Frank and Morris Eckhart of the Eckart Carriage Co. were responsible for founding the Auburn Automobile Company in 1900. By 1903 they produced their first car. The company was hit hard by the postwar depression and was facing insolvency by 1924. Errett Loban Cord arrived in Chicago in 1919 with just $45 to his name. He got a job with the Quinlan Motor Company selling Moon automobiles; quickly rising through the ranks becoming general manager and ultimately buying stock.
With $100,000 in his pocket, he was hired at Auburn as general manager, where he purchased a controlling interest in the company. By 1926 he became president of Auburn, bought the famous Duesenberg marque as his crowning jewel, and hired a 25-year-old designer named Alan Leamy. Leamy penned the Speedster body style for Duesenberg, but the design was used on the Auburn chassis instead.
The first-generation Auburn Speedster was built in 1928 as a low-volume promotional model. Auburn used two different 8-cylinder Lycoming engines, one rated at 88 horsepower and the other at 115 horsepower, to power two models, the 8-88 and the 8-115. The Speedster's distinctive boattail design is attributed to Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, a pioneer of streamlining, and to Alan Leamy, the Cord L-29 designer. The McFarlan coachwork features dual golf club doors, dual side-mounted spare tires and a removable fabric top. This car came from an estate in New Jersey where it had been stored since 1948. It is identical to the famous Speedster that Wade Morton drove on February 20, 1928 at Daytona Beach, Florida, setting a production car record of 104.347 mph. That same day Sir Malcolm Campbell set the land speed record at 206.956 mph in his 900 horsepower Bluebird. Campbell soon became one of the few Auburn Speedster owners in England.
This restored Speedster is one of 253 produced. It was in storage from 1945-2014 in New Jersey, though its first owner was from Oklahoma City.
In 1924, when E.L. Cord arrived in Auburn, his first job was to sell off the 700 or so touring cars that were languishing in the company lots. He believed a little sprucing up of the inventory would get things moving, so he moved the cars one-by-one to the factory, jazzed them up by adding nickel plating and repainting some of them in flamboyant color schemes. Backed by a half-million dollar profit after paying its debts. Cord was promoted to vice president, and in 1926 he became president at age 32. Prior to his arrival at Auburn, the company had very few dealerships; most were garage owners that had one or two cars on hand.
Mr. Elliott personally restored this Auburn, which is powered by a 298 CID/115 HP Lycoming straight-eight made in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. This was the initial year of the Phaeton Sedan body style, which cost $2,295 when new.
In 1928 Auburn introduced two Lycoming-powered eight-cylinder engines, one rated at 88 horsepower and the other at 115 horsepower. These became the bases for the 8-88 Model and the 8-115 Model; their designation obviously in reference to the engine. These new models were given hydraulic drum brakes to aid in stopping power and to help keep the Speedsters in the driver's control.
The styling was performed by either Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky or possibly Al Leamy. Al Leamy was a recent addition to the Auburn staff and would become famous in the years to come, with the design of the L-29 Cord automobile.
The Speedster models were very elegant and eye-catching. They featured hood louvers, a raked windshield, twin side-mounted spares, and a boattail rear-end.
The Model 8's were given a wide-ratio three-speed gearbox and rested on either a 125- or 130-inch wheelbase, depending on the model. The 8-115 had the larger size.
1929 brought few changes to the Speedsters; they were now known as the 8-90 and the 8-120. The naming scheme varied slightly from prior years, as horsepower was not rated at 96 and 125 respectively, but the names did not necessarily match. This increase in power was due to a change in the fuel system.
1929 was a great year for the Auburn 8 Models, and enjoyed record sales numbers. The company chose to make minimal changes for the following year, as the cars were selling well and most of their attention was diverted to the upcoming front-wheel drive Cord models.
In 1930 horsepower again improved, now rated at 100 for the smaller eight. The name 'Speedster' no longer appeared as part of the Model 8 name. It would re-appear the following year (In 1931), as the company wanted to put emphasis on performance.
The larger eight-cylinder engine was dropped, as was both of the six-cylinder engines. The 8-95 Model was bored-out to 268.6 cubic-inches and brought about the 8-98 model (and featured 98 horsepower). It was available in either Standard or Custom guise. The Custom line had an 'A' in the name to help distinguish it from the Standard line (appearing as 8-98A) and featured a free-wheeling, heavy, X-braced frame. Other options included dual-ratio rear axle, wire wheels, upgraded interior in hardware and fabric, and extra moldings.
Thanks in part to the onset of the Great Depression, the 8-98 sold for $350 less than the prior 8-95 Sedan of the 1930s. The Sedan sold for $995 while the Speedster for $945. Some experts say that the construction was not as solid as prior years, plus the Lockheed Hydraulics were replaced by Midland 'Steel-draulic' mechanical brakes. Still, Fortune reported the Auburn Model 8's as 'the biggest package in the world for the price.'
In 1932, the Styling remained mostly unchaged; mechanically, things were different. A new Startix automatic starter was added; Custom models were fitted with Delco ride regulations which were shock absorbers that were adjustable from the driver's compartment. This allowed a softer or firmer ride depending on the drivers needs at the time. Custom models also were given a vacuum-controlled two-speed axle known as Dual Ratio. This also gave drivers the freedom of selecting a 4.54:1 or 3.00:1 gear ratio. The 4.54 offered better performance while the 3.00:1 had better economy.
The Free-wheeling option, which had previously cost $85, was now standard on both the Custom and Standard models.
With all these mechanical improvements to the vehicle, it was amazing that prices continued to decrease. The Speedster sold for $845, a full $100 from the previous year.
In 1933, a Salon version was added to both the 8- and 12-cylinder series. By Daniel Vaughan | Jun 2008