Alan H. Leamy 1902-1934
|Few would deny that one of the most significant American cars of the
interwar period was the Cord L,-29, with its front-wheel drive and exceptionally low lines. The Auburn speedsters of
the early 1930s, though less innovative, were also very striking cars. Yet the man behind the looks of these two
marvels has been largely overlooked, doubtless because of his tragically short career.
Alan H. Leamy was born in Arlington, Maryland, in 1902, and grew up in Columbus, Ohio, where his father was district manager of the Welsbach Company, makers of gas mantles. Like many boys, he drew cars incessantly during his school years and was also interested in architecture. His first job, however, was selling real estate in New Jersey, from which he was rescued by his father, who recommended him to a former Welsbach colleague who had become chief engineer of Marmon. Al worked as a stylist at Marmon from March 1927 to April 1928, but was unhappy with the conservatism of the Indianapolis company.
Like Harley Earl, he was a great admirer of the European luxury car, especially the Hispano-Suiza, and he also favored pastel colors. Had he stayed at Marmon a little longer, he would have found a sympathizer in Walter Dorwin Teague, who styled the V16, which had both low lines and attractive color schemes. Hearing that E.L. Cord was planning a new front-drive car, Leamy wrote asking for a position in the Auburn Automobile Company. He was interviewed by the engineer responsible for the front-drive technology, Cornelius van Ranst, who was sufficiently impressed with Leamy's drawings to recommend him to Errett Cord, who hired him as chief stylist. How many people he had in his "department" is not known, but as Auburn was a very small outfit compared with the Big Three or even a medium-sized company like Hupmobile or Graham, there cannot have been a large styling department. Throughout his time at Auburn, Leamy had only a relatively small office on the second floor of the Auburn administration block.
The most striking Auburn was the two-passenger speedster built for the Pacific Southwest Automobile Show in February 1929. Resmbling an airplane on wheels, the Cabin Speedster had wicker seats, and an all-aluminum vody coming to a sharp point at the rear. This was familiar on opedn cars, but almost unknown on closed ones, apart from a few streamlined built in Europe for racing. Leamy has never been directly credited for the Cabin Speedster, though he had produced drawings for a four-door closed speedster sith a similar tail. However, the Cabin Speedster had cycle-type fenders, which were never seen on anything's of Leamy's, either drawings or actual cars. E.L. Cord credited the Cabin Speedster to Wade Morton, a racing driver who set many records for Auburn. But could a driver who had no previous record in styling come up with such an original idea?
As Cord was responsible for three makes of car - Aubrun and Duesenberg, as well as his new front drive - there was plenty of work for young Leamy. He has never been directly credited with the front end of the Duesenberg Model J, yet it was clearly under development from the time that he joined Auburn in August 1928, and there was no one else there of comparable talent. The wide shoulder of the radiator, which tapered slightly toward the bottom, was echoed in the Cord, and in some designs Leamy did for Auburn at about the same time. The Duesenberg gave him no chance to exercise his interest in integrated design, marrying hood and bodywork, as bodies were styled by Gordon Buehrig and built by outside companies. Buehrig did, how- ever, admit that the Model J's radiator and fender line were too perfect for him to change in any way. The Cord, named the 1,-29 for the year of its introduction, was another matter, and Leamy had full control over the whole car. The set-back radiator, necessitated by the front drive, was a gift to any stylist, as was the low chassis. (The Cord's slight V to the radiator was copied by Chrysler's Oliver Clark on the 1931 Chrysler models.) Using these parameters, Leamy created some superb styles. The fenders, still unskirted, of course, flowed into the running boards with a particular flair, and the bodies, though of classic type for their periods, benefitted greatly from the low chassis. Four styles were offered, a six-window sedan, four-window brougham, phaeton-sedan (four-door convertible) and cabriolet. In addition, some custom styles, including a town car and a speedster, were built by Murphy on the L-29 chassis.
