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The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum

My visit to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum.

I got the chance to go to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum in Auburn, Indiana again.  It is one of the most impressive car museums I have visited. The Museum represents Duesenberg, Auburn, and Cord, high-end early 20th-century car brands, who eventually came under the ownership of the same company. It is rare to find a car museum that houses so many cars worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions, but here it is the norm.

The first road going Duesenberg ever made.
A 1921 Duesenburg. It features a custom body designed to accommodate it’s 7 foot tall original owner.

Auburn, Indiana, is a small college town (city to be exact) in the northeast corner of Indiana (almost to Ohio.) Its connection to cars is strong; its nickname is “Home of the Classics” due to the number of car brands it produced. It also plays host to a massive collector car auction held at a designated site just outside of town. Auburn also features several car museums besides the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. These museums include the National Automotive & Truck Museum, the Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum, and the International Monster Truck Museum and Hall of Fame.

Auburn car on display at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum.
An Auburn convertible.

The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum is housed in the company’s original three-story headquarters, which came complete with an Art Deco style showroom. Just standing in the showroom takes you back to the jazz age. There is even period-correct music playing. The showroom features over twenty Auburns, Cords, and Duesenbergs from different times in the company’s history. Although the company did not last long, thanks in part due to the Great Depression, they created some of the most elegant cars of the period, complete with technological innovations that would take decades to reappear. These included superchargers, hideaway headlights, and front-wheel drive. The Duesenbergs stand out in their variety, for not only color but bodies as well. A Duesenberg was bought from the manufacturer as just a motor, a frame, and not much else. A coach-building company was then hired to complete the car. This lead to some astonishing variety. Duesenberg’s are also known for their impressive even by today’s standards performance. A Duesenberg naturally aspirated straight-8 motor produced 265 horsepower, while the supercharged variant put out well over 300. Their performance is a reflection of their history. The Dusenberg race cars did very well on the track. These cars were well received by celebrities. Famed pilot Amelia Earhart owned a Cord, and actor Gary Cooper owned a Duesenberg.

1948 TASCO car.
The Tasco. Note the t-tops.

Aside from the three brands on display in the showroom, there was an exhibit on cars of that era with a large number of cylinders, V-12s, and V-16s. I was particularly impressed by a beautiful V-16 Cadillac on display. Although the large cylinder era did not last long (the exhibit mentioned the increasing performance of the V-8 and lighter-weight cars made them unnecessary), the American V-12 has an interesting, if obscure, footnote in pop culture. In the original version of the icon rockabilly song “Hot Rod Lincoln,” the titular car is powered by a V-12, and not a V-8 like in later versions.

A 1911 Metallurique. An early sports car.
A 1911 Metallurique. This one was used in the 1965 comedy “The Great Race.”

Just past the main hall is a smaller room that features some interesting, non-A.C.D. cars. These included some iconic 50’s cars, a 1911 Metallurique that was featured in the 1965 movie “The Great Race,” and a 1933 Checker Cab. The second level is accessible from the grand staircase in the showroom. It would not look out of place in a historic mansion. The second level features an automotive-themed art gallery and a foot-tall version of the “Spirit of Ecstasy,” the famous hood ornament found on Rolls-Royces.

A replica of an Auburn on display at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum.
A replica of the 1929 Auburn Cabin Speedster. The original was destroyed in the 1929 LA Auto Show fire.

The third floor features more collections of cars and Company offices that look as though they did 80 years ago. There are also miniature clay-mockups of some of Cords. There was a special exhibit on this floor relating to infamous Indiana bank robber John Dillinger, which includes one of his Tommy Guns. There was also an exhibit on cars made in Indiana. In the early 20th century, during the dawn of the car, there were quite a few from Indiana. The 3rd floor also featured one of the most unique one-off cars of the ’40s: the Tasco. What makes this one-off sports car so interesting is not just the aviation-inspired interior and exterior, but its use of a t-top. Roughly 20 years before it appeared on a Corvette.

V-16 Cadillac, part of an exhibit on V-12 and V-16 cars.
A V-16 Cadillac.

This was my third trip to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, and each time there has been something new. Because of the other car museums nearby, I was able to go to three in one day: The National Automotive and Truck Museum (which is on the property) and the Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum (which is just across town.) I will be covering both of those museums in upcoming posts. This is the first of three articles I will be writing about car museums in Auburn. If you have been to the Museum or have anything to add, please let me know in the comments! You can visit their website at www.automobilemuseum.org.  

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