Winner of the Roy Faulkner Award at the ACD Meet in 2005
1932 Auburn 12-160 Speedster
Chassis no. 160 1973E
Engine no. BB2419
Charles Eckhart was a carriage builder. In 1874, he had established the Eckhart Carriage Company in Auburn, Indiana. In 1900, his sons Frank and Morris built their first solid-tired, tiller-steered runabout and organized the Auburn Automobile Company to build it. Twin-cylinder models were available in 1905, a four in 1909 and a six by 1912. Success was modest at best, and the Eckharts sold out to a group of Chicago investors, who included chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr., in 1919.
The new management introduced the Auburn Beauty Six that year, a restyled and more attractive automobile, but the post-World War I recession hindered sales. Large inventories of unsold cars greeted Errett Lobban Cord when he signed on as general manager in 1923. Cord had the stockpiled Auburns repainted in attractive bright colors and quickly cleared out the inventory. He also bought some eight-cylinder engines from Lycoming Manufacturing Company, and for 1925 introduced the Auburn 8-63 and 8-88 with prices starting at $1,895, quite a bargain for an eight-cylinder car.
In mid-1928, Auburn introduced a new top-of-the-line model, the 8-115. Its big, 299-cubic-inch Lycoming straight eight developed 115 brake horsepower, and the company boasted of the highest power in an American production car. An ideal partner for the new engine was a sylphlike boat-tail speedster, with a racy, slanted-vee windshield. The design was by Alan Leamy, a young designer Cord had hired away from Marmon. Leamy's first job was the Cord L-29, the new front-drive car then under development. Hew then turned his talents to the speedster body. Capable of 100 mph, the car sold for $2,195, a relative bargain for so dramatic a car.
Four speedsters were shipped to Europe, two to Rome for a 1,000-mile race at Milan, a third to Sweden for road racing, and the fourth to Switzerland. Another went to Malcolm Campbell, the London distributor, who campaigned it in other contests. Speedsters performed well in Greece and Argentina, as well as setting records in speed and endurance contests at Atlantic City. On Labor Day, Wade Morton set a new mark of 84.7354 mph at Pike's Peak.
It was this enormous value that kept Auburn riding the crest of the wave as the onset of the Great Depression overcame most automakers. Although Auburn sales ebbed in 1930, they more than doubled for 1931 and profits again reached 1929's record levels.
For 1931, Leamy redesigned the entire Auburn line. Using some of the cues from the low-slung Cord, he applied them to dramatic effect on the taller Auburn chassis. A new Speedster was added to the line in the autumn, with raked windshield and boat-tail, one of the handsomest Auburns of all time.
For 1932, Cord and his Auburn team had another ace up their sleeves, a V-12. Designed by Auburn's chief engineer George Kublin, it utilized a narrow, 45-degree vee and an unusual combustion chamber.set at an angle to the cylinders. The valves were in the heads, but horizontal, operated by a single camshaft through rockers. Some call this a "horizontal overhead valve" configuration. It developed 160 bhp from 391 cubic inches, more efficient than either Packard or Lincoln, and was priced as low as $1,105. The engine was manufactured, as were all Auburn powerplants, by Cord's Lycoming subsidiary. The same year, a Columbia two-speed rear axle became available, enabling a choice of drive ratios, effectively six speeds ahead. Auburn hoped for a repeat of previous successes, continuing their campaign against the odds. It was not to be. The hefty profit of 1931 fell by 97 percent, and 1933 was worse: just 6,000 cars were sold. Nineteen thirty-four was poorer still, with barely 4,000 produced, despite the re-introduction of a six-cylinder engine. For 1935, the twelve was dropped, and performance hopes were pinned on a supercharged eight, making a big splash in a newly-designed speedster. This Gordon-Buehrig masterpiece was handsome, but it had lost the sophisticated beauty of Leamy's 1931-34 boat-tail.
Painted in the archetypal Auburn colors of black with silver moldings, this 12-160 Speedster is exquisitely pinstriped in red. A black canvas top completes the motif. The car's odometer shows just 21 miles, believed to be accumulated since restoration. The paint is all very good, exhibiting a deep shine. Brightwork is generally excellent, the chrome wire wheels appearing as new. The car is fitted with Pilot Ray steering driving lights, Columbia two speed rear end and correct EX2 carburetors as well as many other details rarely seen on these cars.
The interior is upholstered with red leather, with a black rubber mat on the floor. The engine-turned dashboard is nicely detailed, and the engine compartment is correctly detailed, but not over-restored. The overall effect is simply stunning.
All of this work was carried out by John Legue in Canada for former owner Larry Epworth, and it was this fine restoration that wowed those at the 2005 Auburn ACD Labor Day meet, when the car was the recipient of the Roy Faulkner Award, Best of Auburn Award and Auburn Speedster, Sr. 31-36, 1st Place. It later also took Best in Show at Willistead Manor.
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