(first posted 4/8/2012) Easter is a time when we think about resurrection and rebirth. Even for those who do not celebrate Easter, the holiday coincides with a lot of new life in the natural world, where the earth seems to come alive again from a seemingly dead winter.
But after forty days of lent, you had better believe that THIS Catholic is celebrating. And I guess that this was my mindset when I stumbled across Bryce’s photos of this pair of 1937 Cords, at least one of which is undergoing a resurrection or rebirth of its own. So lets celebrate this one together.
The 1936-37 Cord 810/812 is one of the most advanced designs ever to come out of the U.S., and remains to many one of the most beautiful cars ever built.
The Cord was a product of the fertile imagination of E. L. Cord, salesman of the first rank, who cobbled together a unique automotive empire. Cord’s company was like a candle that burned for a very short time, but burned exceedingly brightly. Cord started by rescuing the Auburn Automobile Company, a builder of mid-priced cars in Auburn, Indiana. Then, Cord bought the Indianapolis-based Duesenberg.
Cord recognized that he needed something to slot between the upper-mid priced Auburn and the uber-expensive Dusenberg. Thus the 1929 Cord L-29. A car noteworthy for its front wheel drive design, and its stunning good looks. If you ever wondered what a front wheel drive car with an inline eight cylinder engine looks like, now you know. Very long and very low. Still, at about $3,000 (when a Model A cost less than $500) and introduced at a particularly inopportune time, the car was a not-so-great seller, and was gone by 1932.
But not forgotten. The gigantic chasm between the Auburn Twelve and the Dusenberg (chassis starting at $10,000) remained. Although this car was originally conceived as a baby Duesy, it was decided to resurrect the Cord name. The cars were created in something of a rush, but the resulting Gordon Buehrig design was spectacular.
A 288 cid Lycoming V8 put 125 horsepower to the front wheels through a four speed transaxle that was shifted via a Bendix preselecter unit.
These were interesting, in that you moved a small lever to the position of the next gear you wanted, then pressed the clutch while the mechanism completed the shift automatically.
The 1936 Cord 810 was a 125 inch wb car that started at $1,995. This was a very expensive car, and cost almost double the eight cylinder Packard 120. By 1937, a supercharged model was added, bumping horsepower to 170, and the price as high as $3,575 for the top of the line model, the Supercharged Berline. These exhaust manifolds appear to be ready to hook up to the flex exhaust pipes that exited the sides of the hood, and were the outward sign of the supercharged cars
We very seldom get pictures of a resto in progress, and on these Cords, it is a fascinating subject. Front wheel drive was certainly not common in the 1930s, and it is interesting to see the layout of the powertrain. Here, we get to see what Cord hid under that housing behind the front bumper.
I believe that these Cords were the last automotive products of the ACD conglomerate, and the Connersville, Indiana plant was shuttered in 1937. In all, slightly more than 2,300 of these cars were produced over two years.
Growing up as an old car nut in Indiana, these cars loomed large in my upbringing, as the Auburn Cord Dusenberg club held its annual National meet in Auburn, Indiana, about 30 miles from my home. Of course, I made the pilgrimage for years and saw quite a few of these during that time.
Although the convertible bodies were and are the most sought-after, the sedans are quite attractive as well.
It is not well remembered that after Cord stopped production, the Hupp and Graham companies hit on the brilliant idea to purchase the sedan body dies and sell these former cars of kings at everyman prices with conventional drivetrains.
An unforseen problem was that these were never designed for high-volume production. For example, the Auburn company lacked dies sufficent to stamp the large steel roof in a single piece. Instead, the roof consisted of seven separate pieces that were hand welded and filled, an extremely labor-intensive process for a popularly priced car. And with the need to accommodate a conventional rear drive frame under the Cord unitized structure, the cars rode considerably higher than did the Cords. Of course, the plan failed miserably.
My car-mentor Howard recalled driving one of the Hupps. He compared the experience to driving from inside of an irrigation pipe.
