History of Auburn Speedster

Auburn Speedster imageBuilt by the Eckhardt Carriage Company of Auburn, Indiana, the car was specifically designed for the super-rich of America in the inter-war period. The brutal yet handsome machines had 12-cylinder engines and hand-tailored cabins, and for three years was America's most expensive car. Eckhardt suffered badly during the Great Depression as incomes tumbled, but the Auburn car was kept alive by the motoring visionary Erret Cord, who founded his own company famed for making dramatic and distinctive machinery for well-heeled owners. Only 500 Auburns were built in total before the company finally failed in 1937, but it is remembered today as one of the true greats and remains one of the most Collectable cars in the world.

The success of the vehicles and the survival of the company up to this point were due mostly to Erret Lobban Cord.

The Auburn Company had come into existence in 1877 producing wagons. In 1903 the direction of the company switched to creating automobiles, their first being a one-cylinder chain-driven runabout. The styling and diversity of the vehicles evolved over the years, as did the mechanical capabilities and technological innovations.

The Great Depression had taken its toll on the Auburn Company and was headed to receivership when it was rescued by William Wrigley. Cord was recruited to assume the duties of general manager. This fast-talking, energetic, sales man, though less than thirty years old, was the right man for the job. By applying new paint to a parking lot of excess vehicles, Cord was able to sell over 750 cars in just a few months.

This earned him the title of vice president and in 1926 he became president and primary stockholder of the Auburn Company.

Throughout the next few years, the Auburn/Cord Company would experience highs and lows. The L-29 featured front-wheel drive, a first in the industry.

Designer Gordon Buehrig and engine designer Augie Duesenberg were tasked with creating a new design for 1935. A V-12 Speedster was used as a starting point. The front-end, cowl, and bonnet were completely reworked. It was given a convertible body-style that was low and complimented its small side windows.

The masculine look of the Auburn 851 was due in part to its teardrop headlamps, chrome exhaust pipes, pontoon fenders, and newly styled grille and hood.

Under the hood lurked a 279 cubic-inch eight-cylinder engine. An existing six-cylinder engine had been outfitted with two additional cylinders while keeping the bore and stroke the same. The result was a 115 horsepower in natural aspiration form and 150 when outfitted with the Schwitzer-Cummings supercharger.

The vehicle was put through its paces at a 24-hour endurance run in the Bonneville Salt Flats with driver, Ab Jenkins proving the vehicle was capable of exceeding 100 miles per hour.

The car was introduced in 1935 and expectations were high but sales were low. Just over 5,000 examples were sold during its initial production year. For 1936 the name was switched to 852 and this did nothing to help sales, with just 1850 vehicles sold.

Unfortunately, in 1936 the Auburn Company went out of business. The Auburn 851's exclusivity is guaranteed by it limited production. It is a wonderful creation and hinted at what might have been if the company would have stayed in business. It was unique and distinctive.

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