Updated: Aug 23
This Auburn Cote D’azur poster celebrates the beatiful styling of this classic American automobile, the 1936 Auburn 852 Supercharged Speedster.
But when the 30-year-old car salesman, Errett Lobban Cord joined the Auburn Automobile Company as general manager in 1924, he found himself in the driving seat of an ailing company that was going nowhere. He also found 700 dreary black unsold cars cluttering up the company’s storage yards at their factory in Auburn, Indiana.
He promptly set to work having the cars resprayed in bright colours. Next he added bits of shiny nickel plate here and there, dropped the prices and the cars sold quickly. This gave the company some much-needed working capital as well as useful storage space.
His plans to upgrade both the performance and the styling of the company’s automobiles soon proved a successful formula. By 1927 his vehicles were gaining results in some of the country’s major race events, winning the company a reputation for performance. He also updated the styling, and his cars were now attracting attention.
But Cord, ever the showman, decided that it was time to turn his mind to a more eye-catching style: a speedster. This line of eight-cylinder vehicles, developing 88 horsepower and 115 horsepower, were also fitted with hydraulic brakes. It was an innovation that many of the more expensive competitors, including Cadillac, were yet to install.
The sleek styling was created by the company’s new designer, Al Leamy, who would later design the beautiful Cord L-29. The speedster’s swept-back windscreen, sweeping body profile and “boat tail” rear end gave an impression of speed even when stationary. This stunning car was a true head-turner. And in 1928 the 115 horsepower model covered a measured mile at Daytona Beach, Florida, in a record-breaking 108 mph.
But the company was looking to produce models that would sell in volume. And to that end they developed, in 1931, the 8-98 Speedster that would retail at less than $1,000, a modest price for a car of this quality. Despite the Great Depression hitting the car industry hard, sales of the Auburn maintained a healthy increase in numbers, and in 1932 they even managed to reduce prices once again.
However, sales were falling off through 1932 and 1933, and the 1934 models, still styled by Al Leamy, did not excite the car-buying public. In the Spring of that year, after receiving kidnap threats against his two sons, Errett Cord moved his family to the UK, and Duesenburg president Harold Ames was brought in to run the production side of the company. Ames brought with him Gordon Buehrig, as chief designer, and August Duesenburg as chief engineer. To these men fell the task of facelifting the company’s automobile range. Although, with a limited budget, their changes were largely cosmetic, they were nonetheless extremely effective.
For 1935, a Supercharged model was introduced by ‘Augie’ Duesenburg, which boosted performance enormously, with a capacity of 150 horsepower. Although it is believed that Auburn lost money on each of these models, the prestige they brought to the company as a whole was immeasurable.
In 1936 Auburn introduced their stunning top-of-the-range 852 Supercharged Boattailed Speedster, which was expected wow the car buying public. But sales of the standard Auburn sedans were dwindling alarmingly, largely due to rumours that the company was in trouble financially, and it was decided to halt all Auburn production completely in August. Cord and Duesenburg vehicles stumbled on for another year, until they too were forced to throw in the towel.
The beautiful 1936 Auburn 852 Supercharged
Boattailed Speedster as star of the collection
at the Haynes International Motor Museum
in Somerset, England.