Auctions and Brokerage
East Coast Family Collection (acquired circa 1954)Charles LeMaître, Massachusetts (acquired from the above in 2014)Current Owner (acquired from the above)
Following a stunning turnaround engineered by E.L. Cord in 1924, the Auburn Company represents an important chapter of the Classic Era in America. Brimming with innovative engineering, captivating style, and surprising value, Auburn shook up the automotive establishment and competed successfully with Packard, Cadillac, Stutz, and other respected marques, eventually rising in sales and production volumes to become America’s 13th-largest automobile manufacturer by 1931.
Gifted designer Gordon Buehrig delivered a triumphant stylistic makeover for the Auburn for 1935. Since about 50 unused bodies in white remained from the 1932–1933 speedsters, Buehrig was tapped to design the new version; he penned a variation known as the “tapertail,” based on a Duesenberg speedster. Buehrig left the existing top, doors, and windshield untouched, integrated the cowl with the new Auburn frontal treatment, created a new tail section, and added sensuous pontoon fenders.
Performance engineering matched the Speedster’s gorgeous lines. Augie Duesenberg and Pearl Watson adapted the Kurt Beier-designed Schwitzer-Cummins centrifugal supercharger to the Lycoming GG-series straight- eight engine, using an innovative planetary-drive system. The resulting supercharged GH-series engine was rated at a robust 150 hp. Standard on the Boattail Speedster, the GH engine was optional – for an additional $220 – on the higher-volume body styles of the 851 and final 852 Auburns. A Columbia “dual-ratio” two-speed rear axle provided brisk acceleration and top-speed potential, with six forward ratios available.
The result of the redesign was breathtaking, and the new Speedster backed up its style with substance. To demonstrate its performance, famed racing driver and US speed-record legend Ab Jenkins, driving a stock 851 SC Speedster, became the first American to record an average speed over 100 mph for a 12-hour period. In commemoration of the feat, each Speedster built was fitted with an engraved dash plaque bearing Jenkins’ signature, attesting to its over-100 mph capabilities.
Priced at $2,245 when new, it is believed that Auburn lost $300 per Speedster built. The Auburn line continued unchanged into 1936, with the Speedster now designated the “852 SC Speedster,” but few were built. The lingering economic malaise and Cord’s complex business affairs compounded the situation, and by the time production halted in 1937, as few as 143 supercharged Auburn 851 and 852 Speedsters had been manufactured. While small in number, Gordon Buehrig’s Auburn Speedster remains an Art Deco-inspired landmark that never fails to capture attention today.
The known history of this 851 dates to about 1954, when the Speedster was spotted for sale at a neighborhood service station in a suburb of Philadelphia. After a deal was struck for the already rare Boattail, the car was taken to its new home and remained in this family’s ownership for the next 60 years. According to Barry Dougherty, a close friend of this family, the Auburn was driven very little during their ownership. The car was repainted, likely by the end of the 1950s, in its present color, a Packard shade called Scottish Heather, which was popular on the then-current Packard 400. Later, the Auburn was retired from use altogether.
In 2014, the Speedster was purchased by noted East Coast collector Charles LeMaître via Mr. Dougherty, who was quite familiar with the details of the car, having serviced it during the family’s many decades with it. A new cylinder head was sourced from Auburn expert Frank Cek, and Mr. LeMaître had the 851 back in running order for the first time in many years. Upon inspection by Mr. Dougherty, the Auburn’s engine, whose number-stamping matches the firewall tag, was reportedly found to have the expected crankshaft counterbalance, notched oil pan, and heavy-duty connecting rods, all hallmarks of a factory-supercharged powerplant. The supercharger housing has been replaced with a proper reproduction casting.
This 851 Speedster is said to have never been comprehensively restored, and is surely among the very last examples still able to make this claim. Based on its history, it is doubtful that the body has ever been separated from the frame subsequent to its manufacture. Additionally, it is all but certain that this Auburn has never been to a concours, which will allow the next owner to present this long-sequestered Speedster, once ready, to an enthusiastic public for the first time.