Motor City

25 July 2015

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Lot 124

1932 Auburn Twelve Custom Phaeton Sedan

  • Chassis no. 1572

$275,000 - $325,000


Model 12-160A. Est. 200 bhp, 520 cu. in. horizontal-valve V-12 engine, three-speed manual transmission with Columbia electric overdrive, two-speed Dual Ratio rear axle, solid front and live rear axles with semi-elliptical leaf springs, and front-wheel vacuum-assisted hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 133 in.

  • Formerly owned by Steve Warner and Harrah’s Automobile Collection
  • Original chassis and coachwork; extensive known history
  • Restored with desirable Salon trim
  • Exhibited at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance


E.L. Cord was one to look the Great Depression in the face and smile. For 1932, his team at Auburn Automobile Company launched a bombshell in the luxury car market: a V-12 that would compete head-on with the offerings from Lincoln, Pierce-Arrow, and Cadillac.

It was designed by chief engineer George Kublin, and it utilized a narrow 45-degree “vee” and an unusual combustion chamber, which was set on an angle to the cylinders. The valves were in the heads, but they were horizontal and were operated by a single camshaft through the rockers. This engine could produce 160 horsepower from 391 cubic inches, and it was smaller than its competitors were but no less powerful. Auburn’s famous Dual-Ratio rear axle, which was standard on Custom models, allowed the car to be driven either in high-gear ratios for open country roads or in a lower ratio for city driving. The excellent engineering was wrapped in the timeless Alan Leamy styling that made Auburns of this era some of the most beautiful of all Classics.

The new model could even run like the wind. Running in a Twelve at Muroc Dry Lake, Eddie Miller broke 31 American speed records from flying starts and nine international records from standing starts.

All of this made the Auburn Twelve one of the finest American performance cars of its era, and its barely three years of production, from 1932 to 1934, also made it one of the scarcest. Ironically, one of its claims to fame worked against it; it was the first 12-cylinder car to have a starting price under $1,000. Buyers wrongly assumed that such a low-priced V-12 could not be worth anything. How wrong they were, as modern enthusiasts have discovered. In fact, Auburn was just doing what Auburn had always done—offering its buyers a great bargain for the money.

The four-door Phaeton Sedan offered here is an upmarket 12-160A Custom model, serial number 2572 H, and has its original bodywork, as is confirmed by the original serial number plate still present on the floor. Its ownership history is known back to California in the late 1950s, when it was purchased by Steve Warner, of Tustin.

Mr. Warner was one of the original Auburn Twelve enthusiasts, and he owned several over the years. He cultivated a love of the cars not only in himself but also in his son, Curt, and in other young enthusiasts, most notably Auburn expert Randy Ema, who today remembers the Warner Phaeton Sedan as being “the first Auburn I ever got to play with.” Curt Warner recalls that his father “believed these cars were made to drive, and drive it he did. He got the most out of those 12 cylinders possible.”

In 1963, Mr. Warner sold his prized Auburn to William F. Harrah, for Harrah’s Automobile Collection. The car was on almost constant exhibit at the collection for the next 15 years. In 1978, following Bill Harrah’s passing, it was sold and made its way back to California in the ownership of Rene Chenier. Mr. Chenier restored the car to its present appearance, subtly upgrading it with much of the desirable Salon model trim, including chrome inserts below the windows, Salon door handles, and polished stainless trim on the hood louvers. The body was refinished in an attractive two-tone blue, using shades similar to the factory-correct Auburn Blue, and the paint is complemented by a matching leather interior, a canvas top, and blue Wilton wool carpets.

The engine was fully rebuilt during the restoration for improved long-distance touring capabilities, which included the installation of a properly renumbered American-LaFrance V-12 engine block, a common upgrade that is stronger and more durable than the original Auburn unit and that displaces a whopping 520 cubic inches, more than 100 cubic inches over the stock displacement (391 cubic inches) for incredible additional power. Auburn Twelve enthusiasts who drive their cars, as Mr. Warner once did, often prefer these mighty mills for their increased strength and performance and consider an A-F block a desirable upgrade. Furthermore, the difference is hard to tell, as the block is identical except for a small ledge just outside of the cylinder heads.

Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club members treasure the surviving Auburn Twelves for their excellent performance and show-stopping style, and any example that comes to market is fiercely desired. This Phaeton would be an outstanding choice for shows and club activities, and it will provide instant bragging rights to its new owner.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

aweaver@rmsothebys.com

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

asabatie-garat@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

bruprecht@rmsothebys.com

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

dswig@rmsothebys.com

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

drose@rmsothebys.com

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

dgould@rmsothebys.com

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

gduff@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

jauerbach@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

kforry@rmsothebys.com

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

mmalamut@rmsothebys.com

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

msquire@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

mfairbairn@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

ocamelin@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

pdarvill@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

pfisher@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

smyers@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

tvandervelden@rmsothebys.com

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more