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Lot 147: Auburn 851 SC Boattail Speedster

Automobiles of Amelia Island, RM Auctions (12 March 2011)

150 bhp, 280 cu. in. Lycoming inline eight-cylinder side-valve engine, Schwitzer-Cummins centrifugal supercharger, solid front axle and Columbia two-speed rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs front and rear, and four-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 127"

- Restored during the late-1990s; class-winner at Meadow Brook (1998) - Supercharged engine and Columbia rear axle

The Great Depression resulted in the collapse of the once buoyant auto market, and by 1931 industry production fell by more than 29 percent from the previous year. Sales at Auburn, however, had increased considerably, thanks in large part to the new Model 8-98. With over 32,000 cars built in 1931, the company became the thirteenth largest producer of autos. Unfortunately, the triumph was short lived as sales declined drastically in 1932 and 1933.

Furthermore, respected designer Al Leamy left the company in 1934, saddled with undeserved responsibility for Auburn's disappointing sales figures. Despite a well-received introduction and a backlog of orders for 1934 Auburns, the start of production was hampered considerably. By all accounts, much of the decline that year was due to E.L. Cord's interest in non-automotive projects and the constant reshuffling of management.

Into the breech stepped a young Gordon Buehrig. Not yet thirty years old, Buehrig had been Duesenberg's chief body designer since 1929, responsible for some of the most memorable and dramatic coachwork in American automotive history. Faced with little funding and even less time to devise a visibly different Auburn for 1935, Buehrig and his small staff concentrated on elements they could change while taking advantage of the best aspects from Leamy's solid 1934 designs. In doing so, they created a milestone design that has been emulated and replicated to this day. Changes were relatively modest and were primarily limited to the windscreen, body sides, fenders and top assembly, but the result was impressively different and distinctive. The Auburns of 1935 stood apart, with a sporting stance and fast, road-going performance.

To complement the restyled body, Auburn turned to its engine supplier, Lycoming, for equally distinctive power. The GG-Series Lycoming straight-eight engine featured an aluminum cylinder head with 6.2:1 compression and a two-barrel carburetor to produce 115 horsepower. Lycoming retained Augie Duesenberg to work with Pearl Watson in adapting the Schwitzer-Cummins centrifugal supercharger to the GG straight-eight. The resultant GH-Series of supercharged Lycoming engines featured an ingenious 5:1 planetary drive system incorporated into the blower's drivetrain. At 150 horsepower, output had increased by 30 percent, with a 10 percent increase in torque. The GH became the standard engine for Buehrig's Boattail Speedster and was offered on other Auburn 851s for an additional $220.

The signature styling feature of Auburn's Supercharged 851 was a set of flexible exhaust pipes popularized on Buehrig's Duesenbergs. Exiting the engine compartment to the left of the hood, they ran through the fender and required relocation of the spare tire to the lower compartment of the built-in rear trunk. Additionally, each of the supercharged Speedsters carried a dash plaque that denoted the speed at which the car had been tested.

Before 1935, Auburn Speedster bodies were produced by Union City Body Co. 'in the white,' without paint, trim and hardware. Like many other coachworks, Union City initially manufactured carriages, buggies and wagons. Although the firm still exists under different ownership and name, producing various bodies for commercial use, it is best remembered for the attractive Auburns and Duesenbergs it built during the early 1930s. In fact, the first 100 Buehrig-designed 851s carried such Union City coachwork from unused earlier Speedster bodies.

The Auburn presented here is one such Union City-bodied car. Resplendent in light cream with burgundy striping, a burgundy interior and burgundy painted wire wheels, this 851 SC Speedster was originally fitted with a supercharged engine complete with external exhaust pipes. According to its known history dating back to 1957, the Speedster came out of Cincinnati, and interestingly, the staff of Dallas Winslow's Auburn Cord Duesenberg Company (the combined successor to E.L. Cord's former Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg marques) worked on it at the former Auburn Automobile Co. administration building, which is now the home of the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum. There, its original engine, numbered GH 3934, was exchanged for the current unit, numbered GH 5022, in 1957-58, as noted in the ACD Club certification documents. After that, the Speedster was in the care of just four owners: Robert Brown, M.D., Dennis Clyde and Robert Creason (in partnership), Rick Walters, and the present owner.

In Mr. Clyde and Mr. Creason's ownership, the ACD Club awarded the Speedster its Level 1 certification (numbered A-077) on September 18, 1983, as evidenced by copies of the certification documents accompanying the car. A comprehensive, high-quality body-off restoration was completed during the late 1990s and included an engine rebuild. Once completed, the Speedster performed flawlessly on a vintage tour, and in 1998, it won Best in Class honors at the Meadow Brook Concours d'Elegance. The current owner acquired the Speedster in August 2000, and it has enjoyed proper, climate-controlled garage storage ever since. The professionals at RM Auto Restoration have maintained and serviced the Speedster over the past 10 years, including attention to the suspension and a transmission overhaul in 2004.

From a stylistic standpoint, the Auburn 851/852 Speedster is instantly recognizable and unlike anything else. Auburn's sales brochures touted the Gordon Buehrig design as 'Exclusive-Distinctive-Individual.' How could one disagree? With ownership names that included Tinseltown favorites such as Mary Astor and George Murphy, the supercharged Auburn Speedsters exemplified American glamour and presence while exuding an image of pure speed and power. Recently serviced and breathtaking in presentation, this Auburn Speedster is an undisputed masterpiece of Classic Era design.

Lot Details
Auction Automobiles of Amelia Island
RM Auctions, Amelia Island, Florida
TypeCar
Lot Number147
Estimate$375000-$475000
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price$412500
Hammer Price (inc premium)-
Year1935
Condition rating0
Registration number
Mileage-
Chassis number32923 E
Engine number
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors