Auburn 12-161A Custom Speedster

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12-161A Custom Speedster





The Auburn Automobile Company grew out of the Eckhart Carriage Company in Auburn, Indiana. Founded in 1874 by Charles Eckhart, a flourishing carriage business was forged by the time he handed reins over to his sons Frank and Morris. Seeing the writing on the wall for the horse and buggy, the brothers Eckhart went into the car business in 1900. Developing a number of sensible, reliable tourers, the company was sold in 1918 to a Chicago-based consortium with the focus of the brand placed on their six-cylinder line. The timing proved poor as the post-WWI depression hit the company hard. By 1924, Auburn was facing insolvency. It was at this point the great E.L. Cord entered the picture. Initially hired as general manager, he also purchased a controlling interest in the company. Finding himself with a lot of 700 unsold Auburns, he quickly went to sprucing the cars up with extra nickel plating and lower, sportier tops, eventually selling the whole lot for a $500,000 profit. He worked his magic to begin building up a dealer network as well as spurring the development of an eight cylinder motor to fit in the old six-piston chassis.

The Lycoming developed eight cylinder would become the basis for the 1925 Model 8-88. The 276-cid 60hp straight eight became the basis for what would form the architecture of every Auburn that followed. With the new, powerful 8-88, Auburn went racing with Stutz the primary target of its efforts. While often coming in second to the Car that Made Good in a Day, the Auburn still very much came in first when it came to value, as the list price of an Auburn was less than half of that of a Stutz. In 1928, Auburn replaced the 8-88 with the 8-115. Under the hood was a 299-cid straight eight that made 115hp, two more than Stutz's eight cylinder. Just as significant as the muscle under the hood was the new exterior looks. The Speedster, making its debut on the 8-115, was like nothing else at the time. A sharply raked V-type windshield sat atop a long hood and high beltline, ending in a tapered tail. Sitting still, it looked fast. And that was the factory body, not a special one-off from a coachbuilder! Hydraulic brakes made their debut as well, bring the whole affair to a swift stop. All of this, and for only $2,195—in contrast to nearly $5,000 needed to put a Stutz Black Hawk in your garage. One of the original owners of the 8-115 was Malcolm Campbell, who was certainly one for swift machinery! Sales boomed and in 1929 Auburn sold 22,000 cars, a 1000% leap from before Cord was brought on. The start of the Great Depression caused a dip in the sales totals in 1930, but 1931 proved to be a record year with 28,103 cars sold. Primary to that success was the 8-98. The 8-98 featured a more economical 268.6-cid version of the venerable Lycoming straight eight producing 98hp. On top, even more raking and sporting bodywork was fitted. Underneath the skin, the first use of X-bracing on a rear-wheel drive car was featured, along with Bijur lubrications, Lovejoy hydraulic shocks, semi-elliptical suspension all-around, and an optional L.G.S. Freewheeling unit. Priced from $945-1395, it is little wonder that Fortune magazine went on to call it "the biggest package in the world for the price."

Auburn’s Salon Twelve model of 1933 combined the Indiana automaker’s top-of-the-line 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.

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.

Sold for: 1210000 USD
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