Eckhart Carriage Co. and Early AAC-The Eckhart Carriage Company was founded in 1875 by Charles Eckhart. His sons, Frank and Morris Eckhart, established the Auburn Automobile Company in 1900. The brothers worked at their father’s wagon company prior to their inheriting the business in 1893. Their true interest was with the new horseless carriages being built, so they started building cars. Their initial offering was a single cylinder chain drive runabout. It was priced at $800. The car did not sell well. It was too expensive to produce and ended up being priced well above the offerings from other manufacturers. In 1903 the Eckhart’s reintroduced their car with many needed changes. Still a one-cylinder car, they would later offer a two and a four-cylinder model and in 1912 offered a six-cylinder model.
The Auburn car company was selling cars, but it was not the success it needed to be. The Auburn Automobile Company was purchased by a group of Chicago businessmen in 1919. Their first new model was the Auburn Beauty Six. It offered many improvements and a streamlined, fender-less body that received a lot of praise. The company made progress, but continued to battle for a position in the growing automobile market. The 1921-1922 Recession had a negative impact on the Auburn car company, as it did with many American industries. By 1924 Auburn was building only six cars a day. There were hundreds of new unsold cars sitting behind the factory. In 1924, Auburn Automobile recruited Errett Lobban Cord to save the company. Cord was sitting on a pile of cash and was looking to buy a small car company. The Chicago owners of the Auburn car company were looking to sell. Cord’s first problem was selling the 700 unsold Auburn touring cars. They added a little nickel plating, did a flashy repainting, and made a few minor modifications. This solved the problems. Half a million dollars were netted and the debts were paid off.
Cord had proved himself and became the Vice President. Two years later, 1926, Cord became President. The sales had doubled in 1925 and before 1926 had ended, the sales had doubled again. Cord added show- rooms and started exporting sales. There were foreign outlets set up in Holland, Argentina, Germany, the Philippines, and Australia. 1189 units were exported in 1926 and more than 2000 in 1927 and 1928. Among American automobile exporters, Auburn rose from 40th to 11th in two years. Next Cord had to deal with the improvement of the domestic market. He did this by getting involved in stock car racing. The demise of Mercer left Stutz without a racing challenge and Auburn stepped up to become the new challenge for Stutz. The Cord Corporation was founded in June of 1929. It acted as a holding company for all of Cord’s investments. These included Lycoming Motors, Central Manufacturing Company, Limousine Body, Duesenberg, Columbia Axle Company, and others. In 1930, when the Depression hit, sales fell to 13,700 and net income to one million dollars.
By mid-1931 sales soared to 28,103 and profit equaled peak year of 1929. Auburn climbed from 23rd to 13th in retail sales. But in 1932 and 1933, Auburn started going downhill and no one really knew why. By the end of 1934, it dropped to 21st in retail sales. Harold T. Ames, Buehrig, and Auggie set out to design a sales generating speedster model. This resulted in the Auburn 851 Speedster. From January to October 1936, only 4830 Auburns were produced and they were the last. On August 7, 1937, AAC closed its doors. Cord sold his holdings to two Wall Street firms—Emanuel & Co. and Schroder, Rockefeller and Co.—and to a group of former associates headed by L.B. Manning. It is thought to be that the ultimate demise of Auburn was that it offered too much for too little. In 1938, the company was sold to a financier, Dallas Winslow. He purchased the rights to the names, Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg along with all of the remaining parts and the art deco administration building (now the museum). The company was renamed the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Company. Dallas Winslow offered parts replacement and service for ACD cars and later restoration services for the cars. In 1960, Glenn Pray bought the company from Winslow and moved everything to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. He went on to build second generation Auburns and Cords out of his factory in Broken Arrow from 1966 through 1981.