Though the Auburns best remembered today were built in the '30s and late '20s, the marque was established way back in 1903. That's when brothers Frank and Morris Eckhart, buggy-builders in the northeast Indiana town of Auburn, began selling an $800 chain-drive runabout with a single-cylinder engine.
Two-, four-, and six-cylinder models followed quickly in the years through 1912. Like other small, marginally capitalized automakers of the time, Auburn offered "assembled cars" built from a variety of proven, but brought-in, components.
As a result, Auburn was nearly stagnant by 1919, when the Eckharts sold out to a Chicago group headed by chewing-gum king William K. Wrigley, Jr. New capital and more-aggressive marketing were put behind a new model, the "Beauty Six," with streamlined body, disc wheels, step plates instead of running boards, and windshield vent wings -- all very advanced for the day. But a deep post-World War I recession cut greatly into car sales. With annual output below 4000 units, Auburn was on the ropes again by 1924.
Then came a second savior, Errett Lobban Cord, a brash young entrepreneur described as both "boy wonder" and "profane, bespectacled capitalist." Salesmanship was his claim to fame. Responsible for the selling and distribution of the majority of Moon Motor Car Company's production in the Chicago market alone, Cord attracted the attention of Auburn's Chicago owners.
Wanting to try the production end of the car business, Cord accepted the position of Auburn general manager. After promptly disposing of some 700 leftover 1924s, which netted enough cash to pay off Auburn's debts, he was made vice president. By 1926, he was both the firm's president and its chief stockholder.
Auburn prospered under Cord, gaining a modest competition image, greatly increasing exports, expanding its dealer body, and adding eight-cylinder models in 1925. With fast, handsome, and reliable cars priced incredibly low, Auburn passed the 20,000 mark in annual production by 1929. Though Eights naturally offered more vivid performance than Sixes, all Auburns were appreciated for their good looks and high value.
Deciding to concentrate on Eights and, ultimately, a Twelve, Cord dropped the Auburn Six after 1930. That year's final 6-85 series offered just a cabriolet, sedan, and sport sedan. Power was supplied by Lycoming, a Pennsylvania company Cord had purchased in 1929. The sturdy 185-cubic-inch engine produced 70 horsepower at 3400 rpm.
Despite modest $1000-$1100 pricing, the 6-85 was by no means dull: smooth and clean on a 120-inch wheelbase. Even so, Auburn sales dropped almost 50 percent for calendar 1930, and model-year volume declined to 14,360. With the Depression hitting hard, management concluded that the Six was just not profitable enough to retain, though it would return.
There were two Auburn Eights for 1930. The lower-priced 125-inch-wheelbase 8-95 was an unquestioned bargain, offering four models (the six-cylinder trio plus a five-seat phaeton) in the $1200-$1400 range. Its 247-cid inline engine was basically the 6-85 unit with two more cylinders and 100 bhp.
For $1500-$1700 you could have the same foursome as Custom Eight 125s, with that many horses from 298.6 cid. Mounting a 130-inch chassis, they weighed some 3900 pounds but could do almost 90 mph -- astonishing for the day. In 1929, this engine had powered a 3000-pound speedster to 100 mph -- a first for Auburn.For more on defunct American cars, see: