For more than three quarters of a century the American automobile industry has been dominated by giants; namely Ford, GM and Chrysler. However, even in a land of giants there are those bold enough to challenge them for the throne, or at least a portion of the kingdom. In the automotive realm, these are known generally as the independents.
A few of these companies such as Hudson, Packard and Studebaker are rather well known, especially in the over fifty crowd. Others, however, such as Auburn, Stutz, or Pierce-Arrow are to a large degree forgotten except among automotive enthusiasts.
As a result, few are aware of the many contributions made by these companies. Even fewer are aware that the demise of the independent also marked the end for the dominance of the American industry for there was no longer any contribution to the big three except from foreign shores.
From its inception in 1900, the Auburn was a solid but average automobile with little to make it stand out from the hundreds of others produced during the same period. In1924 when E.L. Cord assumed the position of general manager this chapter closed and another began.
At the time of his appointment to this position, the company was producing six vehicles a day and exceeding demand by at least three. His first managerial decision was to take several hundred unsold cars, add flashy nickel trim as well as the addition of two-tone paint and the cars began to sell. The following year he contracted with Lycoming for some eight-cylinder engines that were shoe horned into the old chassis and listed as new 8-63 and 8-88 models.
Promoting these cars through racing attracted attention, which in turn translated, into sales. For 1926, 7,138 vehicles were produced and in the year that followed this number almost doubled.
The influx of capital allowed Cord to transform the Auburn into a stylish performer. In 1927 alone, a stock Auburn was driven to new records in every class from five to five thousand miles. The following year hydraulic brakes became standard and the introduction of a stylish Auburn speedster captured the attention of automotive enthusiasts everywhere.
Another aspect of Auburn’s success was the transformation of the dealer network. Prior to Cord’s arrival the majority of Auburn dealers were simply garage owners who peddled a car or two on the side to enhance profits. Now there was an extensive network of dealers with well-stocked parts rooms and mechanics trained to repair Auburns.
With Auburn firmly established as a major automobile manufacturer Cord turned his talents and resources to expanding the company’s base as well as expanding the market share by introducing companion lines under the name Cord Corporation. By 1929, the Cord empire with Auburn as the foundation included Limousine Body, Anstead Engine, Lycoming Engine, Lexington Motor Car Company, and Duesenberg Motors. At the New York Auto Show that year the highlight was a trio of automobiles; the dynamically streamlined Auburn Cabin Speedster, the all-new front wheel drive Cord L-29 and the now legendary Duesenberg Model J.
Cord’s diversification worked well in the early days of the Great Depression. Even though sales initially dropped by 1931 Auburn they had doubled over that of 1929. The fact that more than a thousand new dealers, many of whom abandoned the franchise of other marques, during this period speaks volumes on what Cord had accomplished with a near moribund company in less than a decade.
As the economic conditions worsened many manufacturers, including the Cord enterprises began to falter. Cord never flinched, instead he chose to reinvent Auburn as a mid price ranged vehicle that could not be ignored as value for the dollar, and the result was the 1932 Model 12.
Fortune magazine evaluated the vehicle and noted it was, “the biggest package in the world for the price.” Business Week similarly noted the new Auburn was, “more car for the money than the public has ever seen.” With a base price for a coupe at $975, this series was a true bargain.
Under the hood was an all-new, highly advanced Lycoming V12 engine. Ensuring performance as well as comparative economy of operation was two-speed Columbia rear axle. Interior appointments were equal to those found on those produced by companies such as Cadillac and Lincoln. Styling was also of equal par.
Even though these vehicles offered unequaled value for the dollar, the economic conditions were also unequaled. As an example, Hudson sales dropped from 290,000 in 1929 to a truly dismal 19,000 in 1932.
The diversification that had served Cord so well now became his downfall and the first casualty was Auburn. However, there was to be a final, glorious chapter – the 851 speedster.
Rakish, attention-grabbing styling was matched with performance in a nearly flawless package. A speed of one hundred miles per hour was guaranteed and with Abe Jenkins at the wheel, a new American stock car record of one hundred miles per hour for twelve hours was established.