I could see what he meant, and with the Hupp and Graham having traded away the supercharged V8 and the stunning instrument panel, there would probably not be much charm left.
But we will leave the Hupp/Graham debacle for another day. Today, we have a genuine Cord. So, let us enjoy these pictures of new automotive life beginning to bud from the carcass of a car cast-off as worthless by long-ago owners. Surely, they did not understand what they had.
And for those so inclined, please accept my wishes for a happy Easter.
Those pics were inside the restoration workshop at Southwards the first though that sprang to mind was JPC is gonna love this, fascinating car when its all broken down Ive seen some before but never the powertrain out in the open like that lots of people there couldnt figure what model flathead Ford the engine was out of one guy even counted the head studs and announced it was a 24 stud Mercury I kept my mouth shut and kept clicking. The sedan body and running gear has been advertised on trademe @$7000 NZ pesos if anybody is keen its very complete and was used as a template to rebuild the roadster but its also very rusty. Great place to visit Ive never seen so many Stutz cars in one place however most are in as found condition not restored yet check the cohort what I thought was unusual is on there and the Humber Hillman AGM shots will be up soon so you guys can view some real cars.
What amazing cars. They had some pretty advanced stuff for the 1930s; front wheel drive, 4 speed gearbox (with reverse), hidden headlights, concealed fuel filler door, variable speed wipers, and a radio (standard). A shame they met the fate they did and many of their attributes would be adopted by the rest of the industry until at least the 1950s, and then even some not until the very late 1970s/1980s.
Jim; thank you for such a nice Easter present! Beats hard boiled eggs and chocolate bunnies, although the Cord does have a bit of a resemblance to both an egg and a bunny; or is that just me?
Now if Cadillac had made this, with some GM production efficiencies, this would be the 1936 Seville.
Ironically, I think the styling was originally conceived when Gordon Buehrig was at GM Art & Colour. It was created as part of one of Harley Earl’s internal contests, circa 1932. Two of the other competitors were a Tom Tjaarda design that later went to Briggs to become the basis for the Lincoln Zephyr and a Phil Wright concept that became the Pierce Silver Arrow.
Man, I used to think I knew a thing or two about cars. But Aaron, you put my knowledge to shame.
The 1936 Caddy front pontoon fender looks mighty similar to the Cord.
EDIT: The 34 Cadillac 355 had ’em too.
These are beautiful cars.
If you are in the neighborhood of Auburn, Indiana – I would suggest a visit to the ACD museum. It’s a very unique museum in that it includes the factory offices and factory showroom. The vintage cars are displayed in the original art-deco showroom which was preserved over the years. Well worth the trip.
I’m headed there this spring, AND I’m acquiring an 1934 812 Convertible… I get dirty looks from the Lamborghini drivers and others when I passed them by in the last 810 that I had. ‘course I was housesitting in San Diego at the time and the owner was a good, trusted friend. He even took me to lunch in Hillcrest in his 1931 Bentley Blower, but that’s another story. The Cords of the ’30’s were cool, cool enough to have replicars made. One even starred in the NBC series “A Man called Sloane” in the late ’70’s-early ’80’s. That car cemented my love for the 810/812 all over again.
You had to ride in one of them to truly appreciate them. My father’s carburetor man had an 810 two seat (actually, a single bench seat) “roadster” (it had roll up windows), and as far as a car to ride in made my 1937 Buick Special like something from an earlier era. He offered the car to dad and me when he finally got too old to drive it, but by that time the market had taken off on A-C-D cars and the price was well beyond what my father was willing to pay (I seem to remember $50,000 – in 1980 or 81).
What isn’t well known is that the classic image of the Cord was enhanced because the company failed in 1937. Special Interest Autos during their early years did an article on the clays for the 1938 and 1939 models, and the intent was to water down the Cord’s angular ‘coffin nose’ and make the car much more mainstream in appearance. If the clays pictured were any indication, by 1941 the Cord would have been just as mundane as any Chrysler, Cadillac, etc. of that year.
