Frank and Morris Eckhart of Auburn, Indiana, started the Auburn Motor Company in 1903. As their business grew, they acquired more dealerships to stay ahead of the competition, but by the mid-’20s size had caught up with them and they were in need of new leadership. In 1925 E. L. Cord became general manager. Under Cord the new Auburn became a very different company, emphasizing style when others in the industry concentrated on engineering.
By 1931 Auburn was able to sell their fully equipped V12 cars for well under $2,000 and the eights were cheaper still. By 1934 the depression had caught up and sales were falling. As a remedy, Auburn returned to the six-cylinder model and curtailed V12 production. In addition, the 1935 Model 851 Boattail Speedster was an effort to boost sales with a car that offered style, performance and a younger, sportier image.
With a new body designed by Gordon Buehrig, an optional supercharger was available for the eight-cylinder engine, boosting output to150 bhp. Each of the 146 supercharged Speedsters produced carried a dash plaque indicating the speed at which the car had been tested. To promote their speed, Ab Jenkins drove a stock Auburn on the Bonneville Salt Flats, breaking the American class speed record. Auburn also won top prizes at the concours d’elegance held at the universal Exposition in Brussels for their elegant styling.
While the Speedster created huge demand, it transpired that the company still lost considerable money on each one. Of the first 10 pre-production Speedsters built in 1935, bodies one to four were produced for the auto show circuit. The next six were produced for display at dealerships. This car is number nine and is identified as such by the stamped number found on the body in several locations. These first 10 early examples were all hand-built using leftover ’30 and ’31 Speedster bodies, had full pontoon-panel fenders underneath and a special supercharger.
It is believed that this car was first shown in the Chicago area and subsequently spent much of its life in the same neighborhood. Noted Auburn authority John Ehresman of Al Restorations in Southwick, Massachusetts, purchased it in 1980 and fully restored it over the next four years. At the same time he rebuilt the engine. The next owner of this superb car was Ralph Marano who then sold it to the well-known East Coast collector Noel Thompson who had the famous Stone Barn Restorations freshen the prior work. The car then passed from Thompson to Pat Ryan in 1995. The chassis is as clean underneath as the rest of the car on top. The paint is unblemished and the panelwork is perfect, while the engine compartment is clean and detailed. The interior is superbly appointed with the finest brown leather upholstery. The dashboard plaque confirms that it was driven at 100.8 miles per hour when first tested in 1935. It has won both a Premier Senior Award and a National First Prize CCCA Award.
This superb example will undoubtedly be welcome at Classic Car Club shows and tours. With exquisite style and thrilling performance, these cars are a favorite among discriminating collectors.