Hailed by MoTor magazine as "the first really new automobile design to appear on the market for many years," the L-29 sold about 5,200 units up to 1932, when the Depression forced Cord to end production. Meanwhile, the Auburns had received the Leamy treatment, in particular the 8-98 line introduced for 1931. Just as he had capitalized on the low chassis of the Cord, so he used the Auburn's higher frame to make an equally distinctive car. In particular, in the boat-tail speedster which joined the 8-98 line in the fall of 1931, Leamy made no attempt to disguise 'the height of the hood, but capitalized on its length and on imaginative color schemes. Auburn's introduction of a V12 engine for 1932 gave an additional eight inches to the hood length. The combination of the lines of the 8-98 speedster with the extra length produced a massively impressive car. It cost only $1,600, a remarkably low price for such a stylish car. Comparable V 14s were much more expensive: Cadillac ($3,495), Lincoln ($4,700), and Pierce- Arrow ($3,450). The lowest-priced Auburn V12, the coupe, cost $975, the only 12-cylinder car ever to sell for under $1,000. Unfortunately, there were few buyers for a flashy two-passenger speedster at any price in 1932, and after two years the Auburn V12 was dropped. Lcamy styled the 1934 Auburn sixes and eights, which were less than successful, and Cord brought Gordon Buehrig back to restyle the line for 1935.
The situation was difficult. Buchrig admired Leamy's work, especially on the 1,-29, yet he was hired to replace the 1934 and given four helpers. Lcamy left in the summer of 1934 to join Fisher Body Company, moving a year later to GM's Art & Colour Section Under Harley Earl. Here he produced some ideas for the La Salle which were greatly admired by Earl. Sadly, Leamy never had a chance to prove himself at GM; a routine diphtheria injection led to septicemia, from which he died in the summer of 1935.
Nick Georgano - the Art of the American Automobile
1930 CORD L-29 COUPE This is a unique car built by the Hayes Body Corporation to the design of Alex De Sakhnoffsky, as an inducement to Cord to order bodies from Hayes. In this aim it failed, but it remains one of the most beautiful cars of its era. The curved belt line and absence of running boards give it a more rakish look than the regular Cords. It won the 1930 Contours d'Elegance in Paris, where it arrived at the last minute, after being driven by its designer from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to New York City, shipped on the Leviathan to Le Havre and then driven to Paris. PHOTO: NATIONAL MOTOR MUSEUM, BEAULIEU
Watercolor by Al Leamy of a phaeton, dated March 12, 1928. Leamy has painted himself in at the wheel. ILLUSTRATION: AUBURN-CORD-DUESENBERG MUSEUM
1929 AUBURN CABIN SPEEDSTER Borrowed aircraft features included wicker seats, an all-aluminum body, altimeter and compass. Leamy's contribution to the design has not been confirmed; some credit race driver Wade Morton, but Leamy had greater design experience, was at Auburn during the period and he did produce drawings for a four-door car of similar shape (see Page 235). The original was destroyed by fire in 1929; this is a faithful replica. OWNER: DOOR PRAIRIE MUSEUM
Alan H. Leamy Jr. was a self-taught and extremely talented artist with a forte for automobile design. Forced to wear a leg brace after surviving a bout with polio as a young child in 1905, the avid outdoorsman cut a dashing figure as attested to by one of the few surviving photgraphs of Alan whcih show him in a three-piece suit and fedora with a pistol across his knee in a rowboat.
Hired away from another designer by the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Company of Auburn, Indiana, Leamy became widely acclaimed for the design of the Duesenberg Model J and Cord L-29. After leaving ACDAC in 1934 at the age of 32 he became the chief designer for General Motors Fisher Body Works. Tragically, after only 8 days on the job, leamy succumbed to septicemia after receiving a medical injection required by his new employer.
The new Auburn for the 1931 model year was designed by 26 year old Alan H Leamy who was also responsible for the expensive Cord L-29 and immortal Duesenburg Model J.
The Boattails were a signature design of Al Leamy in the earlier days of the Auburn Automobile Company. Gordon Buehrig, designer of the revolutionary Cord 810, added his own design interpretations to the Auburn Boattail Speedster after Leamy left the company in 1934.
Alan Leamy, a stylist with Marmon, heard a front-drive car was in the works and sought out Cord, who hired him. Leamyís first job was to fashion the exquisite Auburn Boattail Speedster of 1928. The Speedster was fast and set some land speed records. And it looked like it was going 100 miles an hour while it was standing still. The Auburn was a beautiful and fast car at less than half of price of such competitors as Stutz.
