AOPA will be closed on Monday, May 25, 2020, in observance of Memorial Day.
Already a member? Please login below for an enhanced experience. Not a member? Join today

Big Band-era luxury and Gatsby galaBig Band-era luxury and Gatsby gala

Auburn, Indiana, home to Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile MuseumAuburn, Indiana, home to Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum

Big Band music fills the air in the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum in Auburn, Indiana, encouraging your imagination to run wild as you walk among classic cars that were the epitome of the life of luxury in the 1920s and 1930s.

  • Big Band music, high ceilings, ornate trim, polished tile floors, and a grand staircase set the stage at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum to transport you back in time to the 1920s and 1930s when these cars were the epitome of luxury. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • Interactive display with America's first production front drive car. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • This 170-horsepower supercharged Cord V-8 was produced by none other than Lycoming Manufacturing Co., today’s powerhouse aviation engine manufacturer. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • The third floor of the museum opens into an impressive display of classics that’ll make you catch your breath as you top the stairs—not from huffing and puffing but from the beauty of these machines. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • Who wouldn’t want to drive off into the sunset in this 1936 Auburn 852 Phaeton? The car cost $1,795 new, according to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • The exhaust pipes curving out the engine cover on this 1937 Cord 812 Coupe differentiate the supercharged model from the normally aspirated version. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • This red 1951 Jaguar XK120 is beautiful from any angle! Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum features some interactive displays to keep all ages entertained, but you can also watch the history of these cars. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • This Duesey is a doozy! The Model A was the first passenger car under the Duesenberg name. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • If you have a need for speed, check out this 200-horsepower 1925 Miller Junior 8, which was designed for the Indianapolis 500 and featured front wheel drive. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • Details abound in every corner of the museum from etched window glass in to intricate hood ornaments. Photos by Alyssa Cobb.
  • This Auburn Speedster in the Boattails collection is my favorite of the museum. The Auburn set several speed records with its 100-horsepower Lycoming engine, according to the museum. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • Clay models were part of the early design and production process. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • A historical photo in Errett L. Cord’s office shows him pictured with U.S. Sens. Allen Bible and John F. Kennedy. Cord, in the middle, was a state senator at the time. They are pictured in front of his personal aircraft. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • Errett L. Cord’s presidential office at Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Factory, which is now a National Historic Landmark. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.

Think of the extravagant lifestyle portrayed in the 2013 film The Great Gatsby that highlighted these classic beauties (classic car aficionados note that the movie was a departure from the novel, which refers to Gatsby driving a Rolls-Royce). High ceilings, ornate trim, polished tile floors, and a grand staircase in the museum are fit for Gatsby himself.

The museum preserves the history of these cars in the original Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Factory, which was dubbed a National Historic Landmark in 2005. About 120 cars and artifacts are displayed on three levels in the museum. Speed and overt opulence are hallmarks of these cars: You’ll see a folding tray for liquor bottles in the back seat of a 1930 Duesenberg Model J convertible sedan, intricate etched windows on a 1926 Duesenberg Model A touring car, and finely detailed radiator mascots and hood ornaments galore. When I visited recently, the museum featured a one-of-a-kind hardtop 1937 Cord 812 Coupe, 1927 Auburn 6-66 Wanderer, 1925 Miller Junior 8 with front-wheel drive that was introduced for the Indianapolis 500, and a collection of Boattail Speedsters, to name a few highlights. The museum also displayed other cars such as the 1951 Jaguar XK120 and 1928 Cadillac 341A. Clay designs, drawings, a board room, and Errett L. Cord’s presidential office are all open for touring.

A 1932 Cord is one of the first classics you'll see at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum in Auburn, Indiana. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.

Cord, who became president of the Auburn Automobile Co. in 1926 and purchased Duesenberg Motor Co. the same year, also had a love of aviation and melded the two together. He purchased Lycoming Foundry and Machine, now the powerhouse Lycoming aircraft engine manufacturer, in 1927. Lycoming produced engines for several car manufacturers including Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg. The opening gallery of the museum features a Lycoming-made Cord 812 V-8 170-horsepower supercharged engine that increased acceleration and top speed in the cars. Cord also owned two airlines serving the Midwest and West with Stinson aircraft powered by Lycoming engines (Stinson also was a Cord company). That fascination with aviation also had an influence on his cars, including a one-of-a-kind Cabin Speedster capable of going 100 mph that’s featured in the Auburn Boattails collection for supercars of the Golden Age.

The display cars are impeccably restored and maintained (volunteers spend more than 1,400 hours a year shining them), and many of the pieces are drivable. If you want to see Auburns, Cords, and Duesenbergs driving, mark your calendar for the week prior to Labor Day. Each year, the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival brings hundreds of these and other classic cars to Auburn for a parade, displays, Gatsby Gala Ball, and more. The popular RM Auctions Auburn Fall Collector Car weekend also takes place during the festival. The company also hosts a spring auction.

If you are like Errett L. Cord and have a love for cars and airplanes, then the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum and festival—where a beautiful history intertwines the two—is for you!

Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Cobb

AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor
AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor Alyssa J. Cobb has worked at AOPA since 2004 and is an active flight instructor.
Topics: Travel, US Travel

Related Articles