Cars

Eighty years later, Auburn again turns heads

HUTCHINSON -- Lew Ediger doesn’t have to worry about going to a car show and parking next to a car just like his.

There just aren’t that many 1935 Auburn 4-door sedans around. Slightly more than 1,900 of the beauties were built that year.

But people know they are looking at something pretty special when they see his car, even if they can’t put a name to it. And that includes some pretty knowledgeable car guys.

“They don’t even know what it is when I tell them what it is: an Auburn,” he said. “I ask them, `Have you ever heard of a Duesenberg or a Cord?’ And they’ll say, `Yeah,’ and I tell them the same company built them,” Ediger grinned.

He recently won his class at the annual spring car show put on by McPherson College Auto Restoration Program students.

“I was really shocked how many people stopped and took time to walk around it.

They really went over the car in detail,” he said.

The first thing everyone seems to notice is the color of the car, a distinctive mauve shade that seems to change hues in changing light.

“It is called `Shadow Light’ because it looks like a different color in shadow than in direct sunlight,” Ediger explained.

The Auburn had been repainted black when he bought it from a friend in 2000. It had originally been purchased at a Salina Auburn dealership by a McPherson Mobile Oil dealer before passing through several other owners.

The car had sat in a barn for years and kids had played on it, damaging its glass and even falling through the soft upholstered roof. When the car was brought in for repairs, the work was done, but the owner never returned to pay the bill or pick up the car, so the shop eventually claimed it under a mechanic’s lien.

Ediger bought the car from Roy Regher, the son-in-law of the shop owner.

“It was drivable. The interior was getting kind of bad and there were a few dents in it,” Ediger said. And it was black, but that didn’t matter because he wasted little time in stripping the car down for a complete frame-off, nuts-and-bolts restoration.

He had restored other cars before and he had the help of Dennis Hildebrand, a former co-worker who was interested in old cars.

When they removed the trim on the spare tire cover, they discovered the original, unfaded paint color underneath it, and G&W Auto Body was able to closely match the Shadow Light hue in modern base/clearcoat. There was surprisingly little body work to do, Ediger said.

The engine was sent to a Wichita shop to be rebuilt, but by the time the Auburn was ready to go back together, it had locked up and had to be redone. It is a 210 cubic inch Lycoming flathead 6-cylinder engine that produces 85 horsepower and is mated to Auburn’s Dual Ratio 3-speed/overdrive transmission. Other Auburns were powered by inline 8-cylinder engines.

The 1935 Auburn was restyled by legendary designer Gordon Buehrig, who was given the task and a $50,000 budget to accomplish it. He came up with the distinctive “waterfall” style grille and a long hood accentuated by panels of louvers. Combined with curvaceous pontoon-style front fenders, it made for a strikingly beautiful automobile.

Unfortunately, many high-end automobiles like the Auburn did not survive the Great Depression and the company shut down at the end of the 1936 model year.

The body on Ediger’s Auburn features four “suicide” doors that swing open on hinges located at the rear edge of the doors, giving easy access to a spacious interior, with wide bench seats front and rear.

Jerry Johnson of J J Upholstery in Hutchinson handled the reupholstery job.

“He found the last role of old material from a guy in Texas,” Ediger said. “I painted the interior wood grained trim myself,” he said, noting that he learned the technique from an article in a Model A magazine.

The dashboard, in particular, is an amazing piece of work, looking for all the world like polished burled wood.

Other unique features on the Auburn include a hidden “trunk” accessed through the lift-up rear seat back, and an unusual roll-up mechanism for the front door glass which allows the main window or the vent window to be rolled up independently, using the same crank handle.

Setting everything off is a set of deep plum-red wire wheels that Ediger had powder-coated to contrast with the mauve/gray paint of the body. He also located the last five new, old stock hubcaps for an Auburn from his friend, Glenn Pray, who had bought 28 semi-trailer loads of parts from the factory in Indiana after it closed its doors.

Ediger also credits Stan Gilliland of Wellington with helping him find rare parts for the restoration project.

“He is one of the most knowledgable people on Auburns, Cords and Duesenbergs in the country. Any questions you’ve got about an Auburn, he could answer them,” he said.

“This is one of those projects that you just want to do right,” Ediger said. And his results speak for themselves.

Reach Mike Berry at mberry@wichitaeagle.com.

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