Car Show Classic: 1935 Auburn 851 Speedster – The Most Beautiful Car Of The Thirties?

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(first posted 1/2/2013)   New Year’s Day has come and gone; the holidays are officially over. As I write this, it is snowy and about twenty degrees outside, so what better way to distract ourselves from the post-Christmas blahs than admiring a classic Auburn Boattail Speedster I captured on a beautiful warm fall evening back in October? Even though the Auburn became a victim of the Depression, its timeless beauty transcends the challenging mood of the time; then and now. The sun always shines on an Auburn Boattail Speedster.

1935 Auburn Ad-14

Indiana has a rich automotive history. Studebaker Corporation and International Harvester may have been longer-lived, but the Auburn Automobile Company, later home to the storied Cord and Duesenberg marques, is perhaps the most famous, and had the most consistently beautiful cars. Certainly, the most remarkable Auburn was the lovely boattail Speedster.

1932 Auburn Ad-07

The sporty Speedster first came on the scene in 1928, and was a pleasant break from the more staid Auburn sedans of just a few years prior. Not only did its light body result in 100+ mph, it was beautiful to boot, with its lovely lines. It was all thanks to E.L. Cord, who found himself in charge of a near-bankrupt car company.

1927 Auburn Ad

Thanks to his eye for style, he turned lemons into lemonade when he ordered 700 unsold black Auburn sedans repainted in bright, eye-catching colors. Once those sold, Cord kept the momentum going with cars like the Speedster. Style sold, and Cord knew it.

1935 Auburn-a

The Speedster was a real showroom draw, and would remain a vital (albeit low-production) part of Auburn’s lineup. That meant a complete re-do for the 1935 model year. The Speedster was given much more voluptuous lines, courtesy of Gordon Buehrig, who would later on style the equally snazzy Cord 810/812 (CC here). Interestingly, the car was not totally new, and in fact used the 1934 Speedster body. Thanks to Buehrig’s swoopy restyle with the streamlined nose and pontoon fenders, it was not readily apparent.

1935 Auburn brochure-02

The 1935 851 Speedster was powered by a flathead, side-valve straight eight, with 150 horsepower. Also included was a Schweitzer-Cummins centrifugal supercharger, the critical component in the car’s ability to achieve “the ton.” Indeed, every Speedster was certified as being tested to 100 mph or more before delivery. A plaque on the instrument panel attested to its proven capability. Years later, it was revealed that not every car had been tested; it was more like 20% of them. Still, there was no doubt that the Speedster could reach the speeds it boasted of.

Hot Wheels Auburn Speedsterimage:

Auburn Speedsters have been blue chip collector cars for a long time, but are naturally not frequently seen, due to their scarcity. I, however, knew about them from an early age, as one of my earliest toys included a yellow over brown Hot Wheels Auburn Speedster. Later on, I got a white one just like the one shown above. I still have both, though the yellow one is, ahem, a bit chewed and missing parts. What can I say, as a two year old I enjoyed chewing on my toy cars’ wheels. The plastic fenders of the Auburn were apparently also quite tasty.

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So it was a treat to see this original ’35 at one of the South Park Mall car cruises. This car has been a car show fixture for years, though it doesn’t appear very often; it had probably been five years since the last time I’d seen it. Many a company has offered an Auburn Speedster kit car over the years, but seeing a real one makes those kits look like the facsimiles they are. Just like a fake Rolex, it is pretty easy to tell a phony from the original. The biggest giveaways are the more delicate-looking wire wheels and the interior.

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And what an interior! This car has been fitted with ’50s vintage turn signals, as seen here mounted to the left of the steering column. I particularly like the red-over-cream color scheme, and the diamond-pattern dashboard inserts are beautiful. This was not a cheap car in 1935 ($2245), and it shows in the little things. Even the gauges are special. In the depths of the Depression, a sighting of one of these beauties must have seemed a hallucination, like seeing a Ferrari 458 Italia in Ottumwa, Iowa would be today.

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And here’s the heart of the matter: that lovely 280 CID straight eight. I’ve always loved the flexible exhaust pipes snaking out of the hood and disappearing into the running boards. And check out those horns!


Sadly, Auburn was not much longer for this world. ACD was losing money despite its attractive line of cars, and the little-changed 1936 852 Auburns would be the last. Starting in 1937, the Cord 812, along with a handful of ultra-pricy Duesenbergs, were all that would remain. But Auburn cars live on in the hearts of classic car nuts to this day, and the Speedster, with its long list of speed records and sheer beauty, will undoubtedly never be forgotten.

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