Cars with cutting-edge performance, speed, and design in small-town Indiana

In Before Detroit was the Motor City III, I discussed the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum and the history of the car company. Out of the more than one hundred cars in the collection, many caught my eye for their design, specs, or history.

Noteworthy Auburns, Cords, and Duesenbergs in the first floor gallery with unique designs and histories:

  • 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton: 8-cylinder engine with supercharger and chromium exhaust pipes on either side of the hood
  • 1927 Duesenberg X-No D-95 E McFarlen Boat Roadster: sleek and streamlined two-seater boattail design. Model X was the rarest of the rare Duesenbergs, a transitional model between Model A and Model J. Only 13 were planned and 4 built.
  • 1932 Auburn 8-100A Speedster: inline 8-cylinder engine, only 63″ in height, beautiful teal color with black
  • 1936 Auburn 852 Phaetom: straight 8-cylinder engine with supercharger. The first owner of this particular car lived in Cyprus and planned on driving the car from Italy to the Olympics in Munich. The car was used by British during WWII.
  • 1927 Auburn Wanderer: 419 units sold in 1927, only 5 still exist. Front seat folds backwards for sleeping in the car during an era when motels were still fairly rare.
  • 1936 Cord 810 Westchester “Moonshadow”: beautiful silvery-blue with blue interior. Driven a total of 115,000 miles in North America, Europe, and the Middle East.

Some noteworthy early Indiana cars:

Haynes is often credited with building one of the first (if not the first) car, but Black may have actually created one before the Haynes Pioneer.

  • 1901 Haynes-Apperson Model A Motor Carriage: very rare with tiller used for steering
  • 1920 Apperson Model 8-20: this particular car was owned by Edger Apperson.
  • 1911 Izzer: one of three experimental cars built. Two-seater with driver on the right and a jumpseat for his small daughter.
  • 1894 Black: one of earliest autos built, possibly before the Haynes Pioneer. From 1892-1896, Black built experimental vehicles (two still exist). From 1897-1900 Black produced vehicles (none exist).
  • 1899 Waverley: runs on 44 battery cells, at 12 to 14 mph with a 35 to 40 mile range

Some noteworthy classics (1925-1948): 

  • 1929 Auburn Cabin Speedster: this car is actually a reproduction of a car that was destroyed, along with 319 other cars, during a fire at the 1929 Los Angeles Auto Show. In 1983 Dr. Peter Kesling of LaPorte, Indiana created this Speedster from drawings and canvas body drafts that survived.
  • 1936 Cord Convertible Coupe: a two-seater convertible, 8-cylinder engine with supercharger and metal exhaust tubes on either side of the hood, retractable headlights. Only 130 were produced for 1936 (the year before Cord went out of business).
  • 1930 Ruxton Roadster: two-seater convertible, 8-cylinder engine; front-wheel drive like the Cords. Only 500 made, making it a rare classic.
  • 1948 Tasco: first car with T-top roof made out of plexi-glass, airplane-inspired design. This car was part of the recent Dream Car exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Noteworthy cars in the gallery devoted to racing:

  • 1911 Metallurgique speedster: a two-seater version of the earliest boattail design. Built from 1898-1927 in Belgium. Appeared in the 1965 movie The Great Race. Similar to the 1928 Stutz speedster—both cars had the same chief engineer.
  • 1935 Auburn 851 speedster: created to boost sales. Broke 70 speed and endurance records at Bonnesville Salt Flats.
  • 1937 Cord I: raced at IMS and Bonnesville Salt Flats. Broke records but too late to save the company.

Some noteworthy later cars:

  • 1954 Chevrolet Corvette: 1953 Motorama dream car. One of the few Motorama cars that actually went into production. 300 made in 1953; 3,600 made in 1954.
  • 1933 Essex Terraplane: straight 8-cylinder engine. This particular car was used by bank robber John Dillinger during an eight-day stretch, ending with a car crash in an Indiana farm field on April 7, 1934.
  • 1967 Sunbeam Tiger II: small car with 56″ wheelbase. Only 534 to 633 produced over a 6 months with Ford V8 engine. Production ended after Chrysler bought the Roohs Group and discovered that Chrysler V8 engines would not fit into the Tiger II.
  • 1957 Mercedes-Benze Gullwing Coupe: #1395 out of 1400, an unrestored original. The doors swing up (= gullwing).
  • 1952 Cisitalia 202 Gran Sport: only 17 of this 4-cylinder, 55 horsepower car were produced. Appeared along with seven other cars in the first show of automobiles as art held in 1951 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. (A Cord was one of the other seven cars in the show: Eight Automobiles.)
  • 1963 Jaguar E Type: only 7,760 made between 1961 and 1964. Able to reach 150 mph, putting it in the same class but with a much lower price as the Ferrari.
  • 1952 Crosley Super Roadster: 4-cylinder engine, wheelbase of 85″. Last hurrah for the company before ceasing production. This particular car was owned by Frank Lloyd Wright. Crosley was one of the few post-WWII cars produced in Indiana.
  • 1979 International Harvester Scout: prototype, looks like a cross between a Jeep and an SUV. Ultimately the company decided in 1980 to not get into what would become the lucrative SUV business.

The last Indiana car manufacturers:

  • Auburn, ended production 1936
  • Crosley, ended production 1952
  • Studebaker, ended South Bend production 1953
  • Avanti II, ended production 1985

So what car would I choose (if I could)? It’s hard to narrow them down. While the Auburns, Cords, and Duesenberg are beautiful cars, I am partial to small zippy cars. The 1952 Cisitalia 202 Gran Sport? The 1952 Crosley Super Roadster? The 1967 Sunbeam Tiger II? The 1957 Mercedes-Benz Gullwing Coupe? The 1963 Jaguar E Type? Perhaps I’ll choose the 1913 Imp to putter around town in.

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