Al Leamy and Gordon Buehrig of Auburn Automobile Company fame also contributed to the design legacy of the Duesenberg.
Alan Leamy, who designed the Auburns of the late Twenties and early Thirties, as well as the Cord L-29, came to the company at age 26. His successor, Gordon Buehrig, was just 25 when he began as chief designer at Duesenberg, maker of America's ultimate prestige car. Along with their youth these men brought fresh, inventive ideas to car styling.
In five months the archetype was produced. It would carroceria it was in charge of Al Leamy, head of the project, and John Oswald. The final drawing was that one presented by Oswald, but with many of the ideas of Leamy -- the main one of them, the grating of the radiator in form of dihedron, copied for the Chrysler in its Imperial 1930. Leamy still gave to the automobile the name: Leamy year 1929, or only L-29.
Al Leamy designed a boat tail speedster rear end directly targeting the Stutz Bearcat.
Before the great Harley Earl joined Cadillac and was given the task of designing the entire line of the new La Salle models in 1927, J. Frank de Causse (for the Locomobile) and Al Leamy (for the Wills St. Claire automobile) both had earned respect for their successful styling of a whole a line of automobiles, rather than just a few individual custom jobs.
As is the case with most car designs, Buehrig alone wasnít responsible for the elegant look of the Duesenberg. Al Leamy, who had already performed miracles on the dormant Auburn line, also had a hand in it, as did Ames and E.L. Cord itself. Buehrig, did, however, design the elegantly simple radiator ornament.
1929 Auburn Cabin Speedster - It seems that the credit for the production of this car is divided between designer Al Leamy and race car driver Wade Morton.
REMINGTON: She's an undisputed classic. An Auburn. 1936 supercharged Boattail Speedster. TOM: Hello ratings! I think that qualifies as je ne sais quoi. What a beauty! Al Leamy design, straight 8 Lycoming engine, 150 BHP - RAY: Whoa! Hold the phone. Al Leamy left the Auburn Company in '34. The 1936 Auburn was by Gordon Beuhrig, once chief designer of the Duesenberg. And of course the revolutionary Cord 810 and 812. TOM: Au contraire. The Auburn boattail design was a Leamy signature. Beuhrig just refined it.
Cord ordered Auburn to begin investigating front-wheel-drive systems based upon the winning Miller designs. The Miller race cars were famous the world over, but they were too costly to build as a production car, and proved too hard to steer on the open road, which was a far cry from continuous left-leaning turns on a track. While alternative systems were tried in Millerís shop in California, the young automotive designer who did the makeover of the formerly stodgy Auburn into a best seller, Alan Leamy, and Cord spent many nights at Cordís kitchen table in Auburn, designing the Model J. Duesenberg fender and grill line, and a front-end motif for the new FWD car. The similarities between the two cars is striking.
Open bodies, also inspired by Cord-Leamy design sketches, were engineered by Murphy Body Company, but built by Cord-owned Limousine Body Company of Kalamazoo, Mich.
Visitors see little-known renderings of Duesenberg luxury cars, conceived by renowned stylist Gordon Buehrig. Alan Leamy, designer for the Auburn Automobile Company, is represented by ideas for Cord, Duesenberg and Graham autos, and even dramatic hood ornament designs.
Cord hired innovative young designers like Alan Leamy and Gordon Buehrig to create designs like Auburn's
boat-tail speedsters. Their racy styles turned heads and created the illusions of speed and motion.
Alan H. Leamy (1902 - 1935), and Gordon M. Buehrig (1904 - 1990): Two illustrious designers of Auburn and Cord motorcars.
1928: First boattail speedster body introduced on the Auburn. Designer Alan Leamy is hired.
1929: First Cord L-29 front-drive cars manufactured, designed by Alan Leamy. E.L. Cord forms Cord Corporation, with capitol of $3.25 million.
For more information please read:
Dan Burger - "The Career and Creations of Alan H. Leamy" Automobile Quarterly Vol. 20, No. 2
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