Auburn 851SC Cabriolet

Errett Lobban Cord knew humdrum cars would not cut it; if a car was to sell, it would need to have sizzle. When he stepped in to save the Auburn Motor Car Company in 1924, production and sales had fallen to a critical level, and the company teetered on the verge of bankruptcy. Cord took a number of unsold Auburns being stored at the manufacturing facility, gave them stylish paint schemes and extra nickel plating and proceeded to watch sales recover. This was the sizzle Auburn desperately needed.

On later model Auburns, engine horsepower was boosted which had the effect of creating excitement among Auburn dealers. In terms of sales, Auburn was soon taking on long-established marques like Packard, Peerless and Stutz. Unfortunately, the depression hit Auburn sales right where it hurt most — in the balance sheet.

It is ironic that the company produced what many consider to be its ultimate masterpiece in 1935, just as the end was drawing near: the 851SC. Auburn had invested heavily in the largely new Al Leamy designed 1934 models. Although they sold better than the 1933s had, they were not the salvation the company needed. Worse still, Harold Ames, E.L. Cord’s right hand man, hated the look of the cars. As a result, Ames’ boss, Manning, decided he was just the man to solve the problem and sent him to Auburn, putting him in charge of the company.

Clearly, a new look was desperately needed. With little money available, a completely new car was out of the question. Once again, Ames called upon Gordon Buehrig to pull the figurative rabbit out of the hat. And once again, he delivered. Buehrig redesigned the front end of the cars, with a new grill and hood line. Auburn’s signature new feature for 1935 was supercharging on the top-of-the-line models, so Buehrig incorporated the external exhaust which the American public had come to identify with supercharged engines, largely because of the mighty Model SJ Duesenberg.

Although the new 851 (and the next year’s 852) models were certainly flashy enough, the “new” was more than skin deep. The chassis was mostly carried over, although some updates were made. The car was fitted with a Lycoming-built straight-eight engine equipped with a new supercharger designed by Kurt Beier from Schwitzer-Cummins. In addition, the trusted and durable Columbia two-speed rear axle was fitted, allowing lower gearing for quicker acceleration, combined with a higher final drive ratio for improved top speed.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in January of 2010 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona.

150 bhp, 280 cu. in. inline side valve eight-cylinder engine with Schwitzer-Cummins supercharger, three-speed manual transmission, four wheel semi-elliptic leaf spring, solid front axle and live rear axle suspension, and four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Wheelbase: 127"

Source: RM Auctions

Gallery: Auburn 851SC Cabriolet