three Hoosier autos plus one domestic built one ranging from 63 to 82 years old.

Twenty Grand Duesenberg
Twenty Grand Duesenberg

My first pick is the “Twenty Grand” Duesenberg build for exposition at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. The regal Duesenberg Model SJ Arlington Torpedo Sedan is probably one of the most well-known Duesys. Designed by the legendary Duesenberg stylist Gordon Buehrig, the car was bodied in Pasadena by the Walter M. Murphy Company and aptly named for its staggering price in 1933. That price the “Twenty Grand” would buy you 40 new Plymouth business coupes with change to spare! It was the most expensive automobile of the year. This was the ultimate motorcar of the era. No other American car, not Lincoln, or Packard, or even Cadillac, had so powerful an image. Today it resides in the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar, California.

1936 Cord Model 810 sedan
1936 Cord Model 810 sedan

My second choice was also designed by Gordon Buehrig, the 1936 Cord Model 810. The car debuted at the New York Auto Show on November 2, 1935. The first Cord 810 rolled off the assembly line in Connersville on February 15, 1936. Innovations on the Cord 810 included disappearing headlights, concealed door hinges, rheostat-controlled instrument lights, variable speed windshield wipers, Bendix Electric Hand (steering column mounted-electric gear pre-selection unit), and factory installed radio. Some of the internationally known celebrities purchasing Cord automobiles were movie stars Sonja Heine and Tom Mix. In fact, actress Jean Harlow ordered a Cord with paint and upholstery to match her platinum blonde hair. The 1951 New York Museum of Modern Art exhibit regarded “the Cord as the outstanding American contribution to automobile design.”

1963-Avanti-Front
1963 Avanti

My third draft is the 1962 Studebaker Avanti. Studebaker President Sherwood Egbert enlisted Raymond Loewy’s group to design this remarkable sport coupe for introduction at the New York International Auto Show in April 1962, By the fall of 1961, orders were placed with outside suppliers for items that Studebaker could not produce internally. The Avanti is best known for its under-the-bumper air intake and “Coke-bottle,” wedge shape design. The fiberglass body sat on a modified Lark Daytona convertible chassis. Avanti’s safety theme was prominent throughout with a recessed and padded instrument panel with red lights for night vision, built-in roll bar, and safety-cone door locks. The car was also one of the first American passenger cars to use caliper-type disc brakes. Iterations of the Avanti and the Avanti II were produced until 1985. You can still find reasonably priced Avanti’s in today’s vintage automobile market.

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe
1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe
Copyright © 1957 General Motors

Of course, I still have a soft spot in my heart for my first car, a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe. One of these would be the other car in my fantasy garage. What drew me to my 57 Chevy in 1965, was what still draws me today – styling. I believe this styling of the 1955-1957 Chevrolet’s is the best execution of this “everyman’s car.” From the anodized grille to the sleek tailfins, this car talks to me. My two-tone hardtop had a Canyon Coral body with an India Ivory Top and black interior with silver accents. It was powered by a 283 V-8 and Turboglide transmission. This was one sharp set of wheels. If only knew then what I know, I would have put this automotive icon in a time capsule for today.

So, what would you choose for your “Four Car Fantasy Garage?” Tell us about it.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies follow this link.

Visit the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum

I encourage everyone to visit the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum. For me this is a return to Mecca. ACDAM is the place that probably ignited my interest in collectible autos. If you are ever in the northeast corner of Indiana, you have to visit ACADM.

1936 Cord convertible coupe
1936 Cord convertible coupe
Copyright © 2011 Dennis E. Horvath

Let me tell you about this automotive gem. ACDAM is the only auto museum occupying an original factory showroom and administration building. The art-deco structure was built in 1930 for the Auburn Automobile Company and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Galleries on the first floor showcase Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg automobiles. Some of these are one-of-a-kind automotive icons, while others are original unrestored examples.

The museum dedicates a large portion to Indiana-built automobiles from the 1890s through 1960s. In addition to the namesake cars, the Cars of Indiana Gallery on the second floor shows a cross section of cars like Marmon, Studebaker, and Stutz that brought world wide acclaim to the Hoosier state. One of my favorites here is an Indianapolis-built 1919 Cole Aero-Eight TourSedan.

1919 Cole Aero Eight TourSedan
1919 Cole Aero-Eight TourSedan
Copyright © 2011 Dennis E. Horvath

Second floor galleries feature design examples across a wide spectrum. The Gordon Buehrig Gallery of Design focuses on the process of design at the company. Buehrig is probably most famous for designing the 1936 Cord Model 810 in addition to the 1935 Auburn Boattail Speedster and many Duesenberg Model Js. E. L. Cord’s office and design studios remain with period correct trappings from the company’s heyday. One item I particularly like is the many clay styling models of the Cord Model 810. These give an idea of the attention to detail required in designing this creative auto.

I always enjoy finding new treasures during my visits to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum. Everyone I recommend it to agrees with my accolades for this Indiana automotive gem. You should be sure to visit ACDAM on a trip to the Midwest.

To find more about Indiana car culture follow this link.