1936 AUBURN MODEL 852 STRAIGHT EIGHT SUPERCHARGED 'BOATTAIL' SPEEDSTER
Chassis No. 852-34631E
Engine No. GH4742
Turquoise with beige leather interior
Engine: Lycoming V8, side valve, Schwitzer-Cummins supercharger, 279.9ci, 150bhp at 4,000rpm; Gearbox: three speed and reverse; Suspension: front, non-independent, rear, live axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, hydraulic dampers; Brakes: four wheel hydraulic drum. Left hand drive.
Was there a car that encapsulated the Art Deco period better in America than the Auburn Speedster? Its flamboyant swept back lines, rakish windshield and tapered tail each accentuated by linear chrome trims was Gordon Buehrig's motoring answer to the Zephyr, Comet and Mercury of the railroads, or William Van Alen's Chrysler Building. Like the train that looked like it was moving while standing still or building that reached for the sky though static, so did the Speedster look like it was flying along at all of its 100mph capability while parked by the side of the road.
When the recent V&A 'Art Deco 1910-1939' exhibition toured the world, an Auburn was chosen as a feature exhibit and cover illustration to its catalogue and book by Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton, Ghislaine Wood. But, these remarkable statements of speed were not the avant garde cars of a growing and futuristic market, in fact they were far from it. As swiftly as the fashion can change, so the appeal of the Auburn marque was dwindling and these were to be the swansong of a 30 year old brand as it tried to bring customers back into their showrooms.
The business had started back at the turn of the century, when Frank and Morris Eckhart of Auburn, Indiana set up the Auburn Motor Company in 1903. As their business grew, they acquired more dealerships to stay ahead of the competition, but by the mid-Twenties size had caught up with them and they were in need of new leadership. E.L. Cord who became general manager in 1925 set out to revive the company's fortunes and it can certainly be said that under him the new Auburn became a very different company. Cord's era of cars emphasized design when others in the industry concentrated on engineering and body styles were changed every few years to keep sales up.
With this direction, by 1931 Auburn was able to sell a very appealing package for far less than the competition. Their fully equipped V12 cars could be purchased for well under $2,000 and the V8s were cheaper still, all had seemed to be going well.
But three years later the Depression had taken its toll and sales were falling again. As a remedy, Auburn returned to the six cylinder model and curtailed production of the V12, and in a move designed to boost sales and encourage a younger market to them they introduced the Model 851 'Boattail' Speedster with its sporting style and performance.
Penned by Gordon Miller Buehrig, it is considered by many auto enthusiasts to be among the most beautiful cars of the Classic Era. It was available with a new optional supercharger for the eight cylinder engine that boosted output to an unprecedented 150 brake horsepower and powered the car from 0-60mph in a remarkable 15 seconds. Each of the 146 supercharged Speedsters produced carried a dash plaque indicating the speed at which the car had been tested.
To promote their speed, A.P.B. Jenkins drove a stock Auburn on the Bonneville Salt Flats, breaking the American class speed record. Auburn won top prizes at the Concours d'Elegance held at the Universal Exposition in Brussels thus promoting their elegant styling. Even Marlene Dietrich chose one in the film 'Desiré'. While the Speedster created huge demand, it transpired that the company still lost considerable money on each one.
Speedster production continued into 1936 with the new Model 852 though this was virtually identical to that of the 851. It was to be Auburn's final year of production, despite plans for further evolutions, and company officially closed down in October of 1937.
This is a beautifully presented and fully restored example of the Supercharged 852 Speedster. The trophy piece in a collection that is dominated by pre and post-war American styling, it naturally stands out above all the others, not least for its striking livery. Although its rebuild must have taken place prior to its arrival in the present collection nearly two decades ago, the work must have been carried out to a very high standard as it has stood the test of time well.
On exhibition in the present collection for nearly two decades having been sourced in America, it returns to this country for sale at a time when these elegant sporting cars have seen a revival in their interest.
Christie's anticipate that we will have the car running at the time of sale, but as with other cars from this group we do advise that the sensible precaution of full re-commissioning be undertaken prior to road use.