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SNAPSHOT 361: 1935 Auburn 851

This Snapshot was kindly sent to us by SAHB member Bob Cartwright. We have no proof, but we think that the Snapshot was taken in the United Kingdom: the front number plate appears to have pressed letters and its size and position seem to be British. We should be grateful for any further information on this, or on the car itself. We do know, however, that it is an Auburn 851 Four-Door Phaeton from around 1935.

The Auburn Automobile Company grew out of the Eckhart Carriage Company, founded in Auburn, Indiana, in 1874 by Charles Eckhart and run by his two sons. The company had some success until materials shortages during World War I forced the plant to close.

In 1919, the Eckhart brothers sold the company to a group of Chicago investors, but profitability still eluded them, and in 1924 they approached Errett Lobban Cord, who took over the company, aggressively marketed its unsold stocks and developed a range of cars with advanced engineering and modern styling. The first was the 1925 “Auburn Eight-In-Line” with a 4.5-litre straight-eight side-valve Lycoming engine. In 1926 this was upgraded to 4.8 litres and renamed the “8-88”. By 1930 the engine had increased in power to 115 and then to 125 horsepower – hence a change in model name to 8-115 and 8-125.

The most famous Auburn model was the 851, introduced in 1934 for the 1935 model year. It was offered with three engines: a straight-six, a naturally-aspirated straight-eight and a supercharged straight-eight. 3-speed manual transmission was standard, while some models offered a dual-ratio Columbia rear axle. The model was available as a Speedster, Cabriolet, Phaeton, Coupe, 2-door Brougham and Sedan. The Supercharged Speedster was the most famous, but the car in our Snapshot is the less flamboyant but equally elegant 851 Phaeton, with the practicality of four doors – unsurprising, since this car was clearly chauffeur-driven. It is also naturally-aspirated: blown models had the word “Supercharged” written clearly above the exhaust pipes.

In the difficult years following the Wall Street Crash, Auburn’s cars were too expensive for the depression-hit market, and the company started to produce a line of kitchen cabinets and sinks to keep it afloat. Even this was not enough: the final year of Auburn production was 1937.

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