America's first SportsCar
Union City Body Company Plant # 1
Auburn was a stylish domestic Automobile produced from 1900 to 1936. It grew out of the Eckhart Carriage Company, founded in Auburn, Indiana, in 1875 by Charles Eckhart . After absorbing two other local carmakers and moving into a larger plant in 1909, Eckhart was forced to close, due to material shortages during WWI. In 1919, Eckhart sold out to a group of Chicago investors.The new owners revived the business but failed to realize the profits that they had hoped for. In 1924, they approached Erret Lobban Cord, a highly successful automobile salesman with an offer to run the company. Cord countered with an offer to take over completely in what amounted to a leveraged buyout. The Chicago group accepted. Cord aggressively marketed the company's unsold inventory and completed his buyout before the end of 1925. In Oct, 1926 E.L. Cord, purchased Duesenberg, a Company that used only handcrafted bodies, for their chassis and motor set-up. Fred Duesenberg had a profound influence in the development of the motor car. Being a designer of racing models, influenced the development in his stock passenger automobiles. He introduced to America the eight cylinder car, hydraulic brakes, overhead cam, four valves per cylinder. On June 14, 1929, Erret Lobban Cord formed the Cord Corporation, a holding company capitalized with 125 million dollars . The Cord Corporation controlled the following Automotive subsidiaries: Auburn Automobile, Lycoming Engine, Duesenberg Motors, Limousine Body Company, Central Manufacturing, Union City Body Company, Columbia Axle and Safety Cab "Checker Cab". Union City Body Company built open bodies for Auburn from 1921, up to this time. Duesenbergs President Harold Ames knew that sales of the Model J could be improved if the firm offered a series of catalog customs and needed a well known Coachbuilder, hence the emergence of La Grande, Duesenbergs in-house Coachbuilder. In-house Coachbuilder enabled Duesenberg to keep close tabs on quality. The Lagrande Sweep Panel Phaeton made it's debut at the 1931 New York Auto Salon. Most of the bodies for the Lagrande Program were supplied to Duesenberg in-the-white by Union City Body Company. When Cord closed the Limousine Body Company and moved the equipment and some of the employees to Connersville, Indiana, Union City Body Company became Cords Primary Coachbuilder for Custom and Salon Models. With the connecting railway system, the chassis with motor and drive-train was often shipped to Coachbuilders.
My personal interest with Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg goes back to the late 60's, early 70's. I worked in Celina,Ohio with my brother Mike, who's father-in-law owned a business delivering antique and classic cars. His name was Forrest, everyone called him Frosty. Frosty always wore a white cowboy hat and the name of his company was Frosty's delivery service. Frosty became friends with Leo Gephart, a Classic Car dealer(first one in U.S.) through Frosty's existing business of delivering daily inventory data to the greater Dayton area car dealerships for Reynolds & Reynolds in Celina. leo had a car dealership in Englewood and Frosty and Leo became friends. Leo expressed how he needed someone to deliver his antique and classic cars, which required an ICC permit. Frosty applied for the permit, the only one of it's kind in the U.S. and immediately started delivering automobiles with only two trucks, Frosty and my brother were overwhelmed with work. Frosty's wife took over Data deliveries and eventually had to give that part to someone else and take over management of the business. That's when I was hired to deliver the daily data processing to the car dealers. While working there I got to know Leo Gephart and see the growth of a very interesting automobile history. I recall seeing so many original Auburn Cord Duesenbergs on the trucks and on the lot waiting for delivery. I would sometimes drive and prepare them before departure.There was a 45 day grace period for delivery and many times a car would get picked up and brought back to the lot and unloaded and another from the lot loaded and delivered, this happened often to keep up with the demand.The ICC permit gave Frosty exclusive rights to deliver these type of automobiles and anyone caught delivering without his permission were subject to a fine. If you owned it, you could deliver it without a fine. Frosty developed cancer and everything started to fall apart with the business. Leo seen a Packard for sale in St. Louis that belonged