Some guys are Ford guys, some guys are Mopar guys, but me? I'm all about the heavy Classics from the '30s. It takes a minimum of eight cylinders, some custom coachwork, and a name like Packard, Cadillac, Lincoln, Duesenberg, Auburn, Cord, or Pierce-Arrow to really get my undivided attention. When I heard that this spectacular 1934 Auburn 1250 V12 Salon Cabriolet was coming in, I realized that RK Motors Charlotte really was the best place in the world to work this will be the first of many heavy Classics you'll see coming through our showroom in the coming months, and I couldn't be more excited. If you aren't familiar with cars like this Auburn, you're in for a real treat. A mass produced Hemi with 425 horsepower is one thing, but a hand-built work of art that you can drive is something else entirely.
This particular Auburn cabriolet was owned and driven by James Cagney in the 1933 film "The Mayor of Hell." It was restored to an extremely high standard by Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg expert Brian Joseph in 1986, and received a Verification of Originality from the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club at that time, which means it has its original chassis, engine, and drive-train. It is one of only four 1934 Auburn V12 Cabriolets built, and one of only two certified by the A-C-D. It has a full ownership history, and presents in outstanding driving and showing condition today.
How do we know this was Jimmy Cagney's car? Very simple-Auburn only built four of these and the other three all had side mounted spares. This is the only one of the four to be built with a rear mounted spare. Because no spare doors/fenders/parts were available for these cars after they left the Auburn factory, it would be impossible to convert one of these cars to a rear-mounted spare.
The Salon model was Auburns top-of-the-line. The Salons were powered by a 391 cubic-inch, 160 horsepower Lycoming V12 and equipped with a 3-speed manual transmission. They featured power hydraulic brakes, power driver-adjustable hydraulic brakes, and a unique and desirable dashboard-controlled Dual Ratio rear axle.
In two-and-a-half years of production, only about 2,250 V12 Auburns were produced in all six body styles, and survival has not been outstanding. At the last two ACD Festivals in Auburn, Indiana, there were only 24 V12s of all body styles, with only two 1933 and one 1934 V12 cabriolets among 214 cars judged. This is a VERY rare, high-quality piece.
The body on this car is done in the original colors of silver and black, with a black cloth top and black leather interior. The body and paint work, now nearly 23 years old, still looks very good today. This Auburn would be welcomed on any show field, and is absolutely ideal for CCCA Caravans and other tours that emphasize driving over simply showing the cars. The black panels are flat, smooth, and ripple-free, and the paint still has a deep, rich luster that some would call patina. The silver areas are crisply masked and there are no missteps in the paint anywhere. The high-quality enamel paint has been cut and buffed several times over the years, and that helps give it a timeless, original look that only accentuates its beauty. The fenders appear to be painted with Imron, which, if you're familiar with the material, is a super-hard paint used frequently on applications like this, as well as fire engines and other industrial equipment. It's incredibly durable, glossy, and beautiful, but also prone to cracks as it ages.
As a former 100-point show car, every aspect of the restoration was executed to the very highest of standards. There are a few signs of use and simple age here and there, but the car has been driven very little since 1987, and has always been transported in an enclosed trailer. When talking about a car of this caliber, there's no reason to even discuss repaints, body repairs or anything else like that; it's all flawless, perfect work done to the best standards of the time. This isn't a mass-produced car; it is the equivalent to the hand-built craftsmanship you might get from Rolls-Royce and Maybach today.
The chrome on the car is good throughout, particularly considering its age, from the massive, wave-free bumpers, to the delicate strips that are attached to each of the louvers on that long, long hood. There are gorgeous polished stainless inserts in the doors that brighten up the bodywork, and a dozen other little details that were done purely for art's sake on this car. Look at the lenses on the cowl lamps not only is the glass etched, but the delicate etched grilles have been painted. Out back, the glass tail lamp lenses have the AUBURN name proudly embossed in them, with an amber 12 embedded inside that is visible when the lights are on. Look at the delicate arms that hold the side-view mirrors, pivoting to allow the doors to open. You could examine this car for a week and not see all the wonderful details. This is exactly why cars from this era are so special the manufacturers were constantly trying to one-up each other with innovations, technology, and pure luxury for luxury's sake.
By 1932, Auburn needed something new to stimulate demand. The multi-cylinder wars of the early 1930s saw many companies struggling to keep up with changing technology V12 and even V16 engines were becoming increasingly common among the ultra-luxury brands. Auburn answered this by adopting Lycoming's monstrous V12 engine, which featured a 45-degree vee configuration and twin Stromberg downdraft carburetors. The engine weighed 1,096 pounds, but its 160 horsepower matched the output of the larger Packard, Pierce-Arrow, and Franklin V12s, and easily bested the 135-hp and 125-hp Cadillac and Lincoln V12s.
Stan Gilliland, the A-C-D Club historian, who has been restoring Cords and Auburns for many years, believes the Auburns are highly underrated, considering their technology. Gilliland estimates the V12 engines may have put out as much as 200 hp. The engine on this car was rebuilt to factory standards at the time of restoration, and with only a few hundred miles on it, still runs flawlessly. The Auburn Green enamel on the engine is in excellent condition, the porcelainized intake and exhaust manifolds are still glossy black, and dig the giant 12-cylinder distributor. That cap alone cost $800 in 1987! The dual Stromberg carburetors one for each bank of cylinders are fed by an elegant cast aluminum air filter housing that is pure form following function. The original radiator was refreshed, and the big motor runs cool under all conditions. This is a car with a pedigree, designed for the most discriminating of buyers, and as such, there are no compromises in the engineering.
The engine fires with a turn of the key using an automatic starting system (literally, all you need to do to start the car is turn the ignition key to the ON position), then settles into a whispering 450 RPM idle. It exhales through a stainless dual exhaust system that features cut-outs actuated via a chrome knob on the floor in front of the driver ( Pull Up for High Speed Driving ). That long stroke V12 provides effortless torque that can accelerate the car from a standstill in top gear if necessary, and will run more than 100 MPH on the top end.
The engine is backed by a 3-speed manual transmission with synchromesh on 2nd and 3rd gears. Columbia Axle contributed a superb dual ratio rear axle with 4.54 low and 3.00 high ratios, allowing both great acceleration and low-RPM, high speed cruising. A switch on the dashboard controls the high and low ranges. Suspension is by solid axles front and rear, suspended by leaf springs encased in beautiful sliding covers to keep them lubricated and quiet. Four-wheel hydraulic brakes were included, with massive drums at each corner, and a driver-adjustable pressure control to vary the amount of power assist based on road conditions.
The dual ratio provides good acceleration and an overdrive for today's freeways. With less than 350 miles since the 1986 restoration, it still has a nicely detailed undercarriage. The 17-inch chrome wire wheels are in good condition with only slight pitting on the hubs, and the 7.00-17 Firestone wide whitewall tires look period authentic. The spare is an aged Bedford tire that some speculate might be the original spare tire based on its appearance, tread pattern, and condition.
The black leather interior is pure Art Deco elegance. The bench seat is wide and soft, and you sit behind an enormous black steering wheel that helps muscle this big car around corners in the semi-sporting manner for which it was designed. It features a comprehensive set of gauges, ranging from the 4000 RPM tachometer to the left of the steering column right above the brake adjustment knob, to the center-mounted cluster featuring a speedometer, ammeter, temperature gauge, clock, oil level, and gas gauge. Mounted front and center is the dual range control for the rear axle, while the vacuum wiper motor is mounted down low on the cowl and is chrome plated. The long, long shifter snakes up from the floor and is perfectly contoured to fit with the dashboard as you move it through the gates. Overhead, the canvas top is fitted over a chrome frame that was designed to be seen; it's like artwork. Even the rear view mirror is beveled glass, making the inside of this car a very elegant place to be. Behind the driver's compartment, a rumble seat pops out of the rear deck allowing space for two more passengers, while the rear window flap opens to allow conversation with back seat passengers whenever the top is up.
Documentation is extensive. According to the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club documents, the car was previously owned by Warner Brothers and actor James Cagney from 1934-1941. During that time, it appeared in the Cagney movie The Mayor of Hell (a copy of the movie is included with the car). It was then privately sold and ended up at the Cars of the Stars Museum from 1959-1976. Also according to the A.C.D. documents, it is a multiple award winner including First Place at the 1987 Meadowbrook Concours d'Elegance, First Place in the A.C.D. Auburn Open Category in 1987, and scored 100 points at the 1987 Dearborn CCCA Grand Classic. This is one of two 1934 Auburn V12 Salon Cabriolets certified by the A.C.D. (a certified Auburn is an automobile of the same make, model and body style as built by the factory before 1941). To qualify for certification, the chassis must consist of the original frame, engine, drive-train, and running gear components of the same model series. The body must be a verifiable original of the same model as the chassis. An appropriate amount of restoration using the original type of basic materials is acceptable. Cloning or replication is not acceptable. This 1934 Auburn 1250 Salon Cabriolet also appeared in the July, 2009 issue of Sports Car Market Magazine.
Even at this price, this 1934 Auburn 1250 Salon Cabriolet is still half the price of some Packard V12 convertible coupes. And according to many experts, V12 Auburns are likely to continue to appreciate; Gilliland had a chance to buy this car in Lancaster, California, in 1976 but turned it down. It was rough and the asking price was only $16,000though the market was perhaps half that. But then, how many times have we all done exactly the same thing passed on a car for what seemed like too much money back then, only to see it explode in value later?
Don't miss this opportunity to own a rare, famous, and very road-worthy Full Classic that you can drive and enjoy for years while it appreciates. Call us today!
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After hearing good things about the people at RK Motors, I contacted them regarding consignment of my street rod. I found Tony Klein to be a pleasure to work with. He was very professional and forthcoming in our communications. He evaluated my vehicle and made suggestions of enhancements which would help ensure the desired result would be achieved in the marketing of the vehicle. We agreed on an acceptable sale price. Following the completion of the recommended items, I brought the vehicle to RK for consignment. After a thorough inspection and correction of some minor issues at what I considered a fair price, the vehicle was offered for sale. It sold quickly with me receiving the agreed value. I would have to repeat the recommendation that I received. RK Motors does what they say they will do, and obtains for the seller a fair and agreed value. What more could you ask for?Doug C.