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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