Nick Bauer's 1931 Auburn 8-98-A Originally Owned by Mae West
(from Volume 21, Issue 254)

story and photos by Michael B. Kelly


Nick Bauer’s 1931 Auburn 8-98-A 3-Window Coupe is a car that has several aspects making it very interesting. For one, it is the last surviving 1931 of its model known to exist by the Auburn, Cord & Duesenberg Club. Plus, the original owner was none other than Mae West, the legendary actress. Though she got her start as a child star in vaudeville, it was once she had grown up and was staring in movies that Mae West really made her mark in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Her most famous line from the 1933 film She Done Him Wrong, “‘Why don’t you come up some time, and see me’” is often misquoted as “Why don’t you come up and see me sometime”....but that line has become synonymous with the legendary actress. She was very sexy and suggestive for her time, and therefore one of the more controversial movie stars of her day. Mae West is credited with saving Hollywood in the 1930’s from failure during the Great Depression era, and IRS records indicate she was the highest paid woman in America in 1932.

The second owner of the car was Mae West’s lifelong manager/consort and New York Mob enforcer James A. Timothy (also known as “The Thug”). During that time court records verify that James was arrested with Mae West, and he served time. So while these highly stylized autos of the era are often referred to as “Gangster Cars”, this one actually was!

Dale Klee, the world famous Junkyard Artist (whose work can be seen at owned “Ms. Mae” for 28 years prior to Nick Bauer’s purchasing her from him in 2005. During Dale Klee’s ownership he made several drivetrain and mechanical modifications to enable safe operation in the 21st century (though Dale himself never got the car on the road). The most notable retained modification he made is the front grill insert that was personally designed and installed by Dale Klee himself. That grill insert was retained through the restoration process to honor that part of Ms. Mae’s history.

The ‘31 Auburn was restored by Nick Bauer to an original type look, with a few resto-mod changes. Nick’s goal was to have her appearing as she would have back in the day, but be mechanically functional for modern times. Nick has been involved with cars all his life, and has worked as a body man/painter, line mechanic, auto electrician, upholsterer, and was even a machinist mate in the Navy. He did all of the restoration work himself, with nothing sublet other than chrome plating, and stitching on the carpeting.

Mae West’s 1931 Auburn 8-98-A was a factory custom ordered vehicle (fitting for someone with such celebrity and financial resources). The original body is still nailed to the wooden framework underneath, and the car still utilizes the original chassis. The restored interior features a painted wood grained dash just like the original, and houses the original instruments which have been converted to 12 volts. To duplicate the original upholstery Nick utilized chestnut leather, using the original seat patterns, along with a leather headliner and alligator hide door panels like were custom chosen by Mae West. Updates that have been done to the car for driveability and safety include a custom built front suspension using Jaguar upper and lower control arms on the factory chassis, power steering, and power front disc brakes with drums in the rear. Under the hood now resides a 1970 Cadillac 500 cubic inch motor that has a Painless 12 volt electrical system, mated to a Turbo 400 automatic transmission, with a 10-bolt GM rear end housing 3.56:1 gears rounding out the running gear. The factory Auburn radiator was retained, and three electric cooling fans added for all the parade duty she serves.

The exterior was kept stock looking as well, and has been restored to the original special ordered colors of yellow with light green highlights and teal pinstriping on the raised body panels like Mae West chose herself at the time of production. For safety a set of Kelsey Hayes wire wheels with chrome spokes and wide whitewall Coker tires are now utilized, but retain that resto-mod look. The steamer trunk on the back of the car is the original one Mae West used, and is still fitted with her luggage!

Nick told us that all of the modifications could be undone if a future owner ever wanted to return the car to its pure stock form, and make it a museum piece. While we were chatting, Nick also stated that “After all, we are all just temporary caretakers of these amazing automobiles, and they will be around long after we are all gone”.

Nick drives “Ms. Mae” to all the events he attends himself, and if she ever broke down he would do the repairs himself. The car has been featured in many movies, TV and cable specials. Nick also uses the car to raise money for charity, and simply enjoys sharing “Ms. Mae” with everyone. He attended our own Beach Blast 21 car show in Cocoa Beach on May 15-17, 2015, and it was fun just to watch from a distance as people learned the special history of this very rare automobile. Nick also displays it with life-size Mae West cardboard cut-outs, and sometimes dresses up in a 1930’s gangster style “zoot suit”, and poses with a Tommy Gun for pictures. It is obvious to see that Nick really loves this car.....and that the spectators do as well! CN