In October of 1937 leading business publications were reporting production of Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg vehicles were about to be suspended. The reports were accurate, the final curtain was drawn, and Auburn began its slide into obscurity adding another paving stone in the eventual domination of the “Big Three” in the American auto industry.



This venerable institution has been given a face lift sure to please anyone with an interest in vintage cars. Award winning author Brad Bowling has taken the helm. Bob Stevens with decades of experience covers the events. A staff of award winning authors including Jon Robinson, Jim Hinckley and Dave Duricy ensure factual and informative articles.


From the perspective of the twenty-first century it is hard to imagine an America without the automobile, let alone a time when it was such a wonder that it received top billing over the fat lady and the albino at the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Likewise, with a highway system that allows motorists to traverse the continent in a cocoon of climate controlled comfort it is difficult to imagine an era when a coast-to-coast drive was worthy of headlines throughout the world.
Initially even astute businessmen saw little future for the horseless carriage. Montgomery Ward is credited with saying the automobile was “something you should take the children to see before the fad passes.” But this view would be short lived—less than a decade later automotive pioneers were setting speed records approaching 150 miles per hour as well as establishing auto manufacturing and related industries at a meteoric rate.
In 1909, United States manufacturers produced 828,000 horse-drawn vehicles compared to fewer than 125,000 automobiles. By 1929 the horse drawn vehicle and its supportive infrastructure had been almost entirely swept from the stage as evidenced by the fact that in that year less than 4,000 horse-drawn vehicles were produced.
No fabric of our national identity was left unscathed. By 1920 more families had an automobile than had indoor plumbing. Farmers were set free from the constraints of rural isolation and prospered from expanded markets. Factory workers enjoying a new phenomenon, the family vacation, embarked on weeklong safaris into the countryside and sparked an explosion in tourism-related industries. Sunday drives became a national obsession. In less than a generation the nation’s entire culture was turned upside down.
The American landscape, in many places largely unchanged for a century, was transformed in the blink of an eye. In 1919 the world’s first tricolor traffic signals appeared on the streets of Detroit. In 1929, at Woodbridge, New Jersey the first cloverleaf interchange opened. By the end of the following year the federal government was averaging 10,000 miles of paved highway construction annually.
Billboards began to crowd the skyline and vacant lots blossomed with filling stations and car lots. From coast to coast and border to border a wonderful cornucopia of diners and roadside attractions vied for the attention of the increasing number of motorists. Some resembled wigwams and pagodas while others were advertisements in themselves built to resemble giant milk bottles or teapots. Even our lexicon was rewritten with words such as motel, Duesey, and road trip.
The words to jingles and slogans (“See the U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet,” “Ask The Man Who Owns One,” etc.) became better known than the national anthem. The automobile soon became a quintessential symbol of America and reflected the pulse of the nation.
The 1950s were a time of optimism and wild visions of the future that lay just over the horizon. The automobiles produced during this period, with their garish chrome trim and rakish fins, mirrored the mood. The 1960s can be encapsulated within the confines of a few select vehicles: the Volkswagen camper, the Pontiac GTO, the Olds Vista Cruiser wagon, and the Corvair. Likewise, the quirky little Gremlin, the pudgy Pacer, and powerful Trans Am, sum up the 1970’s as does the Plymouth Voyager and the decade of the 1980’s.
The automobile was the driving force behind one of the largest societal changes in history. Within one generation the United States became a nation on wheels, a nation on the move. Within two generations we became a car culture nation and have never looked back.
This book is in essence a scrapbook, a series of time capsules that chronicle the evolution of our national obsession with all things automotive. As such, it is also a trip down memory lane for a few and a peek into the past for those who are too young to remember.
*This is the introduction from the bronze medal award winniner at the 2006 International Automotive Media Awards. It, and other award winning titles, is available in the Guess What Shop at the bottom of this blog or through this link to Amazon.com