In just 36 short years, the Auburn automobile rose and fell as one of the most innovative, finely engineered and superbly styled automobiles at a reasonable price in America. The Auburn Automobile Company was established in 1900 and incorporated in 1903 for the purpose of manufacturing horseless carriages. By 1903, Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal was reporting that a single-cylinder, Auburn gasoline engine car could be bought for $1,400, including side lamps and a tool kit.
Auburn automobiles earned a reputation for extraordinary performance and endurance on the race track by 1910, when factory superintendent Melvin Leasure won the 40-horsepower class stock car race at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds, at the average speed of 42 mph. Speed and endurance would be a part of Auburn's mystique for years to come. In 1927, race driver Wade Morton set a new speed and endurance record for 10,000 miles in an Auburn 8-88 roadster, at a phenomenal average speed of 72 mph in the last 1,000 miles. Morton set a record of 108 mph for "the flying mile" at Daytona Beach, Fla., in 1928.
The Auburn crossed over into high style with the “Beauty Six,” introduced in 1919. The Beauty Six set a sales record for the company that year at 6,062 units. However, a bad economy slowed sales every year until 1923, and the company was in trouble.
The Auburn automobile got new life in 1924, when E.L. Cord came to the company from Chicago and executed the legendary sale of 700 black-painted Auburns, setting unsold on the factory lot, by painting them in bright, two-toned color schemes. Cord also cut the price, launched a national advertising campaign and infused enthusiasm into Auburn dealers.
The year 1925 saw more success with the introduction of the lowest-priced eight-cylinder car in the country at $1,895 for a touring car, as well as the mid-year entry of the Auburn 6-66 and 8-88, of which both designs were influenced by Cord. Cord paid off his Chicago investors and owned Auburn Automobile Company by November 1925.
The famous Auburn Speedster, with its saucy boattail stern, debuted in 1928 with a Straight-Eight engine. However, the stunning Alan Leamy redesign of the 1931 Auburn set an all-time sales record and won wide acceptance among the car-buying public. Only one model, the 8-98 (eight cylinders, 98 horsepower), was offered that year.
The Auburn continued to be a car of innovation and value with the introduction of a new Lycoming V-12 engine, two-speed Dual-Ratio axle and the astoundingly low price of $1,425 for a coupe in 1932.
The final body style came in 1934 from Alan Leamy, with all-steel construction. However, sales did not improve and Duesenberg designer Gordon Buehrig was brought in to redesign the Auburn line for 1935. Buehrig created some of the most beautiful Auburns ever built and high performance continued with a supercharged, eight-cylinder engine.
It was not enough. Sales plummeted again in 1936, and production ceased with a grand total of over 177,000 Aubursn, Cords and Duesenbergs made. E.L. Cord sold his Cord Corporation companies in 1937 and the Auburn motorcar passed into history.