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How Auburn Cars Work

1934, 1935, 1936 Auburns
Automotive legends lent their talent to the 1935 Auburns, including the 851 Speedster, but even that couldn't save the company.

The 1934 line of Auburns featured all-steel bodies with more-streamlined, but less-distinctive styling by Alan Leamy of L-29 renown. The Six was revived with a 210-cid Lycoming engine making 85 bhp at 3500 rpm. Eights used a revised, 280-inch version of the previous straight eight developing 100 bhp with a cast-iron head or 115 bhp with a high-compression aluminum head.

Standard and Custom models on a 119-inch (Six) or 126-inch Eight chassis were offered for as little as $695 (Standard Six) in an effort to win Depression-depleted dollars. But these cars didn't sell. Poorly received styling (especially the "shovel front") often get the blame, but 1934 wasn't a good sales year for any make.

The '35 Auburns benefited from the talents of two automotive legends -- designer Gordon Buehrig and engineer August Duesenberg. Buehrig was given a modest $50,000 and told to do what he could to improve Auburn styling. Adding a bold grille and massive hood to the existing body did the trick.

Augie, meantime, was asked to adapt a Schwitzer-Cummins supercharger to the eight. Horsepower jumped to a hefty 150 horsepower. Supercharged cars were identified by external exhausts. The six and 115-bhp eight were carried over. The result was a line of very pretty cars that would include Auburn's final glory -- the superb 851/852 speedster.

Buehrig didn't have enough money for a complete redesign so he worked with the midsection of leftover '33 Speedsters, giving the old bodies the new front-end treatment, beautifully curved pontoon fenders, and a new boattail. All Speedsters were supercharged and could hit 100 mph right out of the showroom, yet they sold for as little as $2245. Once again Auburn was offering truly unbelievable value.

But 1935 proved a confused and ultimately disappointing year, so the 1936 Auburns were predictably almost unchanged. The six-cylinder 653 became Series 654, still offered in standard form as well as Custom and Salon "Dual Ratio" models. The same arrangement, plus supercharged models, applied to the 1936 Series 852.

Yet despite this still-brilliant fleet of cabriolets, broughams, phaetons, sedans, and the 852 Supercharged Speedster, sales refused to improve. Speedster production, for instance, came to less than 500 for both years.

Like a prodigal son, E.L. Cord returned from England in 1936 to salvage his crumbling empire, only to find the IRS and the Securities and Exchange Commission ready to launch major investigations of his doings. One result was the cancellation of planned 1937 Auburns. The make was dead.

Cord would manage to keep most of his fortune, and in later years got involved in western land speculation. Though he is not remembered fondly by Auburn fans, it's doubtful the make would have risen so high without him. It's a shame that its life at the pinnacle was so short.

For more on defunct American cars, see: