Auburn 12-160A Convertible Sedan

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12-160A Convertible Sedan





Auburn turned the industry on its ear with a new V12 for 1932. Designed by chief engineer George Kublin, it utilized a narrow, 45-degree vee with horizontal valves in the heads, operated by a single camshaft through rockers. It developed 160bhp from 391 cubic inches, more efficient than Packard or Lincoln. Priced from $1,105, it was an incredible bargain.

Auburn’s Salon Twelve model of 1933 combined the Indiana automaker’s top-of-the-line 6.4-litre 160 horsepower Lycoming V-12 with a host of new engineering, comfort, and stylistic improvements. Mounted on live rubber air cushions atop a frame strengthened with a new front A-member, it powered a car with such advanced features as adjustable vacuum-boosted brakes, a dual-ratio rear axle, Bijur chassis lubrication, Houdaille double-acting shock absorbers, and a tubular cowl frame structure, similar to that found on the fuselage of an airplane. Special body trim included a painted radiator shell that vee’d out at the bottom, a radiator cap concealed by the hood, headlamps with unique convex lenses, and stylized “ribbon” bumpers.  

Due to the Great Depression and Auburn’s continuing financial difficulties, the Salon Twelve was actively built only in 1933. While it continued in offering into 1934 – the only Twelve model to do so – the cars sold that year were retitled 1933s.

In 1931, sales more than doubled and profits again reached 1929's record levels. This was due to the brilliant Alan Leamy who redesigned the entire Auburn line for 1931. Using some of the cues from the low-slung Murphy-inspired Cord, he applied them to dramatic effect on the taller Auburn chassis.


Auburn hoped for a repeat of previous successes, but that was not to be. The hefty profit of 1931 fell by 97 per cent, and 1933 was worse: just 6,000 cars were sold. 1934 was poorer still, with barely 4,000 produced. 1935, was the last year of the magnificent Twelve

Foremost among them is the Auburn Twelve Salon Speedster, which was produced only in 1933 and 1934. It was the sportiest of all Auburns, as it combined the power of the famous Lycoming V-12 with Alan Leamy’s striking “boattail” styling and featured additional chrome trim, unique headlamps, a unique dashboard, and the now-iconic Salon “ribbon” bumpers. It is believed that only nine were originally produced by the factory in Auburn, Indiana.

The speedster body was offered on eight- and twelve-cylinder chassis. Naturally, it was the Twelve that became the prestige item. The price was slightly higher in Custom trim, which added chrome sidelights, headlights, and taillights; wire wheels; and the “Dancing Lady” hood ornament. Nonetheless, it was an astonishing performance bargain for an automobile. Nonetheless, it was not abundant power that made the Auburn Twelve Speedster an icon of its age, it was Alan Leamy, the man who made beauty out of a beast.

Of all the Salon Twelve Auburns constructed, the most sought-after is the racy Speedster, of which it is believed fourteen original examples were built. These are among the most desirable of all Auburns, and arguably the best-looking automobile that the company ever built.

The V-12 speedster was a stunner, but it merely capped Auburn’s handsome eight-cylinder boattail speedster. That had actually been provoked by the Stutz Blackhawk, which he thought he could better at less than half the price, $2,195 against $5,000. However the V-12 speedster was the coup de grace.

Auburn produced only 20 Eight and Twelve Speedsters of all types, including the Standard, Custom, and Salon models, in 1933.

Among the scarcest Salon Twelve body styles is the cabriolet, of which about twenty-seven were built and only five survivors are known. The car offered here is a well-known and genuine example. It was most likely originally delivered in California and had its windshield shortened and top modified to the present configuration early on in its life. Experts agree that the styling updates were probably not undertaken by Auburn, but the car is known to have existed in this form by the 1940s, when it was regularly seen parked on Southern California streets. Some believe that the work was done in order to show the car at a California auto salon, but it is likely that the original owner or another early caretaker had the modifications performed probably prior to the war. Interestingly, according to Auburn historian Randy Ema, at one point the car’s fenders had inner metal bracing, indicating that it had been used for dirt-track racing in the 1940s!

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