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852 Supercharged Cabriolet
In 1934 Auburn introduced a completely redesigned line of automobiles with myriad features for comfort, reliability, performance and ease of use. The primary change was Auburn’s commitment of a huge block of capital to new tooling for all-steel bodies. Although the tooling cost was prodigious, it brought important cost savings in production and resulted in a lighter, lower, stronger and quieter Auburn, which was distinguished by Al Leamy’s smoother and more aerodynamic design.
For 1934, the Auburn line-up was restyled by Al Leamy. The styling was not well-received, and by mid-1934, the assembly lines were halted so that the much improved, face-lifted 1935 model could be rushed into production. Designer Gordon Buehrig was allotted a $50,000 budget to improve the styling, and he succeeded with such changes as a handsome grille, semi-pontoon front fenders, and an enlarged hood. Auburn sales brochures declared the latest Gordon Buehrig design as being “Exclusive-Distinctive-Individual”, and notably, Hollywood stars such as Mary Astor and George Murphy drove 1935 Auburns. Moreover, the 1935 Auburn models were praised for their improved ride and handling, thanks to a lowered center of gravity, a reduction of unsprung weight, and lower seat placement.
While the flamboyant speedster draws much attention, the honor of actual extreme rarity among surviving 1935–1936 Auburns goes to the coupe model. The car shared the same body as the convertible cabriolet, but its leather-covered roof was fixed in place by a wooden frame and heavy bolts, and the rumble seat lid was reversed to form a lid for an utterly capacious trunk. The result has all the sporty, svelte good looks of a cabriolet but with the all-weather comfort of a closed car, and it has more than enough storage for comfortable touring.
At the same time, Auburn loaded on a series of features that had previously only been options to its standard production cars and available only on its most expensive models. One of these was freewheeling from LGS, one of Cord Corporation’s many subsidiaries. The Columbia Dual-Ratio rear axle also was made standard, giving Auburn the equivalent of a six-speed transmission. Finally, after several years of availability only on Auburn’s top-line models, four-wheel Bendix hydraulic brakes were made standard across the board, even in the newly introduced six-cylinder line. Eight-cylinder Custom line Auburns augmented their hydraulic brakes with standard power assist. Lycoming, too, made a contribution, increasing the displacement of Auburn’s eight to 280 cubic inches and installing an aluminum cylinder head with 6.2:1 compression and two-barrel carburetor for 115 horsepower.
Yet Auburn was to enjoy a memorable final fling with the 851 speedster. It was introduced in 1931 with masterly bodywork by Gordon Buehrig, the young designer who had mastered designs for Stutz and Duesenberg, that was ingeniously and cheaply built. The car was simple enough. An art deco influenced, streamlined Speedster, this exceptional automobile was powered by a supercharged version of the Lycoming eight-cylinder engine, offered staggering 150hp performance for its day. Those sweeping lines concealed some interesting technical features such as the Columbia dual-ratio rear axle. That was achieved by interposing an epicyclic gear train between the axle and the crown wheel. When it was engaged the final drive ratio became a 'fast' 4.5:1. It was disengaged by moving a steering-wheel mounted lever and dipping the clutch,whereupon the ratio became a more leisurely 3:1. The three-speed synchromesh gearbox along with that dual ratio axle gave a six-speed transmission. The 851 Speedster was the first stock American car to exceed 100 mph for twelve hours. In fact, all 851 Boattail Speedsters were guaranteed to exceed 100 mph in stock form. Its performance was astonishing, but the car is remembered today for its styling; it is undeniably one of the most striking and unforgettable designs of the 1930s.
The Phaeton was one of five body styles offered on the 851 Standard chassis in 1935.
In 1936 came the 852, identical to the earlier models with the exception of the 852 on its radiator grille! The end however, was not far off and Auburn ceased car production in Although the new 851 (and the following 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 50 bodies in white left over from the ’33 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 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 ’35 front end. Finally, he added a stunning new set of pontoon fenders.
The result was breath-taking, 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.
Auburn Speedsters didn't 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 100 mph 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 100 mph capability, bearing Ab Jenkins’ signature. 1937.
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