A visit to the National Auto and Truck Museum

As long as I’ve been online — and that’s 25 years now — whenever a virtual community thrives, it eventually wants to meet in person. The community at Curbside Classic, the old-car blog for which I write, is no exception. I had to miss last year’s inaugural meetup, but I didn’t want to miss this year’s meetup since it was set right here in Indiana.

Auburn, Indiana, was the site of the Auburn Automobile Company, which made high-luxury automobiles under the Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg names from the early 1900s through the Great Depression. Today, the Auburn factory and office buildings are museums. The factory houses the National Auto & Truck Museum, while the offices are home to the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum. This post is about the former; I’ll write up the latter soon.

The 810 and 812 Cords were radical automobiles for their day, featuring front-wheel drive and an independent front suspension. This 1937 Cord 812 is painted in Indiana State Police livery because it was used in the fleet, although I’m not clear on what it meant to be a “safety car.”

1937 Cord 812 Supercharged Sedan

Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg were luxury makes. This 1929 Auburn Model 8-90 was not targeted at the Ford Model A demographic.

1929 Auburn Model 8-90

Here’s this car’s radiator cap and hood ornament.

Radiator cap

The museum had a handful of the namesake cars right up front, where the lighting was terrible. I shot RAW all day, though, and that let me to bring several washed-out photos to life, such as this one of a 1936 Auburn 654.

1936 Auburn 654

I never found the card teling what year this Auburn 851 is.

Auburn 851

That didn’t stop me from taking this detail shot. Here, the room’s lighting worked in my favor: the source was behind me.

Air inlet

I’m a sucker for dark-blue cars, like this 1931 Auburn 898A sedan.

1931 Auburn 898A sedan

The rest of the museum is filled with cars made ostensibly in the spirit of Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg. As a native of South Bend, I was drawn to this 1965 Studebaker Wagonaire, despite it having been built in Canada after the South Bend plant closed. That thing in the back is a refrigerator, showing the Wagonaire’s retractable roof.

1965 Studebaker Wagonaire

One of my favorite cars of all time is the step-down Hudson. Here’s a 1951 example. The difficult lighting continued in this part of the museum.

1951 Hudson

I’m always happy to come upon an Avanti, especially when it’s from the Studebaker years. This one was built in 1963.

1963 Studebaker Avanti

I’m not sure how a 1959 Buick LeSabre captures the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg spirit, but it was good to see this basic black Buick nevertheless.

1959 Buick LeSabre

This Kaiser was wedged into this spot, making it hard to photograph. It’s an unusual Kaiser, in that it was built in 1962 — seven years after the last Kaiser automobile was built in the United States. Apparently, automobile production continued in Argentina. This car was built for Henry J. Kaiser himself.

1962 Kaiser Manhattan

The basement of the museum was filled a huge selection of International Harvester trucks, which were built in nearby Fort Wayne. I didn’t photograph any of them, but I did photograph this 1968 Ford LTD. My mother’s mother’s mother had one in dark blue. I rode in it a couple times.

1968 Ford LTD

Several other cars dotted this basement. I was completely smitten by this 1948 Pontiac Silver Streak.

1948 Pontiac Silver Streak

My girlfriend fell in love with this 1951 Nash Healey — the first one built. She would look good in it. I’m confident I could never afford it.

1951 Nash Healey

I barely scratched the surface of this museum with my photographs. It was such a large collection it was hard to take it all in! This means I must return another day.


14 responses to “A visit to the National Auto and Truck Museum”

  1. andykidd Avatar

    Beautiful and keep us all in the loop. Pity about the trucks, I used to work for IH in Australia and would love to see an example next time around. Cheers Andy

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s too bad that I didn’t photograph some of the IHs then! The trucks were built in Fort Wayne, here in Indiana, and were a common sight in the 70s. I saw trucks there that I hadn’t seen on the streets in 30 years.

  2. Dave Greulich Avatar
    Dave Greulich

    We were looking for a destination for a road trip for the Grandkids during Fall break this year. You solved the problem in masterful form! We are heading to Auburn!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Dave, that’s awesome! I hope you enjoy.

  3. davidvanilla Avatar

    Man, they sure knew how to build automobiles! Fantastic tour as conducted by Jim Grey. Nice self-portrait in the headlamp shell, too.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, I don’t try to show up in these photos but it is hard to avoid being reflected in chrome!

  4. Mark Avatar

    Thanks to your Wagonaire reference I ended up learning a few things about Studebaker’s presence in Canada. I used to drive by their plant in Hamilton, Ontario almost everyday and didn’t even know it !

    Read Jaye’s piece about MS. My partner has MS.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve been to the Studebaker Museum in South Bend, where the last Studebaker to roll off the assembly line in Hamilton is on display.

      I’m so glad that Jaye turned out not to have MS.

      1. Mark Avatar

        I heard you lament the plant closure in South Bend, but I think many Americans would be shocked to know just how integrated auto production is in the U.S. and Canada. It is essentially borderless wrt car manufacturing. Many people ask why Canada never really developed its own full-scale auto industry, and I would say its because the big American car co.’s have been in Canada since cars were first being made. Ford had a plant here as early as 1904, I think.

        That’s not to diminish your point…..just days ago Ford announced it is moving its Windsor engine plant to Mexico (loss of 1000 jobs).

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Great point, of course. And I didn’t know that the Windsor plant was being shut down – that’s bad news.

  5. Tom Klockau Avatar
    Tom Klockau

    Great pictures Jim. Thanks for sharing. We left the Quad Cities at 6AM and didn’t get into Auburn until lunchtime, so good to see the cars from the first museum.

    I am planning on a return visit next spring. I missed so much even at the ACD Musuem, I was so agog with all the cars on display. A guided tour by one of the docents would be nice, to see everything at an easier pace.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Tom! The National museum is an entirely different experience from the ACD. It’s more of a motley assemblage of automobiles. But there are some real gems in there.

  6. Marc Beebe Avatar

    Not a single car there I don’t like! At least they all have character, unlike today. (Oh no; he’s slipping into ‘old man’ mode!) :D

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s fun to look back, isn’t it?

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.