Diamond in the Very Rough: A Straight-8 Engine Emerges

An Auburn straight-8 engine proves great finds still possible


| January 2012



Auburn Speedster

This is the second of two Auburn Speedsters built from factory blueprints.

Photo courtesy of Hemmings Classic Car

Old time farmers rarely went to the trouble to do away with obsolete equipment or equipment that was no longer used. In almost every instance the unwanted mechanical objects were left parked where they were last used or drug out to the back of the farm machinery lot and forgotten.

That is understandable if you realize that when some implement was replaced with a newer and better item, the discarded one had absolutely no value to anyone. That was especially true when a farmer bought used equipment, whether he had failed to keep up with the times or simply couldn’t afford anything newer. By the time a piece of equipment was no longer needed, its value had declined to zero. The piece was left sitting, often for decades, partially or totally covered with weeds and bird droppings.

When those of us who like old iron stumble onto an undisturbed farmstead dating to the early 20th century, we are often amazed at all the interesting “stuff” sitting around. Most of what we find has little value beyond the current price paid for scrap metal. The simplicity of old field implements and the ravages of time mean that most things have little appeal beyond the visual. However, as Farm Collector readers know, great finds sometimes lurk among the junk.

Straight-8 engine in a barnyard?

The farmyard I was walking through had been a viable operation through the late 1950s. Since then, the two bachelor brothers who ran it had passed away and the closest relative was a nephew who lived half a state away. Although the parcel of land is too small to make a living on today, the nephew decided to move there and farm part-time while continuing his work as a state utility inspector. The first thing he had to do was clean up the place. The only scrap metal operation near enough to be interested in all the old stuff offered just $5 a ton. The new owner gave me a chance to salvage anything I wanted because whatever I took would have little impact on his payment.

Over by a tumble-down shed was a large object covered by what looked like a side-opening hood from a really old car. It sat so low to the ground that it was difficult to see in the tall weeds. I removed the hood and discovered it covered a flathead straight-8 engine. It looked complete. I had never seen an engine like it, but since it had eight cylinders it had to have come out of a large (read: expensive) 1920s-era automobile. I told the owner it might be valuable. His response was, “Go ahead and take it and if you can sell it we’ll split whatever you get, OK? I’ll pick it up with my John Deere loader and put it into your outfit.” Fifteen minutes later it was sitting in the back of my pickup. Further exploration uncovered body parts of a large sedan apparently once powered by the engine.

Roaring back to life

When I got home, I set the straight-8 engine between a couple of vehicles in my shop. It was built by Lycoming, which was part of E.L. Cord’s automotive empire. After cleaning off the identification plate riveted to the side, I was able to determine that it was the larger of two straight-8 engines used in Auburn automobiles. Casting marks indicated it was built in 1928.

sclasson
12/24/2013 2:08:00 PM

would anybody be interested in a john deere single wheeler fron 1945(?),it was unning and I have all the parts and a photo, if you are send a email------------------thanks skip