Before Detroit was the Motor City III

I rounded out my visits to the three Hoosier Made, World Driven exhibits with the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum. (The Studebaker Museum is showing cars from 1900-1915, the Kokomo Automotive Museum cars from the late 1910s to the early 1920s, and the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum cars from the 1930s.)

To my surprise, I only found a small corner of one gallery devoted to this bicentennial exhibit with a 1936 Auburn 654, a 1934 Studebaker President, and a 1932 Studebaker President. To be fair through, the museum contains a huge collection of cars from the 1930s.

The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum is housed in the former Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Facility in Auburn. Originally, the facility housed boardrooms, offices, and a giant showroom of the latest models for dealers. Today, the building has the honor of being the only museum that was once an automobile manufacturer’s headquarters. The two-story Art Deco building has been beautifully restored.

The museum houses over 100 cars in their permanent collection and on loan, most of which are Auburns, Cords, or Duesenbergs. But the museum does house many other cars, even lesser known brands such as Cunningham, Grahman, Essex, Sunbeam, Locomobile, Pierre-Arrow, Stearns-Knight, Ruxton, Cisitalia, Cole, Marmom, Premier, Westcott, and Lexington.

The cars are divided into various galleries:

  • Company showroom
  • Special interest automobiles
  • Auburn, Indiana automobiles
  • Classics (1925-1948)
  • Eckhart Carriage Company to Auburn Automobile Company
  • Early Auburns 1903-1924
  • Racers and record-setters

The Auburn Company had its roots in the Eckhart Carriage Company, which was founded in 1874. Eckhart’s two sons established the Auburn Automobile Company in 1900 and proceeded to buy and fold into the company several other Auburn car companies: Kiblinger, Zimmerman, McIntyre. My favorite among these cars is the 1913 Imp, a two-seater tandem cyclecar that went for $375. Basically, the Imp is a motorcycle with four wheels…marketed as “The Car That Satisfies”.

In 1919, the Eckhart brothers sold Auburn to a group of Chicago investors. In 1924, the investors recruited E.L. Cord to turn the car company around. In 1926, Cord bought and incorporated Duesenberg into his company of performance and luxury cars.

The Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg brands were known for performance, design, and luxury. These cars are some of the most beautifully designed cars. A quick look around the museum confirms this. The museum displays most of the cars with plaques that give specs about the car, a history about the particular car on display, and information about events in the world at the time the car was manufactured.

Cords basically are divided into two types: Cord L-29 and Cord 810/812. The Cord L-29 was the first commercial, mechanically successful front-wheel drive car. Cord 810/812 went further in styling by doing away with running boards and adding retractable lights, new iconic wrap-around hood louvers, unit-body construction, and a unique transmission gear selection system.

Duesenbergs had their roots in racing—a Duesenberg won the 1925 Indy 500—but also luxury, commanding outrageous prices. (The 1931 Duesenberg Beverly Sedan went for $16,600!).

In 1929, the Cord Company became a holding company for 60 other companies. In 1937, Cord sold his stock, got out, and the company closed. Thankfully, his engineers and designers left behind a legacy of cars that pushed the limits of design and performance.

The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum is definitely worth a visit, for the beautiful building and the cars.

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