From humble beginnings as a carriage maker, the Auburn Automobile Company would rise to become a premier luxury and performance car maker over the first three decades of the twentieth century. The flagship Auburn Speedster would become the definition of Art Deco style and incredible performance just as the nation collapsed into the Great Depression heading into the 1930s.
All of the Auburn style and sizzle of the late twenties, actually emerged from building practical and affordable cars for many years ealier. The Auburn was marketed as inexpensive and reliable for decades as the company repeatedly changed hands. The company continued to develop new models decades before the now famous Speedster and Salon models ever appeared. It was through those early business dealings and after the formative years that Deusenberg automobiles crossed paths with Auburn and Cord, creating some of the most beloved and collectible cars ever produced. During an era that many automakers would rise and fall, precious few of them ever achieved the status of the Auburn cars. In the beginning though (1903), the plucky single cylinder runabout would set you back a whopping $800, and was little more than a love seat with a steering wheel. That $800 would get you motoring down the road complete with brass lamps and a signal horn. A humble start, that would be the launch pad for a marque that would add models, cylinders and luxury continually until the last car rolled off the line in 1936. Over those three decades, the Auburn, Indiana manufacturer would expand operations to include engine manufacturing, coach building and more for multiple brands including the legendary Deusenberg and Cord automobile marques.
In the peak years of the company, you could buy a truly gigantic 125 horsepower eight cylinder luxury car for about $1,500, which was indeed a value for such an offering at that time. Auburns weren’t just about luxury though, their name was synonymous with high-style and powerful Roadsters and Speedsters as well. The sports car model as we know it wasn’t quite settled in thirties, and Auburns lineup of straight eight athletes certainly cemented the concept of the sports car segment, offering options like high compression heads on their already powerful eight cylinder engines and even a V-12 option with 160 horsepower at one point. Wild Supercharger options even creeped into the lineup nearer to the end of production.
Auburn had firmly positioned itself as an industry leader in performance and luxury, particularly as a ‘value’ in those segments. The thirties were cruel to the automakers, though. Being a leader in an upsell segment just couldn’t weather the storm. Virtually all of the automobile manufacturers from the boom in the teens and twenties would fall, crushed by the financial avalanche of the Great Depression. Having hopped around and changing hands several times in the life of the company, even E.L. Cord’s magic touch couldn’t sustain Auburn through the thirties. By 1937, it was all over for Auburn, Deusenberg and Cord cars, leaving the world with only these automotive treasures to remind us of the wild style and luxury of the late twenties and early thirties. It was a fearless era in automobile manufacturing that would change the industry forever before the economic collapse interrupted.
Charles Eckhart founded the Eckhart Carriage Company in Auburn, Indiana.
Auburn Automobile Company Founded by Frank and Morris Eckhart in Auburn, Indiana.
Air-cooled Single cylinder engine
Larger 6 horsepower 1 cylinder engine
24 horsepower Water-cooled 2 cylinder engine
Auburn acquired former Model Gas Engine Works facilities
Six models developed for 1909, with Type Three transmission, shaft drive and four cylinder engines
25-30 horsepower four cylinder engine
40 horsepower four cylinder Rutenber engine
New torpedo body Auburn Model 33L introduced
Model 6-45 & 4-40 introduced
Model 4-36 Rutenber engine, Model 6-38 Teetor engine and Model 6-40 Continental engine
Eckhart Carriage production discontinued. Auburn Beauty Six introduced as 1919 models, priced up to $2,475
The Eckhart brothers sold the company to a group of Chicago investors headed by Ralph Austin Bard
6-51 Sports Model introduced, with step plates instead of running boards
Six Supreme six cylinder engine (70 MPH)
68 horsepower Lycoming eight cylinder engine E.L. Cord aggressively moves unsold inventory, completing his buyout by year’s end, introduced Model 8-88
8-88 models reached up to a 146 inch wheel base. Gordon Buehrig joins company with Duesenberg Motors
E.L. Cord partnered with Duesenberg Corporation launching a line of luxury vehicles, the Duesenberg Model J
Cabriolet is Auburn’s first convertible model. (80 MPH)
Auburn Speedster introduced (1928-1936). The new Speedster Achieves 108.5 MPH
125 horsepower eight cylinder engine used. Model 120 Phaeton available open or closed with a 130 inch wheelbase
Speedster Model Drops from lineu for one year.
98 horsepower eight cylinder engine used. Speedster Reappears as 8-98 and 8-98A Series
Series 12-160A Custom Boattail Speedster equipped with 160 hp Lycoming V-12 engine.
Salon Eight and Salon Twelve models introduced, 36 total models now offered
The “Baby Duesenberg” designed by Buehrig becomes the acclaimed 1936/37 Cord (810/ 812 Cords)
Buehrig was transferred to Auburn where he designed the Auburn Speedster, modified to use leftover bodies
150 horsepower with supercharger
Series 851/852 models have option of Schwitzer-Cummins supercharger on eight cylinder engines
Gordon Buehrig left the company
1,848 Auburn vehicles produced as sales continued to drop through the Great Depression
Production of Auburns, along with that of Cords and Duesenbergs ended
Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum became a National Historic Landmark