It is ironic that Auburn produced what many consider to be its ultimate masterpiece, the 851, in 1935—just as the end was drawing near. The company had invested heavily in the largely new Al Leamy designed 1934 models. Although they sold better than the 1933s had, they were not the salvation the company needed. Worse still, Harold Ames, right-hand man to E.L. Cord, founder and head of Auburn’s parent company, hated the look of the cars. As a result, Ames’ boss, Lucius Manning, decided Ames was just the man to solve the problem and sent him to Auburn, putting him in charge of the company.
With little money available, a completely new car was out of the question, so Ames called upon Gordon Buehrig, designer of the Cord Model 810. Buehrig devised a new grille and hood line and incorporated external exhausts for models whose engines were supercharged, a signature feature for 1935. The chassis was mostly carried over, albeit with some updates; power came from a Lycoming-built straight-eight engine. Range-topping models received a new supercharger designed by Kurt Beier from Schwitzer-Cummins. In addition, the trusted and durable Columbia two-speed rear axle was fitted, allowing lower gearing for quicker acceleration, combined with a higher final-drive ratio for improved top speed.