The American Sports Car Company Prototype

If you find yourself in Auburn, Indiana, and want to burn a few hours looking at vehicles that have, largely, been left behind by the world, spend a few dollars and visit the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. 

Apart from the three makes listed as part of its title, the museum has bits and bobs from a number of different manufacturers, including the one and only prototype car built under The American Sports Car Company banner, which is usually just shortened to TASCO.

Inseparable from this tale is its designer, Gordon Buehrig, who is credited with a number of pre-war designs, including the Duesenberg Model J, Auburn 851 Boattail Speedster, Lincoln Continental Mark II (the nicest one!), 'coffin nose' Cord 810/812, and the Stutz Black Hawks entered into Le Mans in 1929. As a pretty well-known figure in the classic car world: forgive me if you already know this stuff.

I personally feel as though his work isn't all that great, though what sets him apart is a willingness to embrace the future…whatever that may be.

With his experience racing against the best from Europe a few decades earlier, he was in a unique position to notice two different forces that had the potential to significantly disrupt American carmakers: advancements in aircraft technology that could change the way cars are constructed and built, and the coming onslaught of European-style sports cars—especially thanks to the number of veterans who brought them home after the war.

For the group of investors who zeroed in on Buehrig to tackle the growing number of European sports cars and performance-oriented drivers, it was a perfect—but flawed—choice.

If you or I were designing cars in the late-1940s, trying to create something new after the years of terror on a global scale would likely leave us with one main design theme: push it. Never mind that what actually happened saw people the world over (but especially in America) channel their post-war blues into a booming consumer economy, where things may have looked shiny and new but were pretty much the same.

For an outlier like Buehrig, who wasn't with a manufacturer at the time, it was relatively easy to roll both aircraft-inspired styling and sports car performance into one machine, which has been left without a name since its creation. Most just call it the 'TASCO Prototype'.

You probably think it looks horrible, but I've seen it in person and it's not really all that bad—of course, I'm saying this in 2015 as the guy who writes about weird cars every day… If it helps, I imagine it to be something The Rocketeer would have driven.

On a heavily-modified 1947 Mercury chassis—complete with flathead V8—the Derham Body Company constructed its fantastic body from aluminum. With a pre-war client list that included a who's who of the world's elite, including Joseph Stalin, Pope Pius XII, and President Eisenhower, Derham was one of the few choices left after many U.S. coachbuilders folded during the Depression. 

With enclosed wheels, a plexiglass top (and the world's first 'T-top' roof!), the aircraft-inspired lines continued inside to its interior, which was fitted with a number of gauges and gigantic, meaty levers to control various functions. It was a serious cabin for just driving around in, and probably a bit too involved for those who just wanted to go for Sunday drives.

Just 115 horsepower meant it wasn't a particularly quick car, and a weight of 1587 kg (3500 lbs) didn't help, either. In other words, its body was writing cheques that its engine couldn't cash.

Obviously, people didn't like it in 1948. Many people still don't like it—including, apparently, Buehrig himself. But in my dream garage, nothing gives me perverse pleasure quite like imagining it modified with an electric drivetrain and a Tesla Model S level of performance.