Love’s Labour’s Lost

The history of my Auburn is truly remarkable, I’m only the sixth owner and the car has done under 17,000 miles from new. I didn’t believe it either but the documentary evidence is overwhelming. The car was originally ordered from the US 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 a car that was delivered in 1936 and the courtship went into overdrive. For some reason, Eduardo’s father thought to cool his son’s ardour and sent the lad and his brother Renato 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. 

Plantation workers saying goodbye

By a little diligence and a lot of good luck I was able to make contact with Eduardo’s very charming son Louie. I am delighted to say that he was as pleased to hear about his father’s old car as I was to get more of its history. He sent me two photographs of the Speedster pre-war; one of them showing the family’s palatial hacienda. He has promised more.

After the war the Auburn was retrieved and used as everyday transport until the cost of fuel led to it being mothballed. By 1968 the Speedster was more or less derelict and a half-hearted attempt at restoration was started. The net result was little progress except that the paint was stripped and a lot of components lost. The Auburn sat forlornly for many years while Senor Montinola fought off all attempts by eager purchasers to buy his car. In 1986 David Baylis the proprietor of Beaulieu Restorations was alerted to the presence of a Duesenberg near Bacolod in the Philippines and with potential new owner Robin Peard went out to take a look. They found not a Duessie but the Auburn. This time Eduardo was persuaded to part with his car and the Speedster was shipped back to the UK where restoration began.

Right: David Baylis the Beaulieu restorer with the Philippines Auburn. Retrieved from the plantation, it was towed, then carried to Manilla for the long sea voyage to the UK.

The engine of the car, which had only 14,000 miles on the clock, when inspected showed virtually no wear. The panel work was in excellent condition apart from some superficial rusting but all of the coach built wood was completely rotten and had to be renewed. The project was completed in 1995 and the Auburn spent five years with David Baylis in Beaulieu. Robin Peard, the owner who was Hong Kong based, decided to sell and that is where I first came into the picture.

By the time I traced Mr Peard, the car was on the high seas on its way to a Barrett Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Arizona. There was nothing for it and with my pal and mechanic Brian Stevens, we flew to Phoenix, hired a car and attended the event (we had a great time). I have to be honest and say the Auburn was a huge disappointment. David Baylis’ strategy had been to preserve every part that he could and the final product looked decidedly unappealing. I came away without my trophy, which was bought by Phil and Carol Bray of Michigan. Phil did a lot of work on the car and over the years improved it significantly. They sold her in 2004 to San Diego collector Charles (Chuck) H Spielman who has a large museum collection. He is reputed not to have used the car and it was resold in 2005 at an RM, Amelia Island auction but not before he had both doors monogrammed.

Left: The car arriving after its long journey to the Beaulieu workshop. Middle: The body panels were fine but nearly all the wood was completely rotten. They even found a mummified 14” bat in the tail. Right: New wood being made and fitted.

The car was bought by Irishman Paul Newman (no, not the movie actor) and spent time in Eire before coming back to England in 2011 for sale. Sadly, the car had again, almost never been used and only a tiny mileage was added. I acquired the Speedster in August of the same year thus linking back into a very small part of the life story. I have now spoken with all the previous owners or their descendants who have confirmed the gist of this tale.

Since acquisition, we have put a lot of effort into getting the car to its current state. The odometer is showing just under 17,000 miles.


Left: Auburn pulled from its long time home near Bacolod which it seems to have shared with some four legged creatures. Middle: The stripped boat tail being prepared in the Baylis workshop. Right: The rear of the car looking in better shape than it would have done if badly stored in England instead of the Philippines.

Eduardo Montinola and the Auburn circa 1939

Above: Two cars outside the rather grand hacienda.

The Brays with their prize on an Auburn Club rally.

Brother Renato took over and used the car as part of a playboy lifestyle until 1941 when the Japanese arrived to stop play and the Montinolas decided to store the car away from enemy eyes at their sugar plantation on the island of Negros. In spite of their efforts the enemy found the car but were foiled by Renato’s ability to sabotage vital components but not before the Japanese removed the headlights for one of their trucks. The Auburn was later hidden under sacks of rice and sugar, which at the time were probably a good deal more valuable than the car.

A period image of Eduardo’s paramour Susan Magalona. One can see why he was so besotted.