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American Pickers: History of car company behind show’s restored 1935 Auburn

A yellow 1936 Auburn Model 653, similar to the car restored on American Pickers
A 1936 Auburn Model 653, similar to the car restored on American Pickers. Pic: Tony Hisgett

Tonight’s American Pickers sees Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz restoring a 1935 Auburn; created by a car company that had a bright, but sadly short life.

The Auburn Automobile Company was founded in 1900 in Auburn, Indiana, by Frank and Morris Eckhart. Their business saw some success, but material shortages during WWI meant they struggled to survive.

The Eckharts sold Auburn in 1919 to Chicago-based investors who, although able to put the business on to an even keel, couldn’t make it profitable.

So, in 1924, the group spoke to Erret Lobban Cord about running the company. Unexpectedly, Cord offered a complete takeover of the company if he could return it to a profitable state — an offer the investors accepted.

Read: Who is Frank Fritz from American Pickers?

Having overseen a return to profit, Cord duly assumed control in 1926, proceeding to produce a number of high-end, expensive cars throughout the remainder of the 1920s and into the 1930s.

An old advert featuring a sketch of a 1935 Auburn Speedster. It reads: "Now! Complete showing super-charged Auburns"
An advert featuring a 1935 Auburn Speedster

Cord and Auburn cars (and Duesenberg, which Cord partnered with) were known for their engineering prowess and stunning styling (designers included Alan Leamy and Gordon Buehrig), but Depression-era America eventually put paid to the companies — the cars were just too expensive.

Of course, Cord’s stock manipulations didn’t help matters at all, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission forced him to relinquish control of his car companies.

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Cord sold his shares and on August 7th 1937, the production of Cords, Auburns and Duesenbergs ceased forever.

This goes some way to explaining why Auburns are such prized possessions today. No vintage car fan could resist the charms of a 1935 Auburn Speedster or a 1934 Auburn 12 Cabriolet…provided you have the cash, of course!

In their time, Auburns attracted some of the biggest stars of the day. Tarzan star Johnny Weismuller, singer Al Jolson and actor Clark Gable all owned Auburns, so you’re in pretty classy company if you’re lucky enough to own one now.

American Pickers airs Mondays at 9/8c on History.

[The main picture of the yellow 1936 Auburn Model 653 above is used under the Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 license]


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