Sometimes failure has it’s virtues.
Resurrection indeed. I happened to spot “Cars of the ’30s” near the checkout at a bookstore, and asked for it – in 2nd grade – and it’s warped me for life. Read it over and over, covered the backs of all my worksheets with teardrop fenders and outside exhaust pipes. Ever since I’ve wanted a Cord more than any other car…except maybe Errol Flynn’s Duesy SSJ speedster.
Dad and I made the pilgrimage to Auburn when I was in high school. Everyone should visit at least once.
Thanks for the story and great images, never could imagine what that drivetrain looked like.
There was also the stripped down drivetrain from the sedan very crudely made in places not quite what I expected from A C D but interesting none the less.
It’s been about three years since I made the trip to Auburn, I’d like to go again sometime.
One of these days if I can make the trip again I’ll have to see if you would want to come up.
And Happy Easter to you as well!
It’s all about that beautiful hood and grille.
Looking closely at that rear door on the sedan in question, the glass only appeared to be able to roll down about 3 inches! Kind of a waste of mechanism – should have divided glass.
Just realized that sedan has a UK number plate its very widely travelled!
I’ve just uploaded some photos to the Pool of a car I saw back in January at Mornington, just south of Melbourne.
It is a 1937 Cord 812 Berline Custom Beverley, originally owned by Tarzan actor Johnny Weismuller. Restored in Australia after import from the USA.
The sedan Bryce photographed sold a couple weeks ago for NZ$7,600 – a bargain regardless of condition. It was imported to NZ from the UK over 30 years ago, and is factory right-hand-drive – which must make it exceedingly rare, and maybe the only one left? The trademe listing is here: http://www.trademe.co.nz/Browse/Listing.aspx?id=455805945 The link should still be live for a week or two.
I’ve loved Cords since I was 7 or 8 and discovered the model one my (now-late) Uncle had. He had a smal collection of Matchbox Models Of Yesteryear, and although I found most of them a tad boring, the Cord stood out for its great styling. As I grew older the town library (this was pre-internet!) taught me more about what Cords were. Have loved them since, so was delighted to read this write-up – thanks!
I passed a 4 door Cord 810/812 sedan on the 401 once. It was obviously a “driver”, the paint was rough but it was ticking along at 100km/hr no problem.
Would have made a good CC if I’d seen it standing still. I prefer the sedan, the roadster looks a bit like a bathtub.
Happy Easter to you too JP.
One of the rare happy example of the closed car looking better than the open car.
Happy Easter to you and everyone reading too, JPC! (A day late:))
Always had a soft spot for the ACD cars, most especially the Cord sedans. Nice writeup and pics!
There was a man in the town that I grew up in who had two of these cars (this was in the early 1980s) and I would see them from time to time. I remember reading about them in Old Cars magazine, and the more that I read, the more amazed I was that this car was made in the 1930s (hidden headlights, no running boards, FWD, supercharger, etc). Certainly decades ahead of its time!
Stupid me, during college I used to commute right past the ACD museum between my work and school semesters, and I never stopped there (nor went to the festival, which would have been easy for me to do). Back when I was 18, I didn’t have as much appreciation for history as I do today in mid-life.
Likewise, I went to school in Boston and lived there for awhile afterwards and never went to Fenway Park.
1) We don’t visit our local places because we can go there anytime.
2) I was such an idiot when I was that age.
My first pro baseball game was in 1956 when my dad took me to a Red Sox game at Fenway. Ted Williams was in right and Jimmy Piersall in center. The Sox were playing the Orioles. The Orioles’ starting pitcher was Dizzy Trout.
But one strongest remembrances that I have of Boston in the early 50s was the animated neon Cities Service sign. So cool.