to Bob Pass and struck a deal that if Bob delivered it himself to Leo, he would buy the Packard. Bob delivered the car and the two hit it off and Leo suggested Pass buy the trucking company from Frosty, and shortly after a deal was negotiated . Bob Pass and his brother bought the license and it became Passport transport, later Fed-Ex Custom Critical delivery service. Robert Pass is currently the President of the ACD Museum in Auburn,In. Leo Gephart was always wanting to talk about the history of the old cars and on sunny days he would drive his 1932 white boattail speedster to Celina and cruise around the lake . Leo owned over 80 Duesenbergs during his life, and owned Duesenberg name and trademark for thirty five years,it started when he bought a Duesenberg Willoughby limousine. Leo was heavy into collecting, and made one of the first major donations to purchase the now ACD Museum building in Auburn , In. As an ACD club member selling and trading Duesenbergs, he knew the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club that he helped get started was also looking for a way to raise funds to support the annual Labor Day reunion in Auburn. Leo met with Russell Kruse, who had a state auction license in Indiana, and the two started a collector car auction simultaneously with the ACD reunion.Their first auction was held behind the Dairy Queen in Auburn and now the auction has grown to have its own complex. Leo later worked with Russ Jackson and the two started a January collector car auction in Scottsdale, Ariz, where leo and his wife kept a second home. Leo sold his interest in the Scottsdale auction to Tom Barret and everyone knows it as Barrett-Jackson. My brother delivered cars to Barret's home early on when Tom at the time was an Estate Auctioneer. Tom would advertise the classic car with the estate to draw a larger crowd. . .
Union City Body Co. President Charles Adelesperger also owned Central Garage Inc. a dealership and repair shop for automobiles built by the Union City body Company.
Englewood, Ohio. St. Rt. 48. Leo was the first automobile retailer in the United States to focus on old cars as collectibles. He owned the first, and the last of the legendary Model J's.
Union City Body Company 2013 Tribute Website.
The Duesenberg Plant in Indianapolis built the J-chassis, they did not build the Bodies. They would display their chassis at the automobile Salons for Coachbuilder viewing and sold for around 8,000 dollars. The plant closed in 1935 and the remaining stock was used by 1937.
Union City Body Company Plant # 2
Here is one of the two hardtop coupes that were built by the Union City Body Company for Duesenberg in 1930, for the 1931 model year. (Fixed-Top Coupes) 1930 brought 4 rigid-head coupes for two passengers which except for 1 later special order of unusual design were the only such types for the Model J. Judkins built 2 and Union City Lagrande 2 more. Rumble seat and special individual sliding seats.
SJ Sweep Panel Dual Cowl Phaeton & 851 Auburn Boattail Speedster
Fred Duesenbergs personal car J-261
Erret Lobban Cord ( 1896 - 1974 ) was the " boy wonder' of U.S. industry in the 1930's. Within the space of only 28 months, he appeared twice on the cover of TIME magazine!
From what I understand, Cord would not deal with a company unless he controlled their stock. His Holdings Co. held stock in 150 Companies, including Shipbuilders and Airlines. It looks as though Cord purchased majority stock in the Union City Body Company, and the Kalamazoo Michigan plant about the same time he did the major expansion of Central in Connersville, In. The Kalamazoo Plant was shut down and some of the equipment moved to Connersville, this kept everything in close proximity. Having Duesenberg Coachbuilders and Dealerships on the east coast in Chicago-New York, west coast Los Angeles, and southern Florida, leaving the Duesenberg Chassis Plant, Auburn, Cord and the in-house UnionCity built LaGrande Centrally located in Indiana.
Union City LaGrande
(Left) Dennis Kruse at Kruse auction in Auburn,In. Leo Gephart with microphone.
March,1930 Article; THE MAKER OF ''DIFFERENT'' AUTOMOBILES, by Jay Earle Miller. UNION CITY BODY COMPANY MENTIONED ON PAGE # 4.
Leo Gephart " Godfather" of Auto Collection.
Union City Body Company LaGrande
Approximately 300 of the total 481 J-Chassis produced, were bodied before the 1931 introduction of Lagrande badge . Many of these early built short wheelbase convertible coupes and roadsters, as shown above were ordered in a small batch , mostly for dealership showrooms.
ERRETT LOBBAN CORD