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Auburn, Cord owners see where cars were made

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Three Connersville-manufactured cars returned home towhere they were made on Saturday. From left are Gordon Buehrig’s 1936 Cord from the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum, Dave and Nyla Helge’s 1935 Auburn 851 and Pat and Kathy Leahy’s Cord.
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Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club President Lindsey Barrett admires the Connersville-built McFarlan Town Car Friday at the Fayette County Historical Museumwhile ACD member Chris Friend talks about it.
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Former Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club President Jim Robinson, second from left, points out how the Auburn assembly line came from the old Central Manufacturing plant through a building where he is standing that is now the parking lot for ContainerKraft.

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

A group of Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club members left Connersville after a weekend visit with a renewed interest in the city where most of the Auburns and all the 1936 and 1937 Cords came off the assembly line.

For the first time since 1999, an official regional meet for the ACD Club came to Connersville, including three past presidents and the current president.

Organizers Jim and Lea Ann Robinson, Sam and Cathy Harvey and Chris and Jeni Friend set up a tour of the city using the Everton Lions Club trolley and narrated by Jim Robinson, a past president of the club. The guests visited the Whitewater Valley Arts Association, Fayette County Historical Museum, Model T Museum in Richmond and the former Auburn Automobile plant, now ContainerKraft.

Past President Al Hatch had visited the car show during the Connersville Bicentennial in 2013. He and his wife Pat came for the regional meet from Flint, Mich.

He said the family got its first Cord in parts.

“I was always fascinated by Cords. I saw my first one in 1955 when I was 11 years old and thought ‘wow,’ and I never forgot that,” he said. “They had a lasting impression on us.”

That fascination has continued through 40 years in the club and a half a dozen Cords. He and his wife also have two Auburns built in Connersville, he said.

Past President George Smith of Elkhart recalled first coming to Connersville in 1988 when he bought a 1933 Auburn Salon and joined the club. He attended every meet until the end and chose to return again this year.

He complimented organizers on the program and the pace of activities.

“It’s nice to stand at a place and think, ‘Maybe my car rolled down this line,” he said.

Smith has since sold his car and it will go a long ways to put his two granddaughters through college.

He told the story of his first meet in Connersville. He needed a carburetor linkage and knew he would have to fabricate it because no parts would be available. Someone at the meet sent him one from their car and told him to use it as a template and then return it.

As club members talk, they learn about ways to fix and keep their cars operating, he said.

Historic Connersville member Bob Martin took advantage of that knowledge to ask about the museum’s 1937 Cord Beverly. The car has a tendency to overheat. He gained some suggestions from lowering the fluid level in the radiator to removing thermostats to control the issue.

HCI had a new exhibit on display Saturday when the ACD members attended the banquet at the James Roberts Memorial Building

Marla Myers had donated a quilt to the museum made from patches of fabric taken from the discard bin at Auburn by her father Gordon Brown. Her mother Gladys stitched it together.

Lea Ann Robinson said many of the guests said the could not understand why the town’s automobile and manufacturing history has not been promoted more.

“You have a lot of historical assets the community you could take advantage of and make it a tourism destination,” Hatch said. “I found it interesting as we took the trolley, it is just extremely interesting the amount of history that is still standing here and could be capitalized for the benefit of the entire community.”

He cited the similarities between Flint, Mich., and here. In Flint, General Motors and other companies at one time had a huge presence. Now, GM has about 6,500 employees.

“I can identify with the pain and agony you went through,” Hatch said. “Our population dropped from 200,000 to under 100,000. The city is coming back downtown through revitalization and restoration. The quality of life is really coming back.”

The secret to making a come back is a community mindset for improvement and not listening to the naysayers, he said.

Vinny and Barbara Petracatella, originally of New York but now of Auburn, attended an ACD meet in 1991 but did not go through the factory or see some of the other sites at that time.

“She and I dated in a ‘35 Auburn 60 years ago,” Vinny said. “My father had a six-cylinder Auburn Cabriolet and we dated for four months in it.”

That car had just been taken to a junk yard and his father bought it for $35, he said. The Auburn they own now is similar, only with eight cylinders.

Barrett said the organizers and those who helped with the visit showed an enthusiasm for the Auburn and Cords as well as many other automobiles manufactured in the community.

“I look forward to talking more with you and then spreading that knowledge to more people,” she said. “I had a great time in Connersville and I’ve gotten to ride in a couple of cars I had never ridden before.”

Friend said one of the goals is to give West 18th Street a secondary name to reflect the history, such as Cord Drive. He would also like to have a historic marker erected along that street telling the story of local automotive and manufacturing history.