The 10 Most Interesting Cars in the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum

In a museum full of notable cars, these stories stand out

by | Oct 3, 2019 | Culture

Photo Credit: Colin Beresford

The 10 Most Interesting Cars in the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum

In a museum full of notable cars, these stories stand out

by | Oct 3, 2019 | Culture

Photo Credit: Colin Beresford

The Auburn Automobile Company got its start in 1900 and then went bankrupt in 1937, but not before building some of the most notable pre-WWII cars in America, including its renowned Cord line. It acquired Duesenberg in 1926, and built such cars as the Duesenberg Model J, Auburn Speedster and the Auburn 810/812.

In 1974, the Auburn Automobile headquarters in Auburn, IN, went up for sale, and a group of local citizens bought it and made it into the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. It began as a place for local car owners to show their cars, but the display since has since grown to 125 cars, some built as early as 1894 and others as recently as 2002. The museum owns about 80% of the cars on display. It hosts some 50,000 visitors each year.

Virtually all of the cars are well worth seeing. But on a recent visit, we found that 10 stood out not only for their quality and importance, but also because of the interesting stories about their owners and their relationship with the cars. In no particular order, here are 10 cars and stories that stood out.

1. 1936 Auburn 852 Phaeton

Auburn Automobile had a network of foreign dealerships: 101 of them in 93 countries. About 20 percent of Auburn’s sales were exports, and a man in Nicosia, Cyprus, bought this car.

The car ended up in the possession of the British Army during WWII. But it was equipped with a fuel-thirsty supercharger in the 279.9 cubic-inch, 150-horsepower straight-eight engine. Thus, the British Army didn’t use it much due to its heavy fuel consumption. A car-loving American serviceman brought the car to the U.S. following the war.

2. 1936 Cord 810 Sedan

With styling by famed designer Gordon Buehrig, the Cord 810 (not the one in the museum) was featured in an exhibit of cars at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1951 for its originality. This Cord 810 was purchased by Josh Malks, a Cord historian.

Even though Cord had ended production nearly two decades earlier, Malks used a Cord as his daily driver during the 1950’s. He drove this 1936 Cord 810 Sedan, nicknamed “Moonshadow” due to its grey-blue color, all over the world.

From 1984 to 1999 he put more than 50,000 miles on the car, driving it almost the whole length of Route 66 in 1992 (2,451 miles) and the Lincoln Highway in 1995 (3,389 miles), and most notably from London to Jerusalem in 1998 through seven countries (about 2,500 miles).

3. 1948 Tasco

When the Watkins Glen Grand Prix got its start in 1948, American investors wanted an American car to compete in this European-style event. They recruited Buehrig to build and design the Tasco, an acronym for “The American Sports Car Company.”

Buehrig had built his reputation after designing the Duesenberg Model J, the Cord 810/812 and the 1935 851 Boattail Speedster. The car was built on a highly modified 1947 Mercury chassis and a Mercury V-8 engine with 150 hp, but was never raced. This car was a prototype and never gained much interest, so the Tasco project was scrapped.

4. 1928 Stutz

Frank Lockhart, in his short-lived career, quickly became a racing legend after his ability to modify his race-cars led to his win at the 1926 Indy 500 when he was just 23. He found great success with his modified cars, racing in 22 board track (oval tracks with wood-plank surfaces) events, with first-place finishes in eight of those races and top-five finishes in the rest.

In 1928, sponsored by Stutz, Lockhart became interested in breaking the land speed record. After clocking 203 mph, Lockhart knew his car could surpass the record — which was a mere one mile per hour faster. Going for the record at Daytona Beach, his right rear wheel popped, sending him flying out of the car and to his death at age 25.

Stutz built this car for Lockhart in 1928, but it was not finished before his fatal crash, so unfortunately, Lockhart never received it.

5. 1952 Crosley Super Roadster

This 1952 Crosley Super Roadster was purchased new by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whose Prairie School movement was defined by horizontal lines and integration with a structure’s natural surroundings. His most famous design was “Fallingwater,” a house in southwest Pennsylvania, which was built over a waterfall.

One has to wonder why Wright was drawn to this Crosley. It wasn’t very popular. Only 2,075 had been sold by 1952, when Cincinnati-based Crosley Motor went out of business.

Crosley specialized in what later became known as “subcompact” cars. They were almost “microcars.” This one is powered by a four-cylinder engine with 25.5 hp that weighs a mere 59 lbs. The car was advertised as reliable and cheap, retailing for $1,029 in 1952, or $9,769 in today’s dollars.

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6. 1932 Auburn 12-160A

Sam Collier, (uncle of Miles C. Collier, founder of the Revs Institute) owned this car, which he nicknamed “Beelzebub.” That’s another name for Satan, of course, whose diabolical powers are said to include flying. The car was modified for racing, with a large tachometer, small windshields and a copper cooling coil.

Sam Collier raced the Auburn in Europe in 1933. In 1936, he raced the car at the Cotton Carnival Road Race in Memphis, where he won. His brother, C. Miles Collier (father of Miles C. Collier), finished third.

The Collier brothers were instrumental in building interest in long-distance racing in the US In 1933, they founded the Automobile Racing Club of America, which is now known as Sports Car Club of America. They also raced at Le Mans, among the first Americans to compete there, with creditable performance; introduced the MG marque to America and helped put Sebring, FL on America’s auto-racing map. Sam died in 1950, when he was just 38, in a racing accident at Watkins Glen.

7. 1899 Waverly Electric Car

In 1899, American Electric started building cars in Chicago. The company wouldn’t last more than three years. But in 1900, there were more electric cars sold than gasoline-powered cars in America, and American Electric grabbed a portion of those sales.

Before going bankrupt in 1902, the company sold this car, the 1899 Waverly Electric Car, to John Garrett, a US ambassador to Venezuela, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Argentina (intermittently) from 1911 to 1933. No earlier model of the Waverly Electric Car is known to exist.

8. 1908 Auburn Model G

Auburn Automobile advertised the 1908 Auburn Model G as the “Most for the Money,” and sold the car for $1,250. That was more than $32,000 in today’s dollars, and more than double the yearly income of the average American at the time. This was the same year that Ford launched the Model T for an initial price of $850.

In 1907, the Vehslage family of Seymour, IN, bought three Auburns (not Model G’s), in hopes of becoming Auburn dealers and getting discounts on the cars. They ended up selling two of the cars and keeping one, which marked the start and finish of their career as Auburn dealers. They then bought this car, which they kept for their personal use.

9. 1923 Auburn 6-51

If we learned anything from Romeo and Juliet, it’s that nothing can keep two lovers apart. Well, the original purchaser of this 1923 Auburn 6-51 thought otherwise. The museum says that a farmer — whereabouts unknown — bought this car for his daughter as an incentive to keep her from seeing her boyfriend.

The timeless wisdom of Shakespeare proved relevant in this case too; the farmer’s daughter kept seeing the man, and so the farmer took the car back. He parked it in his barn with only 7,095 miles on it and where it wasn’t discovered until 50 years later, still sporting its original interior.

10. 1938 Bowles #22 Sprint Car

Shortly after endurance races like the Indy 500 and the Vanderbilt Cup got their start in the US, sprint-car racing started to draw attention. In 1938, Mark “Doc” Bowles, of Cincinnati, OH, sought out the expertise of former-racer-turned-engineer, Floyd “Pop” Dreyer to build the Bowles #22 Sprint Car.

Dreyer started his career as a sidecar motorcycle racer, but following a crash that killed his racing companion and another person, and that caused him to go into temporary paralysis, he decided to quit racing and was hired by Duesenberg. In his free time, he built sprint and midget cars like this one.

The Bowles #22 is powered by a modified Hispano-Suiza aircraft engine, essentially cutting the V-8 in half to create an inline four-cylinder engine. The race history of this car wasn’t recorded, but with an engineer like Dreyer building this car, it is notable nonetheless.

 

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