How Auburn Cars Work

1931, 1932, 1933 Auburns

Auburns, like this 1931 Boattail Speedster, sold surprisingly well in the years following the Wall Street Crash.

Auburn was one of the few automakers to see higher sales after the 1929 Wall Street Crash. Calendar-year 1931 production zoomed to a record of over 32,000 on the strength of more dealers and a line of fleet, luxurious, bargain-priced Eights.

Reflecting Cord's cagey sales strategy, the bigger eight was dropped along with the six, the smaller eight bored to 268.6 cid and 98 bhp. Larger, more-rakish bodies were placed on longer 127-inch wheelbases for identical Eight and Custom Eight series.

The latter featured standard freewheeling, but both lines offered speedster, coupe, cabriolet, brougham, phaeton-sedan, and closed-sedan bodies, plus seven-seat sedans on a special 136-inch chassis. All this moved Business Week to hail Auburn as "more car for the money than the public had ever seen."

If the 1931 Eight was a remarkable buy, the 1932 Twelve was even more so: the least-costly V-12 on the market at prices ranging from $975 for the Standard coupe to $1275 for the top-line Custom Speedster. The engine, a 391-cid Lycoming designed by Auburn chief engineer George Kublin, packed a healthy 160 bhp at 3500 rpm. It was mounted in an X-braced frame spanning a kingly 133-inch wheelbase.

Custom Twelves featured the well-known Columbia dual-ratio rear axle with 4.55 and 3.04:1 gear sets that could be selected below 40 mph, which effectively provided six forward speeds. Eights continued as before, as did the usual body types, including eight-cylinder long sedans. The beautiful V-12 boattail speedsters, so rare today, were the best expressions of that year's Auburn styling.

Yet despite these peerless cars, sales plunged in 1932 to a calendar-year output of just over 11,000. Red ink continued gushing in 1933, as volume fell to under 5000. While all this mystified E.L. Cord, hindsight reveals that a V-12 at any price just couldn't interest many buyers in the depths of the Depression. Unsold '33 V-12s were retitled and sold as '34s. Auburn's Eight, which had exhausted what demand it had enjoyed in 1931, was little changed for '32 and '33.

Worse, Cord was now spread very thin building his far-flung business empire. He'd bought Duesenberg in 1926, launched the front-drive Cord L-29 three years later, then acquired Lycoming, the Ansted engine company, several midwestern corporations, and even Checker Cab -- plus shipbuilding and aviation interests.

Perhaps to avoid a brewing scandal over his management of these enterprises, Cord fled to England in 1934 and promptly dropped from sight. Eventually, his conglomerate's fortunes were handed over to Duesenberg president Harold T. Ames.

For more on defunct American cars, see: