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.
|Vehicle:||1935 Auburn Model 851 Boattail|
|Original List Price:||$2,245|
|Tune Up Cost:||$500|
|Chassis Number Location:||Plate on firewall|
|Engine Number Location:||Stamped in block|
|Club Info:||Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club, c/o Vincent and Barbara Pietracatella, 536 McClean Ave., Staten Island, NY 10305-3644; 718/981-0549|
|Alternatives:||Cord 812 Sportsman, Mercedes 300Sc roadster, Alfa 6C 2500 SS Cabriolet|
This car sold at no reserve for $314,000, including buyer’s premium, at the Christie’s Pebble Beach sale, held August 19, 2001.
Even for a late Auburn Boattail Speedster as beautiful—and beautifully restored—as this car, $314,000 is still a whacking amount of money to pay for a model that regularly sells in the region of $200,000 for very correct examples.
It also goes to show that putting an exceptional car up for bid at no reserve isn’t as fraught with imminent loss as the Cassandras would have you believe. Take the right auction, the right auction company and the right crowd of bidders, and reserve literally doesn’t matter with the right kind of car, as this lovely Auburn demonstrated.
Although built from fairly pedestrian mechanical components such as a flathead straight-eight engine, Auburn Speedsters, particularly the later Buehrig designs like this car, have always had a high demand among classic car collectors. Like few other American cars of their time, the Speedsters enjoy a playboy image and, with the addition of a centrifugal supercharger, could comport themselves quite well when it came to all-out speed and acceleration against contemporary rivals.
The snug, poshly appointed two-passenger cockpit, hunkered-down convertible top and long, tapered tail all fairly shout adventure for driver and lucky passenger. These cars have enduring style, so much so that they continue to be duplicated in fiberglass to this day, with modern drivetrains tucked under the sleek bodies.
This Auburn’s new owner paid full price and then some, but he bought a car with impeccable credentials that’s ready to go out and grab some more prizes at top-rank events. For those who can afford to take this route to ownership, it is quick, efficient, reassuring and quite possibly a tad cheaper than trying to restore a rough or bodged-up example to the splendid condition of this car.—Dave Brownell