When Errett Lobban Cord arrived at Auburn Automobile Company in 1924, the firm was on the brink of closure. Years of conservative, uninspired designs led to tanking sales, and soon Auburn dealers were faced with a glut of unsold inventory. Needing to reduce existing stocks, Cord devised a simple plan to make the product line more appealing, which involved little more than applying bright paint colors and some creative marketing. The program saved Auburn from certain bankruptcy and Cord was offered a senior management position. Ambitious to a fault, E.L. Cord instead leveraged his offer and bought a controlling stake in Auburn. Within a few short years, the marque’s image was transformed, with sports stars, business moguls and Hollywood actors seen in stylish Auburn automobiles. E.L. Cord had carefully positioned the brand within his fast-growing automobile empire by offering smart performance cars at a competitive price point. For 1931, sales had continued to rebound despite economic conditions, and Auburn introduced fresh new styling that was inspired by the more upscale Cord L29. As a further boost to Auburn, a sporty new Speedster joined the lineup the same year.
Even as Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg flourished, E.L. Cord was losing interest in building cars and looking to invest heavily in aviation. Cord spent fewer and fewer hours tending to the car business, and the economy caused sales to plummet 67% between 1931 and 1932. The addition of a V12 engine did little to help. Faced with having to revive a struggling Auburn yet again, management brought in Gordon Buehrig to redesign the Auburn line, including a new Speedster inspired by an earlier design he penned for a one-off Duesenberg J. 1934 models had curvaceous, skirted fenders and body-color radiator shells. Across the entire line, Auburn used the proven Lycoming inline eight-cylinder engine, after the expensive and unpopular V12 was dropped. In an effort to appeal to more sporting buyers, the ultimate 852 models featured an engine-driven Schwitzer-Cummins supercharger adapted to the Lycoming eight by August Duesenberg. With 150 horsepower on tap, the lightweight Speedster models could top 100 mph, with the Cabriolet and Phaeton not far behind. Every supercharger-equipped model received a dash plaque emblazoned with Ab Jenkins’ signature attesting to its 100-mph performance. The supercharged Auburns were some of the fastest cars of their time, yet despite the best efforts of the designers and marketing team, the new models failed to ignite sales. The impact of the Great Depression was just too much to overcome. That, coupled with allegations of E.L. Cord engaging in stock manipulations spelled the end for Auburn, which closed its doors in 1937.
This 1936 Auburn 852 is a rarely seen 2/4 passenger Cabriolet equipped with the Schwitzer-Cummins supercharger. Finished in dark blue over a tan interior, this car wears an older restoration that now carries considerable patina from age and use. The color combination of dark blue with sky blue accents suits the body style quite well, and while the paint is generally glossy and attractive, there are areas of cracking and other blemishes. Despite the imperfections, this car was done well when it was restored, as evident by the CCCA National First Prize badge on the cowl. Fittings include the goddess radiator mascot, single side-mount spare wheel (to accommodate the externally routed exhaust pipes), dual driving lamps, and wire wheels. Much like the paintwork, the chrome on the bumpers and accessories is glossy and presentable, with some minor pitting and flaking found on close inspection. With black wall tires, a folding windscreen, and the signature exposed exhaust pipes, this Auburn Eight has a purposeful and sporty presence.
In the two-place cockpit, tan leather covers the seats and door cards. The upholstery displays significant aging, with deep creasing and cracking in the leather. Door panels are good, as are the carpets, with the fit and finish on par with an older restoration. Original factory instruments are in excellent condition in the Deco-inspired instrument panel, and this car features a rare factory radio. The dark tan canvas top appears tidy and fits well, and roll up side windows provide significantly more weather protection than the sparse, yet mechanically identical Speedster. Two additional passengers are accommodated in the rumble seat, which presents in fair condition, with the soft trim consistent with, if slightly better than, the remainder of the interior.
Underhood detailing is respectable, and the Lycoming eight is nicely finished in correct green and topped with a silver-painted cylinder head. The Schwitzer-Cummins supercharger is complete and appears in good order. The most recent owner performed an overhaul some time ago and the engine bay is orderly, clean and consistent with this being a restored car that has had many years of enjoyment under its belt. Currently, the car runs and drives, though it has seen a period of disuse and will require additional sorting to get it back on full-song.
Supercharged Auburns of all types are highly collectible, and this very rare Cabriolet is no exception. While the restoration has aged considerably, it is apparent that it was well done when initially restored, and it has remained in the care of one owner for many years. This Auburn is a sound example that, with mechanical refurbishment, would make for an enjoyable tour car with plenty of character. Alternatively, as it is a complete and driving car, it would form an excellent basis for a more extensive restoration. With minimal effort, we are sure that its next keeper will enjoy the impressive performance and iconic style that makes the legendary supercharged Auburns so collectible.