Erret Lobban Cord, Warrensburg, Missouri born 1894
Griffith Borgeson, author
1936 Duesenberg SJ Dual-Cowl Phaeton, with a body by LeGrande.
|Senator Allen Bible, State Senator E. L. Cord, John F. Kennedy|
In his short stay, Cord changed Auburn forever
|Erret Lobban Cord, born, Warrensburg, Missouri|
Lot was Sold at a price of $352,000
190hp 269 cu. in. L-head V8 with Schwitzer-Cummins centrifugal supercharger, front-wheel drive, four-speed pre-selector transmission, front and rear semi-elliptic leaf springs and four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Wheelbase: 125".
Errett Lobban Cord was only one of many earnest, skilled and dedicated entrepreneurs whose dream of establishing an automotive empire to rival Ford, GM and Chrysler was dashed. At one time E.L. Cord controlled the Checker and Yellow cab companies, Duesenberg, Lycoming, Stinson Aircraft and American Airways among a portfolio of 156 companies. A master salesman who worked his way up through the automobile business, the basis of Cord ’ s industrial empire was Auburn Manufacturing, which he acquired in 1924. He set to work to resuscitate Auburn and succeeded by creating a performance image that helped sell mundane, but profitable, sedans.
In 1929, Cord took Auburn to the next step, introducing the front wheel drive Auburn-derived automobile Cord named after himself, the Cord Front Drive – now commonly known as the L29 – with distinctive, sporting appearance and great performance for its price. Shortly thereafter the stock market crashed and with it the market for another Cord project, the Baby Duesenberg. Its distinctive styling provided the basis for a new medium priced front-wheel drive car from Cord, the 810.
The 810 was intended to restore Cord ’ s auto manufacturing operations to health, using the proven formula: styling, performance and reasonable price. In the process, Gordon Buehrig ’ s clean and unadorned coffin nosed, retractable headlight design would create a standard by which cars are still judged today. Powered by a Lycoming-built V8 engine, it created an instant sensation at its November 1935 introduction at the New York Auto Show, so much so that Cord could not meet demand.
The 1937 Cords, designated 812, were little changed cosmetically from 1936 models except for the supercharged engine option. Cord ’ s experience with Duesenberg, another of the Cord companies, made it relatively simple for them to add a Schwitzer-Cummins centrifugal supercharger that provided a maximum of 6psi boost and increased the Lycoming V8 ’ s power to between 185 and 195 horsepower. In September of 1937, a Cord crew driven by Ab Jenkins set 35 American stock car speed records on the Bonneville Salt Flats, certified by the AAA Contest Board, including 24 hours at an average speed (including stops) of 101.72 mile per hour.
Approximately 195 of these very attractive Convertible Coupes were built during the two year life of the Cord 810/812. Only 64, according to factory records, were supercharged, creating a rare and attractive combination of landmark styling, exceptional performance and open air motoring. The Convertible Coupe has come to be known as the Sportsman, even though that designation was never used by Cord. Its aptness is apparent from the stylish and sporting look of the car, aided by its folding top that completely disappears under the rear deck panel.
The example offered here is well-known amongst Cord enthusiasts. According to noted Cord 810/812 historian Ron Irwin, he first saw the car almost 40 years ago, in October of 1970, when it belonged to Burton B. Rich of Plymouth, MI. Thirteen years later, in August of 1983, the car was purchased by Marvin Tamaroff from Mr. Rich. It was then – and remains today – equipped with its original supercharged engine, no. FC3144, confirming s/n 32405 as one of the 64 original supercharged convertible coupes built by Cord.
The outstanding supercharged convertible coupe offered here underwent a complete and comprehensive nut and bolt restoration to the highest standards by Harry Sherry of Warsaw, ON. In a recent conversation, Sherry described the car as being in very good condition, with very little metalwork required. Nonetheless, Sherry ’ s high standards resulted in a 6,000 – 7,000 hour restoration, and a result that was, quite simply, stunning.
Perhaps the most memorable quality of the car is its brilliant color. Chosen by Marvin Tamaroff in the spirit of the classic era, when an owner could choose whatever color he wanted, it is intended as an improvement on the factory “ Cigarette Cream ” , a fairly bland cream color with a hint of yellow. Invariably one of the most popular cars every time shown, the striking color ensures this Cord stands out against a field of much more conservative blacks, blues, greens, and tans.
Some have said there are more supercharged convertible coupes today than were ever built – making verification of provenance more important than ever. With a known history of nearly 40 years, the Tamaroff Cord is one of the few cars with a verifiable history dating so far back.
Stored in the Tamaroff collection ’ s climate controlled facilities, the Cord has seen regular maintenance, occasional exercise, and meticulous detailing. It is, in essence, a brand new Cord, albeit finished to standards not even imagined by the Auburn Cord Duesenberg company. While there are other restored Cords, it is unlikely any approach the meticulous standards of s/n 32405.
Cord: A Car Ahead of Its Time
Auburn’s success made Cord look to expand the company’s product line and he was soon looking at Duesenberg Motors in Indianapolis. He obtained the financially struggling company by an exchange of stock and got the engineering genius of Fred Duesenberg in the bargain.
Cord bought the passenger car patent and manufacturing rights to the front-wheel-drive designs of Harry Miller in the fall of 1926. Auburn Automobile Company paid Miller $1,000 per month for five years, plus a royalty on every front-wheel-drive car sold. Miller was to build the prototype and provide consulting services.
Miller had the foresight to bring in Cornelius W. VanRanst on the project. VanRanst was a gifted engineer and former Indianapolis 500 driver, and he solved many of the problems associated with the new front-wheel-drive car. The prototype was finished in November 1927 in California, and Cord flew there to test-drive the car. The prototype, powered by a Lycoming straight-eight engine and styled with a modified Auburn sedan body, had several problems during the testing. Cord and VanRanst took the prototype to the Duesenberg building in Indianapolis where Duesenberg’s personnel, along with Auburn chief engineer Herb Snow, worked out the kinks.
Cord also knew that his namesake creation must have stunning good looks to match the mechanical innovations. He turned to Alan H. Leamy to create the body for the new car. Leamy, described as a brilliant artist by both his peers and automotive historians, wanted to create the car as a single unit with the exterior, interior and mechanics all working together as a harmonious entity. Leamy was given an environment conducive to fresh thinking and experimentation and the result was a masterpiece of automotive grace and proportion.
An advertising firm created the Cord family crest as a logo to crown the finished car, available as a sedan, cabriolet, phaeton and brougham. The line was introduced in June 1929, making the Cord L-29 the first American front-wheel-drive production car available to the public. The price ranged from $3,095 to $3,295, putting the L-29 in the same class as Cadillac, Packard and the Chrysler Imperial. Sales were brisk as summer faded into fall.
Things would change practically overnight. The stock market crashed on Oct. 29, 1929, and overnight most of the potential buyers of the sensational Cord L-29 were financially obliterated. Anyone left with wealth was leery of buying an expensive car, let alone one that was unproven, unusual and sensational in appearance. Despite price cuts of as much as $700, sales never took off, and L-29 production in Auburn, Indiana, came to a halt in December 1931. A manufacturing span of 31 months produced a total run of barely more than 5,000 cars.
The year 1931 proved to be a pivotal year for the Auburn Automobile Company. After a banner sales year, the company lost almost $1 million in 1932. Company executives were desperate to stem the tide of red ink and considered the introduction of a “baby Duesenberg” to appeal to a wider audience. Body designer Gordon Buehrig, formerly of Duesenberg, was enticed from General Motors to work on a prototype.
The prototype was to be a conventional rear-wheel-drive car with a straight-eight engine, but in the work process, it evolved into a technically advanced car with a V-8 engine, front-wheel drive and independent front suspension. Buehrig created a unique and timeless body shape to envelope the avant-garde mechanics, and the Cord Model 810 was born. Customers could choose from three body styles: four-door sedan, phaeton or convertible coupe, each with a 125-inch wheelbase.
The Cord 810 might not have ever touched the road without a bit of luck. The nearly bankrupt Auburn Automobile Company hit financial paydirt when it landed a contract with Montgomery Ward to build kitchen cabinets in its Connersville, Indiana plant. Such luck provided the half-million dollars needed to develop the Cord 810.
The company was desperate to introduce the new car at the New York Auto Show in November 1935. Every employee in engineering and design worked long hours to meet the deadline, even as the Auburn car was facing extinction.
The breathtaking Cord 810 was a colossal hit at the New York show, with its unique styling and advanced technology. Crowds of people stood on the running boards of other show entries just to get a look at the Cord. Orders poured in, and the company promised delivery by Christmas 1935. The cars would be built at the Connersville, Indiana factory.
However, the car and its assembly had numerous problems, delaying production until the middle of February 1936. Many impatient customers withdrew their orders, and the ones who waited received a car with problems. In the rush to meet production schedules, Cord engineers didn’t have the time to correct the car’s flaws, such as engine overheating, noisy U-joints and a recalcitrant transmission shifting mechanism. The Cord 810 quickly achieved a reputation as a troublesome car.
Fewer than 1,600 Cord 810s were built in the 1936 model year, and only 1,100 of them sold. Leftover 810s would be rebadged as 812s and sold as 1937 models.
Customers were offered a supercharged engine and a long wheelbase Custom series in 1937. The Switzer-Cummins Company of Indianapolis provided the optional supercharger, which greatly enhanced the Cord’s Lycoming V-8 in acceleration and top speed capabilities. The supercharged Cords could be identified by the external exhaust pipes protruding from the sides of the hood and running through the fenders. The Custom series was an attempt to address customer demands for more head room and rear seat room in the sedan models, with the wheelbase lengthened to 132 inches.
However, the end was near for Cord Corporation. Sales plummeted despite new models, additional options and continued improvements. The last car manufactured by Cord Corporation rolled off the assembly line in August 1937. Production of the Cord 810/812 reached a total of about 3,000 cars.
Cord 810 History
Credit for the accomplished Cord has been cast to many, but to none more deserving than Gordon Miller Buehrig, one of the master stylists of the classic era, who brought his gift to all three marques: Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg. By avoiding conventional design techniques, he brought a freshness to American auto styling. While operating within the company structure, Buehrig never compromised his professional integrity or misplaced his devotion to creativity in realizing the entirely new Cord. Along with the styling challenges, Buehrig also was confronted with the crumbling economics of the auto firm.
The Auburn Automobile Company had endured the sunlight and storm of 35 years in the youthful, protean transportation industry. But, by 1935 (and the incubation period of the Cord), the menacing Depression, having confounded the nation, was plaguing Auburn’s once-hailed vitality. That the Cord project was completed at all was the basic triumph of Buehrig’s vision and perseverance.
While still in his twenties, Buehrig’s contribution to the evolution of the motorcar was already substantial. Between 1929 and 1933, as chief designer at Duesenberg, he had brought about a whole canon of celebrated concepts for coach work, and later had begun to revitalize the entire Auburn line. In leveling his talents at the Cord, it was clear Buehrig had a secure command of design elements and the evidence could be found in every detail: beauty of shape; gracefulness of proportion; economy of line; all dressed up in a lightning appearance that invited unrestrained smugness from even the most reserved motorist.
Everything about the car was different. Off came the visible running boards, away went the door hinges, in and out went the headlamps, eliminated was the hood ornament, up went the hood (hinged at the back, it opened from front center, a long-awaited convenience. Gears were pre-selected, fenders were extended, and the radiator was disguised by seemingly unending lateral louvers, resembling nothing so much as Venetian blinds. The Cord was low-slung, high-powered and front-driven. It simply didn’t correspond to any previous creature of the highway.
Buehrig’s masterpiece contained two rare ingredients: a recklessly dramatic modernism and a fundamental, knowing sense of form. The appearance of the Cord in November 1935 shook the automotive world at its foundation. Largely through simplicity and refinement, Buehrig’s work evoked the very synthesis of art deco style, the dreamlike glorification of the Machine Age.
Legendary are the often recounted tales of the breathless dash to prepare enough cars to participate in the obligatory New York, Chicago and Los Angeles auto shows of late 1935. Frantic crowds are said to have stood disrespectfully upon the other cars present to get a privileged first glimpse of the all-new Cord. Surely the spellbound onlookers knew immediately that this automobile was something truly special. Was it a spaceship, an experiment in progress, a threatening reaction to sacred convention? It was all of these and more. The Cord was America’s first completely successful distillation and definition of art deco style applied to the standards of an automobile. Buehrig somehow had grasped magically a combination of ideas that had eluded his designing contemporaries. The Cord wasn’t magisterial like the Duesenberg or jaunty like the Auburn. It possessed a semblance all its own.
Everyone at the auto shows knew this was true; the new Cord would influence every motorcar thereafter. The Cord not only seduced the buyer’s ego, it actually made driving an involving experience. “A champion never pushes people around,” chanted the ad campaign, reassuring Cord owners against an inferiority complex.
Aware of it or not, Buehrig was exacting an ideal, under corporate conditions that provided for neither a sizable research and development budget nor a reasonable term in which to experiment with test cars. The exotic character of the Cord contributed to much mechanical unreliability, most of which has been resolved by today’s owners. The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club estimates that a startling two-thirds of all Cords manufactured still survive in varying states of condition.
Automotive concepts as formidable as the Cord 810/812 have vanished from America’s industrial landscape, but fascination with the car has never retreated. Respect has deepened with the years, among the enthusiasts who define the Cord as their dream car, at last materialized.
Such was the public’s affection for the Cord that the Museum of Modern Art in New York staged a famous exhibit in the autumn of 1951, devoted to the esthetics of motorcar design. Titled “Eight Automobiles,” with the 1937 Cord 812 among them, the exhibit catalog analyzed the car this way:
“…the Cord faces the road flanked by two voluminous fenders…with a vigorously box-like body. Each part is treated as an independent piece of sculpture, the whole collection being partially related by similar details for each unit. But at the rear of the car the passenger compartment, the tonneau, and the fenders merge in one broadly rounded form, summarized by a small window divided into two almost semi-circular parts.”
“A depression between the front fenders and the hood allows the fenders to be tied to each other by a platform on which the hood appears to rest. This detail contributes most of all to the forward pull the fenders seem to exert on the passenger compartment. Stability is given by repetition of a horizontal element: the grille, extending along the sides as well as the front of the motor compartment, acts like a hinge connecting various parts of the car.”
“One would expect vertical emphasis to match this insistent horizontality. It is found in the clearly articulated door post, isolated for maximum effectiveness by symmetrical windows on either side. Thus, the Cord consists of vertical and horizontal axes around which its parts are grouped. A suggestion of movement comes primarily from these shapes, but also from a slight distortion of the horizontal axis. The body is tilted upward toward the rear, while only the heavy louvers of the grille are on a true horizontal plane. [The axial distortion] is used to suggest power, as though all the weight of the body were pressing down on the front wheels while the grille and the fenders alone represent stability.”
“…many of the Cord’s lines are borrowed from aerodynamics. …the Cord suggests the driving power of a fast fighter plane. It is, in fact, a most solemn expression of streamlining.”
That the Cord’s introduction was phenomenally influential is now beyond question. The car’s lasting appeal, as an object of praise, and as a source of inspiration, has been proven implicitly time and again for more than half a century.