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Auburn was a brand name of United States automobiles from 1900 through 1936. It grew out of the Eckhart Carriage Company, founded in Auburn, Indiana, in 1875 by Charles Eckhart (1841–1915). Eckhart's sons, Frank and Morris, began making automobiles on an experimental basis before entering the business in earnest, absorbing two other local carmakers and moving into a larger plant in 1909. The enterprise was modestly successful until materials shortages during World War I forced the plant to close.
The 1904 Auburn was a touring car model. Equipped with a tonneau, it could seat 2 or 4 passengers and sold for US$1000. The flat-mounted single-cylinder engine, situated at the center of the car, produced 10 hp (7.5 kW). A 2-speed planetary transmission was fitted. The angle-steel-framed car weighed 1500 lb (680 kg) and used half-elliptic springs.
In 1919, the Eckhart brothers sold out to a group of Chicago investors headed by Ralph Austin Bard, who later served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and as Under Secretary of the Navy for President Roosevelt and for President Harry S. Truman. The new owners revived the business but failed to realize the profits that they hoped for. In 1924, they approached Errett Lobban Cord (1894–1974), a highly successful automobile salesman, with an offer to run the company. Cord countered with an offer to take over completely in what amounted to a leveraged buyout. The Chicago group accepted.
Cord aggressively marketed the company's unsold inventory and completed his buyout before the end of 1925. In 1926, he partnered with Duesenberg Corporation, famous for its racing cars, and used it as the launching platform for a line of high-priced luxury vehicles. He also put his own name on a front-wheel-drive car, the Cord L-29.
Employing imaginative designers such as Alan Leamy and Gordon Buehrig, Cord built cars that became famous for their advanced engineering as well as their striking appearance, e.g., the 1928 Auburn Boattail Speedster, the Model J Duesenbergs, the 1935–1937 Auburn Speedsters and the 810/812 Cords.
Styling and engineering failed to overcome the fact that Cord's vehicles were too expensive for the Depression-era market and that Cord's stock manipulations would force him to give up control of his car companies. Under injunction from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to refrain from further violations, Cord sold his shares in his automobile holding company. In 1937, production of Auburns, Cords and Duesenbergs ended.
The company's art deco headquarters in Auburn now houses the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum. It was made a National Historic Landmark in 2005.
The Auburn Automobile Company also had a manufacturing plant in Connersville, Indiana, that occupied a facility formerly owned by the Lexington Motor Company.
References in popular culture
- The popular 1980's TV Series Remington Steele featured a 1936 Auburn Speedster as one of the company cars, appearing in many episodes.
- The car driven by the character Short Round in the the opening scenes of the 1984 movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a 1936 Auburn Boat-tail Speedster.
- Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly (January 1904)