1935 Auburn 851SC Boattail SpeedsterSOLD
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Estimate: $450,000-$550,000 US

Sold: $566,500

150bhp, 280 cu. in. inline side valve eight-cylinder engine with Schwitzer-Cummins supercharger, Columbia two-speed rear end, four wheel semi-elliptical leaf spring, solid front axle and live rear axle suspension, and four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Wheelbase: 127"

Errett Lobban Cord knew humdrum cars would not cut it; if a car was to sell, it would need to have sizzle. When he stepped in to save the Auburn Motor Car Company in 1924, production and sales had fallen to a critical level and the company teetered on the verge of bankruptcy. Cord took a number of unsold Auburns being stored at the manufacturing facility, gave them stylish paint schemes and extra nickel plating and proceeded to watch sales recover. This was the sizzle Auburn desperately needed.

On later model Auburns, engine horsepower was boosted which had the effect of creating excitement among Auburn dealers. In terms of sales, Auburn was soon taking on long-established marques like Packard, Peerless and Stutz. Unfortunately, the depression hit Auburn sales right where it hurt most — in the balance sheet.

It is ironic that the company produced what many consider to be its ultimate masterpiece in 1935, just as the end was drawing near: the 851SC speedster. As such, it is a testimonial to the fighting spirit of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Company, and to the legendary talent of one of greatest designers of the time.

Auburn had invested heavily in the largely new Al Leamy designed 1934 models. Although they sold better than the 1933s had, they were not the salvation the company needed. Worse still, Harold Ames, E.L. Cord’s right hand man, hated the look of the cars. As a result, Ames’ boss, Manning, decided he was just the man to solve the problem, and sent him to Auburn, putting him in charge of the company.

Clearly, a new look was desperately needed. With little money available, a completely new car was out of the question. Once again, Ames called upon Gordon Buehrig to pull the figurative rabbit out of the hat. And once again, he delivered. Buehrig redesigned the front end of the cars, with a new grill and hood line. Auburn’s signature new feature for 1935 was supercharging on the top-of-the-line models, so Buehrig incorporated the external exhaust which the American public had come to identify with supercharged engines, largely because of the mighty Model SJ Duesenberg.

Although the new 851 (and the next year’s 852) models were certainly flashy enough, the “new” was more than skin deep. The chassis was mostly carried over, although some updates were made. The car was fitted with a Lycoming-built straight-eight engine equipped with a new supercharger designed by Kurt Beier from Schwitzer-Cummins. In addition, the trusted and durable Columbia two-speed rear axle was fitted, allowing lower gearing for quicker acceleration, combined with a higher final drive ratio for improved top speed.

Still, something dramatic was needed to stimulate traffic in the showrooms. Taking a page from the company playbook, and knowing that Central Body Company still had about 50 bodies-in-white left over from the 1933/4 speedster program, Ames decided that a new speedster would be the perfect attention-getter for the new line.

Once again, Ames tapped Gordon Buehrig to design the new speedster. Buehrig decided to base the new design on a Duesenberg speedster he had designed for Weymann, the “tapertail”. The top, doors, windshield, and cowl could be used as-is, but a new tail would have to be made and the cowl would require modification to blend with the new 1935 front end. Finally, he added a stunning new set of pontoon fenders.

The result was breathtaking, and the new car was soon seen everywhere from auto shows to newspapers to spark plug ads. To a public weary of the Depression, the new Auburn Speedster was automotive hope personified. Here was a car everyone could identify with, dream about, and wish for. It became, in many ways, the rolling icon of the art deco era.

Oddly enough, it was not a big seller, and dealers resisted taking the speedsters. While they proved to be excellent for public relations, in a sense they did their job too well, as the customers who were drawn to the showroom bought the more practical sedans or convertibles.

Auburn 851 Speedsters did not just look fast, they were fast. To prove this, famed speed-demon and race driver Ab Jenkins sat behind the wheel of an 851 Speedster and was the first American to set a 100mph average for a 12-hour period endurance record in a completely stock 851SC speedster. As a result, each Speedster built carried a dash plaque attesting to its over-100mph capability, bearing Ab Jenkins’ signature. Priced at $2,245 when new, estimates peg Auburn’s loss per speedster at about $300 for every car built. As a consequence, very few speedsters were built, making them highly prized today.

The example offered here was purchased by S. Ray Miller from the estate of long time owner Golden W. Walker at an auction held in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1987 by the Ellenberger Brothers auction company. Notably, Golden W. Walker owned the car for over 30 years before the Auburn was sold at the auction. Prior to Mr. Walker’s ownership the car was actually in the possession of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Company that was owned by Mr. Dallas Winslow.

The Auburn was reported to have been on display at the company headquarters for approximately eight years prior to Mr. Walker’s assuming ownership of the car in 1959.
When S. Ray Miller purchased the Auburn it was in very presentable, complete and restored condition. Finished in Target red with maroon leather interior, it was described as being “represented as an authentic Auburn Speedster”, which we know to be true and verified by the club, as attested to by its numerous awards. In 1990, Miller commissioned a show quality restoration by noted restorer LaVine Restorations of Napanee, Indiana. The results – in triple black – are stunning, and at one of the car’s first showings it won the prestigious Best of Show award at the annual fall meet of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club held on Labor Day weekend in 1992.

Finally, in 2004 the S. Ray Miller collection was sold on behalf of the estate by RM Auctions Inc. At that time, the car joined the renowned collection of Sam and Emily Mann of New Jersey.

Today the car remains in show quality condition, showing little or no evidence of aging since completion, a testimonial to both the quality of the restoration and the conditions under which the car has been kept. Paint, chrome and upholstery are near perfect, and the engine bay and chassis detailing is exemplary. The restoration of the Auburn, which took place over a two-year period, cost in excess of $180,000, a substantial amount at the time. Accordingly, the Speedster must be seen to truly appreciate the quality and correctness of it in its presentation and overall condition.

During the car’s tenure in the Mann collection it has enjoyed the finest of care. In fact, it was chosen by world renowned photographer Michael Furman to be featured in his award-winning book celebrating the beauty of the automobile. Not long after, the car was invited to participate in the Louis Vuitton Beijing Rally – a very special honor given the rarified company it would enjoy – an Alfa 8C 2900, and a host of seven figure Ferraris, among others. It is just one more sign of the international appeal that Auburn’s Speedster has always enjoyed.

In preparation for the rally, the Mann’s well-equipped shop embarked on a comprehensive preparation program to ensure that the car would be reliable throughout the grueling event. A number of enhancements were made, including an enhanced electrical system with a dual battery system and a modern alternator hidden completely within the original generator housing. The fuel system received a new high flow fuel filter and an auxiliary electric fuel pump. Every mechanical and electrical system was evaluated, and although little attention was required, no expense was spared in ensuring that the car was in the best possible condition. Unfortunately, the rally was cancelled, leaving the Auburn fully prepared but never having suffered the inevitable wear and tear that would have resulted.

Any Auburn 851 Speedster is a joy to behold and a pleasure to drive. The Mann collection speedster is certainly one of the finest examples RM has ever had the pleasure to offer. Given the strong values seen recently for speedsters, this example’s exceptional quality, bidders are encouraged to consider carefully the exceptional value this car represents.

Reference Number 38582

as of 2/10/2009

Car 1935 Auburn 851SC Boattail Speedster
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