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Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum

Updated on December 13, 2015

In 1900, carriage makers Frank and Morris Eckhart became interested in a new-fangled contraption called an automobile. By 1903 they had a model ready for the Chicago Auto Show, which they named the Auburn, in honor of their hometown. In 1919 the Auburn Automobile Company was sold to a group of Chicago investors, including William Wrigley, Jr. When the company floundered, the investors brought in Errett Cord as vice-president and general sales manager. When sales doubled after one year, Cord was made president at the age of 31. By 1926, he obtained a controlling share of the company. Cord realized the company had to find its niche in the marketplace: "If you can't be big, you have to be different." He introduced innovations such as front-wheel drive, two-tone colors, and straight eight-cylinder engines. Later on he built cars with 12-cylinder engines. All were luxury cars known for their styling, engineering, and quality. As Cord stated, "If the car does not sell itself, you will not be asked to buy" (At the prices they went for, they better sell themselves). He purchased the bankrupt Duesenberg Motors Company in 1926 and introduced the Duesenberg Model J a few years later. These cars were all made by hand, and the body was custom designed for the buyer. Although sales actually peaked in 1931, the Great Depression eventually took its toll on the company. 1932 saw a million dollar loss, and company fortunes deteriorated rapidly as it struggled to survive. Production stopped in 1937.

Imp Cyclecar

Imp Cyclecar
Imp Cyclecar | Source

The museum building was the headquarters of the Auburn Automobile Company, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside are well over a hundred classic cars, and numerous other interesting artifacts. Although many of these are classic beauties that cost $15,000 in the 1930s, one of my favorites is the $375 Imp Cycle Car. This was a two-seater (one in the front and one in the back) which weighed only 600 pounds and was powered by a fifteen horsepower motorcycle engine. About one thousand of these were produced locally by the W. H. McIntyre Company. Some of the old advertisements are also on display. One of them explains why an automobile purchase makes more sense than buying a horse and carriage: (1) Initial cost is lower, (2) Operating costs are less since gasoline is cheaper than horse feed, and (3) Auto repair costs are less than having a horse shod. The vehicle was designed by William Stout, who later designed the Ford Tri-Motor airplane.

Auburn Police Station

John Dillinger robbed the Auburn Police Station to obtain guns
John Dillinger robbed the Auburn Police Station to obtain guns | Source

John Dillinger

In one of the upper rooms of the museum, there is an interesting article about Auburn during one of John Dillinger's crime sprees. The Auburn Police Chief told reporters that they were well armed if the Dillinger Gang came to town. The local police had numerous guns and plenty of ammunition. Not long after that, a robbery occurred in Auburn. After reading a newspaper account, Dillinger's men came and stole the guns and ammunition from the Auburn Police Department.

In addition to the cars the museum owns, it also displays cars loaned by private individuals and other museums. One such loaner is an automobile used by John Dillinger, a 1933 Essex Terraplane. It still has two bullets in it from a police shootout. Dillinger only drove it about a month before he crashed into a field and abandoned it.

John Dillinger's 1933 Essex Terraplane
John Dillinger's 1933 Essex Terraplane | Source

Visiting the Museum

MSNBC named the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum one of the "Top Ten Gearhead Destinations". The museum is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM seven days a week. The admission charge is $10 per adult. The museum is located in downtown Auburn, which is only a short distance off of I-69 in northeastern Indiana, about 15 minutes north of Fort Wayne. Each year over Labor Day weekend, the city holds the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival.


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