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Lot 142: Auburn 851 Supercharged Boattail Speedster

The Scotsdale Auction, Bonhams (16 January 2014)

The Auburn Automobile Company grew out of the Eckhart Carriage Company in Auburn, Indiana. Founded in 1874 by Charles Eckhart, a flourishing carriage business was forged by the time he handed the reins over to his sons Frank and Morris. Seeing the writing on the wall for the horse and buggy, the brothers Eckhart went into the car business in 1900. Developing a number of sensible, reliable tourers, the company was sold in 1918 to a Chicago-based consortium with the focus of the brand placed on their six-cylinder line. The timing proved poor as the post-WWI depression hit the company hard. By 1924, Auburn was facing insolvency. It was at this point that the great E.L. Cord entered the picture. Initially hired as general manager, he also purchased a controlling interest in the company. Finding himself with a lot of 700 unsold Auburns, he quickly went to sprucing the cars up with extra nickel plating and lower, sportier tops, eventually selling the whole lot for a $500,000 profit. He worked his magic to begin building up a dealer network as well as spurring the development of an eight cylinder motor to fit in the old six-piston chassis, and soon, the Auburn Company was a successful and popular automobile manufacturer. The following years saw some great automobiles leave the Indiana-based works, both in eight and twelve cylinder form, but the true icon would come in late 1934. Penned by Gordon Buehrig, the young designer who had mastered designs for Stutz and Duesenberg, the 851 Boattail Speedster could be considered his masterpiece. 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, and the addition of the Columbia dual ratio rear axle added a whole new dimension to its drivability. 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 Motorcar Offered Valentino Chickinelli, a WWII Marine Corps veteran, had a love for cars. He bought his first vintage car in 1948, a 1919 Dodge Touring Phaeton that he would restore and enjoy with his family for many years, driving it in parades and exhibiting it at auto shows. As Val's interest in cars grew, it was evident that it was becoming a real passion for him, and in 1949, one of his car hunts led him to the discovery of this exceptional Auburn Boattail Speedster in an old garage in Omaha, Nebraska. The Auburn required some refurbishing, so a restoration was undertaken in 1951. In order to fund the restoration, Val's beloved 1919 Dodge had to be sold, but the excitement over the discovery of the Auburn made it palatable. Val chose to restore the car as a 1936 852, perhaps in attempt to make the already rare Speedster seem even more desirable, as 852s are extremely scarce. A new ID plate was fitted (the original 1935 851 ID plate is still with the car) and an 852 script was affixed to the radiator shell. There are virtually no differences between the two years except for the ID plate and radiator script, however, the car offered here is in fact an 851 model. A long-time friend of Val's, who owned the region's premier coach shop, did all the body and paint work. In 1955 the car was finally finished. Val would tell people it was hard to drive the Auburn on the city streets because people were always running him off the road to get a closer look at his car. From 1955 to 1961, the Auburn was in numerous regional car shows and parades, where it won many major awards and cash prizes. In 1962, Val entered the Auburn in a vintage car club race at an oval racetrack at Playland Park, an amusement park in nearby Council Bluffs, Iowa. During the event, the car overheated, resulting in a cracked cylinder head, but Val still won the race. His co-pilot was an old friend and customer of his, whom, during the race was smoking his cigar, elbowing Val in the side and kept saying to him "pour it to her, Chick!" At the end of the day, Val was able to brag that he beat his good friend's 1932 Supercharged Duesenberg SJ Dual Cowl Phaeton  not a bad result despite the cracked head. Val later located and acquired an original NOS replacement head, and had every intention of fixing the Auburn, but as often happens he found himself too busy buying and restoring more antique cars. The Auburn was parked in the garage during the summer of 1962, and didn't move from that spot for 52 years, with the exception of a special display at the SAC Museum in 2004, where the car was exhibited for six months. Val passed away in 2013, sixty four years after stumbling across a special Auburn in an Omaha garage. The car has remained with Val's son since, and is being offered here for the first time in six decades. In need of some recommissioning after its long-term storage, here is a wonderful and timeless machine with a fascinating story of careful ownership. Opportunities to acquire cars like this come infrequently; it may well be another 60 years before this one is for sale again. Presented here is an exceptional opportunity: A 1935 Auburn Supercharged Boattail Speedster that has not seen the light of day since 1962. A car so genuine and proper and so carefully preserved since then that it looks as good today as it did on the day it was put in storage. It is, without question, truly remarkable. Saleroom notices Please note that this vehicle is titled under its engine number and as 1936.

Lot Details
Auction The Scotsdale Auction
Bonhams, Arizona
Lot Number142
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price£252379
Hammer Price (inc premium)£277617
Condition rating2
Registration number
Chassis number32069E
Engine numberGH 4330
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors2