Laurie and I had visited the Auburn – Cord – Duesenberg Museum in Auburn Indiana many, many years ago. Although many beautiful and/or interesting automobiles were built in the U.S.A., Canada and overseas, we believe that this grouping of early (pre-1940) U.S. built cars are truly works of art. In our minds, this is an art museum, with many of these cars representing fine art or at the very least, extraordinary examples of functional industrial design…
Opened in 1974, the museum occupies the former administration building of the Auburn Automobile Company. The Art Deco style structure was built in 1930. The display gallery shown above was where automobiles and other products produced by Auburn were once displayed. The structure is a National Historic Landmark and it is recognized as one of the U.S.A.’s best-preserved examples of an independent automobile manufacturer’s facilities. After Auburn stopped producing cars, until 1960 this building was home to a business that sold original and reproduction parts for several discontinued automobile manufacturers.
The Auburn Automobile Company had its origins with the Eckhart Carriage Company that was founded in Auburn Indiana in 1824. The founder’s sons got into the automobile business in the early 1900’s and were moderately successful until materials shortages during WWI forced them to stop production. In 1924, Errett Lobban Cord was approached with an offer to run the company… He countered with what amounted to a leveraged buyout. After the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression which followed, Auburn’s expensive autos, along with its very expensive sister marque autos, Duesenberg and Cord, suffered critical sales downturns.
Around 1935, Auburn began producing a line of kitchen cabinets and sinks to keep the company afloat. All vehicle production was halted in 1937. After a 1940 bankruptcy reorganization, the former Auburn Automobile Company merged with the Central Manufacturing Company into the Auburn Central Manufacturing Corporation. That company received large contracts for WWII production work. Among their most notable WWII contributions was the manufacturing of about half a million of the World War II Willys and Ford 1/4-ton jeep bodies.
This 1904 automobile is probably the earliest Auburn still in existence. Total production for the Auburn Automobile Company in 1904 was about 50 vehicles. Auburn had debuted its cars at the 1903 Auto Show in Chicago but at this point, Auburns were only being sold in a few Midwestern states. This auto was powered by a two-cylinder engine that produced 10 HP. Power was transferred to the rear wheels by a chain. The price of this car was originally $1,250.
This is a 1910 Auburn Model S Roadster, part of the largest line of autos that Auburn produced in 1910. This racy-looking Auburn was typical of the vehicles upon which the company was building its reputation. This 3-passenger roadster featured a ‘mother-in-law seat, it weighed 2,400 pounds and the motor produced 40 HP. Original cost = $1,650.
Note: In 1910, U.S. auto production totaled 181,000 vehicles. 1,365 of them were built by Auburn. Given the large number of auto manufacturers in 1910, Auburn was doing pretty well...
Note: In 1898, Edwin Rutenber built the first 4-cylinder engine to be manufactured in the U.S.A. His engines were used in a wide variety of early automotive models for various companies. They were also used in trucks, airplanes, tractors and in many more applications.
By 1919 the Auburn Automobile Company had new owners, a group of Chicago investors that included chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. For the first time the company’s autos were marketed nationwide. This was a record year for sales, with more than 6,000 Auburns being sold.
A little background… Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company, Inc. was founded in Indianapolis Indiana by brothers Fred and August Duesenberg in 1920. This American racing and luxury automobile manufacturer is known for popularizing the straight-eight engine and 4-wheel hydraulic brakes. Duesenberg autos won the Indianapolis 500 in 1922, 1924, 1925 and 1927 as well as the French Grand Prix in 1921. The company struggled financially and entered receivership in 1924. Duesenberg was purchased by Errett Lobban Cord in 1926.
For 54 years, the only memories of this one-off automobile were in photos and toy cars. In 1983, a doctor in La Porte Indiana began the process to recreate the Cabin Speedster. This faithfully executed rebuild used an Auburn chassis and aluminum over an ash frame.
This auto’s Beverly body was built by the Walter M. Murphy Company of Pasadena California. This company was a frequent coachbuilder used by Duesenberg. This Model J Beverly Sedan is two-tone brown with a tan and wood interior. It is powered by a straight 8 cylinder motor that produces 265 HP. The vehicle weighs approximately 5,500 pounds…just 5oo pounds short of 3 tons…and it would have cost $16,500 when new. The weight sounds like a lot…but today a large SUV weighs in at an average of 5,600 pounds.
Note: In January of 2022, a Duesenberg Model J Tourister sold for $3,415,000.
Both of the autos pictured above are 1932 Auburn 12 – 160As. The difference is that the first photo is of a Speedster model. The 1932 Auburn Speedster was owned by Sam Collier, who named this car “Beelzebub”. Collier was one of the persons who helped form the Automobile Racing Club of America. The car was modified for racing by adding the small windshields, a big tachometer, additional lamps and a copper cooling coil. With its V-12 engine producing 60 HP, this auto raced in Europe and Memphis Tennessee, where it won top honors for its class. In 1937, it also came in second in the Climb to the Clouds Race held at Mt. Washington, New Hampshire.
The second 1932 Auburn 12 – 16oA pictured above is the sedan version of this car. It too has a V-12 engine…but it produces 160 HP. This automobile was purchased in 1932 by Robert Heinemann of Hamilton Ohio. Amazingly, this fully original Auburn has only been driven 8,800 miles since it was purchased. It was stored and maintained by the original owner for several decades…and still even has instruction tags in place for the 2-speed rear axle and the free-wheeling device. This auto is often used as a template for persons who are restoring a similar car.
This stunning and attention grabbing automobile is a 1934 Duesenberg Model J Dual Cowl Phaeton. Note the dual windshields mounted on the cowlings. That rear windshield would be raised to protect the passengers in the back seat when the top was down. Look closely and you can see that it is folded down with the car’s top up. This particular model Duesenberg featured a Straight 8 engine that developed 265 HP. Weighing in a 5,500 pounds, it cost $14,750 new. In today’s dollars, it is the equivalent of $326,698!
When E.L. Cord took control of Duesenberg, he had the brothers come up with a new model that would top all other American cars. The Duesenberg Model J and its various iterations was the answer. This luxury auto with its 265 HP engine paired with auto bodies and cabins custom-built by coachbuilders was the result of this request. Prices matched the design and luxury with Model J’s ranging from $14,000 to $20,000 at the time. They’ve been referred to as America’s version of the Rolls-Royce. Duesenberg Model J’s were very popular with movie stars, royalty and other wealthy individuals...
These autos were designed to maximize speed and to make a social statement. Every car was tested by a renowned race car driver to over 100 miles per hour. Actually, in an effort to spur sagging sales and to gain publicity for the Auburn 851 Speedsters, Auburn attempted to set speed and endurance records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. They used a stock 1935 851 Speedster model in their efforts. The whole thing was sanctioned by the AAA Motor Club. The Auburn Speedster set 70 new American and International Stock Car records. A “Flying Mile” record was set at 103 miles per hour and the 1,000 mile mark was realized at 103 miles per hour.
Lycoming was originally a sewing machine company. When that became unprofitable, the company was restructured and it shifted its focus on automobile engine manufacturing. By 1920, Lycoming was producing 60,000 engines a year and the company employed 2,000 workers. In 1927, E.L. Cord bought Lycoming and placed it under his Auburn Manufacturing umbrella grouping...
This is a 1937 Cord 812 2-door, Convertible Phaeton Sedan. It was equipped with an 8-cylinder, 125 HP engine and a 4-speed vacuum electric transmission. I love the ‘Cigarette Cream’ color which was complemented by the tan leather interior. About 3,000 1936 and 1937 Cords were produced before E.L. Cord closed down his operations. Note the hidden headlights...
Production of the Auburn had stopped in 1936 and the Cord was seen as the last hope to keep the business alive. The Cord automobiles were re-named the 812 and new options, such as supercharged engines and custom bodies for more head and leg room, were offered to customers.
The company also accepted requests from individual customers who desired custom modifications on their Cord. One such modification was the dual side-mounted spare tires, rather than the standard placement inside the trunk. That change allowed for extra trunk space as well as mounting space for side view mirrors. Only 2 Cord automobiles were built with dual side-mounts...
To learn more about E.L. Cord (1894 – 1974) just go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Errett_Lobban_Cord. The Cord Corporation was a holding company that controlled over 150 companies…including the company that evolved into American Airlines. Later in life, he was heavily involved in radio and television.
There will be one more post regarding the Auburn – Cord – Duesenberg Museum…this time it will cover a portion of the ‘other’ autos on display throughout the building. To check out the museum in advance, just go to https://automobilemuseum.org/.
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by for a visit!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave