Even in the rarefied air of classic car museums, the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum
in Auburn, Indiana, commemorating the Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg automobile companies, is a real head-turner. With 130 vehicles sprawled over three floors of the Auburn Automobile Company’s former headquarters, the museum greets visitors with its beautifully restored circa-1929 Art Deco showroom adorned with geometric terrazzo flooring and a grand center staircase. The historic setting provides a splendid backdrop for displaying some of the classiest vehicles to ever hit the open road.
It wasn’t always a smooth ride for the building, though; after the company shut down during the Great Depression, the 22 Italian chandeliers that now grace the ceiling of the former showroom were destined for the trash heap until an enterprising employee saved them. The outlook for the historic building improved in the 1970s when a group of automotive enthusiasts purchased the then-vacant building and opened the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum on July 6, 1974. (Ironically, when the museum celebrated its 45th anniversary in 2019, it boasted a longer history than the Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg companies.) Today, the museum is a tribute to industrial magnate E.L. Cord, who, under the aegis of the Cord Corporation, was in charge of producing Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg automobiles along with Checker taxi cabs.
The first-floor showroom features Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg cars from the classic era of 1925 through 1937. The rolling sculptures include a 1932 Duesenberg Model J and a 1936 Auburn 852 Phaeton as well as a 1930 Cord L-29 Cabriolet owned by noted architect and car aficionado Frank Lloyd Wright. In promotional materials for the Cord Corporation, Wright observed, “The proportion and lines of the Cord come nearer expressing the beauty of both science and logic than any car I have ever seen.” Wright’s car is painted his favorite custom color: Cherokee Red.
The Duesenberg brothers, Fred and August, were innovative automakers in the 1920s. Their company was not a financial success, however, until E.L. Cord purchased a controlling interest in 1926 and encouraged them to make the finest car in the world. The Duesenberg cars of the Cord era, particularly the high-end Model J, are some of the most luxurious automobiles ever built in America and, with owners such as Clark Gable and Gary Cooper, were the must-have celebrity car of the late 1920s and early 1930s. The museum displays a dozen in all their chromed glory. One of the sleekest is a stunning two-tone turquoise and jade 1930 Duesenberg Model J convertible sedan that features a fold-down bar with a crystal decanter in the backseat; the hood alone looks long enough to serve comfortably as a picnic table for a large family gathering. The 1931 model on display came equipped with a Tiffany cosmetics set.
Even luxury car buyers were affected by the Great Depression and although Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg motored on through the 1930s, they struggled to stay in business.
The Cord Corporation, and the underlying companies, closed its doors in 1937.