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The Philippine 1935 Auburn 851 Speedster and the Piggy

By: Roger Learmonth:  This Speedster was originally ordered from the Auburn Automobile Company by Philippines plantation owner Eduardo Montinola. In 1934 Eduardo was courting Philippines socialite Susan Magalona. In an effort to win her hand, he asked what she most craved and she told him, “a fast sports car”. He ordered an Auburn Speedster that was delivered in 1935 and the courtship went into overdrive. For some reason, Eduardo’s father thought to cool his son’s ardor and sent the lad on a world cruise.

Home again in 1938, Eduardo was heartbroken to discover that his love had found another, and he lost interest in the Auburn. His brother Renato took over and used the car as part of a playboy lifestyle until 1941 when the Japanese arrived to stop all play, and the Montinolas hid the car from enemy eyes at their island sugar plantation.

Eduardo Montinola 1939 with 1936 Auburn Speedster 1939

  • Eduardo Montinola the original owner with the car at his estate in the Philippines.

By 1968 the Speedster was still in the Philippines where it sat forlornly for many years while Senor Montinola fought off all attempts by eager buyers. In 1986, however, the RHD Auburn was discovered and purchased by a garage proprietor from the United Kingdom and he shipped it home for restoration. In 2000 the restored car found its way back to the US before, in 2011, being bought by the current UK owner who carried out a second restoration which included a simulated alligator skin interior à la the famous Barbara Hutton Speedster bought for her umpteenth husband. The car has had seven owners over the years and has done only 17,000 miles from new.

In 2000 the car was sent from the restorer to one of the large auctions in Arizona. The present day owner, keen to acquire an Auburn, called the restorer only to discover the car was already at sea on its journey back home to the US. Undaunted, he and a pal bought a couple of cheap airline tickets and flew to Phoenix and then drove to Scottsdale. It didn’t work out and he failed to acquire the car at auction. In 2011, after it had been passed through three other owners, the Auburn was back in England and consigned to be sold through a dealer. The car was finally acquired by the current owner who undertook its second major refurbishment. He has been lucky enough to have spoken with all the previous keepers or their offspring to verify its ownership history.

The Philippine 1936 Auburn 851 Speedster and the Pig

  • The world traveling 1935 Auburn 851 Speedster at its present home in the United Kingdom.

Only eleven right-handed Spreedsters were built in the years 1935 and ’36. The updated model was a last gasp attempt to save the terminally ill Auburn Motor Company by putting a bit of eye candy into the showrooms. Engineering by the legendary Augie Duesenberg and hastily designed by Gordon Buehrig of Duesenberg and Cord fame the car was an amalgam of ostentatious styling and parts bin engineering.

The engine was a rather pedestrian 279 cubic inch Lycoming flat head straight eight and to improve performance a Schwitzer-Cummins centrifugal blower was added which hiked output to a reputed 150 bhp.

1936 Auburn 653 - 851 Models

  • Automobile Trade Journal April 1935, specifications, model numbers, and available coachwork.

Auburn used a three-speed gearbox but achieved a combination of acceptable acceleration and high-speed cruising by adding a vacuum operated two-speed axle. By twiddling a knob on the steering wheel and depressing the clutch the driver can engage, through an epicyclic drive, either a stump pulling 4.5:1 or a more comfortable 3.5:1 ratio for cruising.

The design of the car makes no concession to practicality except for the inclusion of a door for the golf club compartment on the passenger’s side. Strictly a two-seater and a none too generous one at that, there is no provision for easy access to a luggage compartment. I suppose it was expected that well-healed customers would only be using the car to cruise American boulevards in fine weather.

17 responses to “The Philippine 1935 Auburn 851 Speedster and the Piggy

  1. Wow! Thanks for a great story. This, to me, is one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” accounts. We all love a story with a happy ending – especially when it’s an actual fact. When you consider that “Only eleven right-handed Speedsters were built in the years 1935 and ’36” this “puts the icing on the cake”.

  2. Only 11 RHD speedsters? The late Grant Quam, Ames, Iowa had one – sort of an orange color if I remember correctly – I know it was sold before his estate sale in 2015 – anyone know where it is now?

  3. Ive always been bummed by the fact that those flexible exhaust pipes were just decorative coverings.
    For years I had thought they were the actual exh. pipes.
    Was there ever an engine that had real ones?

  4. This speedster is an 851, 1935 model, ‘36s were designated 852 although, as far as I can see. the same as the ‘35s. When sent to the UK for a rebuild in 1986, the metalwork was found to be in as new condition with the vast amount of lead filling and shaping still in place (as it is today). The wooden structure however was very rotten and had to be almost completely replaced. The restorer found a fourteen inch mummified bat in the boat tail.

    When discovered in 1986, all the instruments were damaged, replaced or non-functioning except the speedometer which now shows just under 17,000 miles. The car has been kept as original as possible except for a conversion to twelve volts and a set of bolt on flashing indicators.

    The quality of this pre-war US car should make all American petrolheads proud as the quality of the original build is impeccable; well up to the best European standards.

  5. Fine pictures to accompany a great story, so I just took my two Auburn Speedsters out to examine them for the first time in too long a time. Mine are 1:43 scale, both by Western Models. Despite these models being made in the UK, both are left-hand drive. Great models! I have a hunch the Speedster is one of the most often duplicated models in white metal, die cast, and, of course plastic, and in all sorts of scales. Thanks for a well written article that brings my models back to life again, even though only in my imagination.

    • Pyro, now Lindberg ( Round2 Models) has a 1/25th scale kit which is kind of dodgey in execution and the old Renwall company made a kit in 1/48 (?) scale

  6. A Great story thank you,,,truly these Auburns are the stuff of dreams..which is why they are so often copied, I hadnt realised the RHD versions were so rare, but I do have a friend who in fact owns an original RHD in is probably well known in Auburn Circles.
    One point I can confirm however, for Chris above, is the side exhaust pipes are in fact functional , with the chrome conduit covering over the actual pipes, which feed into a common main pipe at the bottom
    best regards AlanSutton

  7. David,

    Thank you for your kind comments. Your assertion that the Auburn Speedster is one of the most copied cars in the world is bang on the money. The original 143 examples are massively outnumbered by modern replicas. But, of course, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Usually, the easiest way to tell a replica is by its use of a V8 engine from which exhausts exit on both sides of the bonnet (hood). The original Lycoming engined car has a straight eight so the four exhaust pipes exit on one side only; the left.

  8. Mr. Eduardo L. Montinola, a first cousin of my grandmother was indeed courting Miss Susan G. Magalona, (my mother’s cousin), at that time and he was the ‘chosen one’ by both parents on both sides. At that time Iloilo (a central Philippine city) society was very close knit. I am 80 years old now, and in the late 1970s I was trying to buy the Auburn from Tito Ed but he said he did not want to sell it as he intended to restore it and I was later on disappointed when I learned that sold it for a pittance.

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