“While I was aware of the historical importance of these fine automobiles, it was a challenge to pass the responsibility of telling this story to a student crew recently introduced to Indiana’s automotive history. However, in one semester, 12 students researched, interviewed, photographed, recorded, and edited a remarkable tribute to these great automobiles and to the people of Indiana. It has been an honor to play a small part in the process.”
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.
Often called “The World’s Safest Speedster,” Jenkins is most famous for setting the land-speed record in 1935 at the Bonneville Salt Flats outside Salt Lake City. Driving a Duesenberg nicknamed the Mormon Meteor, Jenkins reached the impressive speed of 135 mph. He died August 9, 1956 of a heart attack. Many people today still consider him the father of salt racing.
When people visited James “Jimmy” Murphy’s repair garage, they perhaps would not have anticipated that he would eventually become one of the most accomplished racecar drivers of the 1920s. Murphy began his career as a mechanic, opening a garage with a friend months before graduating high school. There, he developed clientele and connections in the Los Angeles area, as well as a reputation for repairing motorcycles and automobiles.
In 1916, his reputation led him to become a riding mechanic for Eddie O’Donnell in a Duesenberg at the Corona road race. When Murphy was serving in World War I, his friend, Eddie Rickenbacker, encouraged him to try racing. Rickenbacker himself was a racer, and had finished 10th while driving a Duesenberg at the Indianapolis 500 in 1916. From his days as a riding mechanic, Murphy was friends with Duesenberg’s number one driver, Tommy Milton. It was Milton who used his influence to secure a Duesenberg for Murphy’s first race.
It was February 14, 1920. The race was at the Beverly Hills Speedway. No one thought the rookie Jimmy Murphy would win. Yet Murphy surprised everyone when he came in first place, thus beginning his successful career as a racer. He went on to win many other races. Mostly nota bly, in 1921, he became the first American to win a Grand Prix in an American car – a Duesenberg that in 1922 drove to victory at the Indianapolis 500. The same year, he became the National Champion and won the final Universal Trophy Cup Race. Murphy continued this trend of success until his final race on September 15, 1924 at the fairgrounds in Syracuse, New York. While competing in this race, Murphy fatally crashed through a wooden rail and died before he could reach the hospital. His legacy and fame continued after his death, and in 1998, James “Jimmy” Murphy was inducted into the Motor sports Hall of Fame of America.
By Kaylie DiGiacomo
After three days of shooting, the Hoosier Tour has come to a close, but the work isn’t over yet. Four members of the Barn-Find Productions crew -Katelyn Calhoun, Jeff Holiday, Nathan Isaacs, and myself joined the tour on Monday morning. We spent the time getting to know not only the cars, but the people inside of them as well, during the filming process. Overall, the tour was fun but exhausting. We spent late nights and early mornings planning shoots, broke multiple traffic laws to race ahead of the classic cars to film them passing, and experienced a few hang-ups along the way.
Ultimately, however, the tour was a success, simply from the connections we made with some of the ACD enthusiasts. The time we spent with them not only helped us learn about the cars themselves, but helped us to understand the inner-culture that keeps people coming back to the Hoosier Tour. We’re now taking the connections we’ve made and experiences we’ve had into the festival, hoping they’ll help us as we proceed with the rest of our filming this week. Now that the rest of the crew is back in Auburn with us we can tackle the remaining work. We look forward to what else we have in store, and hope to see all of our Hoosier Tour friends in Auburn this Labor Day weekend.
By Kayla Sprayue
From the day we started this project, when our first team-building exercise consisted of spending three hours making noodles, bread, alfredo sauce, and salad from scratch, I think we all knew this was going to be a very special semester. When in I was in the midst of kneading bread dough, someone exclaimed that there was an Auburn driving down the road outside. I looked out the kitchen window of the 1920s mansion where we spend each day working on our documentary, and there she was: a 1936 Auburn beauty. We ran outside to the back driveway, where the car pulled to a stop. You would have thought a celebrity had just arrived in a limo the way we fawned over her, snapping photos and climbing into the rumble seat. We examined the engine and cheered when they honked the horn which sounded startlingly close to “AWOOGAH!” I hadn’t realized that horns actually used to sound like that; I suppose I thought it just a movie sound effect cliché, but I guess it had to come from somewhere!
I should mention that I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to cars. I can hardly remember the name of my own car and I know nothing about engines and the like. This semester is definitely changing that. Two weeks ago I knew next to nothing about the Auburn, Cord, and Duesenburg cars. Now, thanks to lots of research, interviews with automobile enthusiasts (including a very knowledgeable 6-year-old), and a week spent filming at the ACD Festival, my love and understanding of classic cars has increased tremendously. In fact, by the end of my week at the festival, I was practically shaking with excitement whenever I got to be around classic cars. I can also now differentiate between ACD cars and other makes, which is something I never would have known before. I appreciate cars as magnificent works of art and engineering, and I am beginning to understand the rich history and significance of the wonderful stories surrounding these classic cars. There were many moments when I caught myself thinking, “I love my job. I love this project. I love these people.” This week really helped confirm for me once again how much I enjoy videography and producing. I love organizing, communicating, and above all, filming.
My favorite moment had to be filming from several stories above the ground in a fire truck basket. I was so excited to get that opportunity; it’s probably the kind of thing that happens once in a lifetime. I’ve also really enjoyed using Twitter and Facebook to share what we’re doing with each other and the community. Our activities even made it into several newspapers and blog posts, and my friend was surprised to spot me filming the Parade of Classics on the evening news. Everywhere we went we were met with so much enthusiasm for our project. It got to the point where I started to feel like a celebrity. People were always introducing us at events and announcing our project, we were able to go behind-the-scenes in many places, and most people had heard about our project before we even met them. I remember on Friday afternoon, walking around the courthouse downtown with my crew, taking an hour off to just enjoy the cars and eat some popcorn, and we must have had over a dozen instances where people stopped and asked us if we were the crew from Ball State. They said they had read about us, and we had several great conversations that day. This festival was an amazing time for our entire team. We met so many people, learned so much history, filmed a lot of footage, and – most importantly – grew as a team.
It was fascinating to watch our group dynamics unfold over the past few weeks. We have grown closer, had a lot of laughter between us, and accomplished so much. We work well together, and we already have plenty of inside jokes. There were tough times as well; many late nights and a few minor mishaps, but for the most part we were very well organized and learned to move on and go with the flow. I believe there’s little point in arguing over little things, or staying upset about some something that went wrong, because nothing can be changed. With fourteen people working together, there are bound to be differences in opinion, but it was wonderful to see our crews working through these and becoming all the stronger for it. Even if several of us caught colds by the end of it, this week was fortunately a very positive experience for us, and we gained a lot from this trip. I’ve now had a couple days off from the project and I am already missing my teammates. I can’t wait to reunite tomorrow!
This blog tells the story of the students’ progress as they created this wonderful film. Read how they kept fans posted on the progress throughout the semester.
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