In 1954 my father came home with a Nash promotional piece. It was a number of Nash models in light cardboard that could be assembled when popped out. Curt Gowdey and Narragansett Lager Beer were featured on the piece so Nash must have been a sponsor of the Sox at that time.
I’d give my (now largely useless) left nut for this piece today. Can’t find anything on eBay.
Oh man! We had a Nash Airflyte then. I have a very faint memory of it, I was only about two.
When I came to Boston the C-IT-GO sign was already there. But the Citgo website has a huge photo form the late ’40s:
Wow! As for Nash and the Red Sox, a little Googling came up with the news that Nash had a special custom Nash-Healey built for Ted Williams, as a promotion for Johnson Wax. Read about it here:
The article doesn’t have a picture of it, but Google image search found this one and several others at Kustomrama, which doesn’t have an article to go with them.
Amazing one-of-a-kind Nash!
When I was a little kid my dad helped a friend of his rope-tow a coffin-nose Cord across town, and I got to tag along. It looked a lot like the first photo. Made a big impression on me. That was fifty years ago…I wonder where that Cord is today.
Hey! Where are the headlight cutouts in that first photo???
The trademe listing said they were welded up – but gave no explanation as to why. It’ll remain ne of the great mysteries of life lol!
They may not have been legal or had stopped opening there were holes in the front guards where lights had been bolted on
JP, I gave up self denial for Lent.
I don’t particularly like the Cord S10, but find the Auburn boattail roadster front-end is very enticing. I’ve dreamed about for years, with gleaming chrome spelling out _S_U_P_E_R_C_H_A_R_G_E_R_, and those external exhaust pipes, ooh la la! OTOH, I hate the rear boat-tail treatment.
I took a few photos of a beautiful maroon 1937 Cord sedan at a car show several years ago. It was at the Distillery in Toronto, and it’s the only one I’ve ever seen in the metal. Parked next to it was a 1940 Buick limo, and it was hard to believe the difference between the two cars. The Cord was a vision of the future…no higher than a modern car, while the Buick was more like a truck in comparison. I know which car I’d want in my driveway…
Yes the 810 Cord is certainly an unforgettable classic. I have an early 810 Westchester sedan. It drives like a modern car and can sit on 60 mph all day in overdrive with the motor spinning at 1800 rpm. One thing a Cord doesn’t like is slow going in heavy modern traffic. They get too hot under the bonnet. They require a dedicated owner to look after them but believe me they are a delight to drive and own. Every time I see it in the garage it makes me feel good and then I need to get it out and take it for a run.
The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club is a world wide organisation and is a must for owners of all ACD cars.
Thanks, Terry. It is great to hear from someone who has owned and driven one of these. I have seen many of these over the years at the ACD club’s annual meet in Auburn over the years, but have never gotten a ride or a drive in one.
I believe through some other communication that the Cord that you have was once owned by my grandfather, L.L. Merrill of Hamilton, Ont. Canada. You might be interested to know that I have the owners manual from that car with some of his maintainance notes in it as well as a Cord Saleman’s handbook My grandfather used to tell of driving the car across Canada.
Everything about the Cord that can be said has already been said.I can`t possibly add anything new, but this car IMHO is the first truly “modern” car .Many years ahead of its time, in sedan or convertible form.
Anyone here ever see a Glenn Pray “8/10”? It was a smaller (about 80% in size….get it? LOL) replica with FWD but based on Corvair innards with (IIRC) N.O.S. Cord parts. I saw one at Carlisle, PA in the early 1980s. Kinda cool!
Yeah, I saw one a few years ago at a car show in Bellingham, WA. (I just posted a higher resolution copy of it to the Cohort today, along with some other photos from the same car show.)
I seem to remember that those had some kind of reinforced plastic or fiberglass body. I have seen a couple of them. They are a very good copy of the original, but the size sure gives them away. I wouldn’t mind having one of them, myself.
The irony is, that initial development of the 810 used off the shelf Auburn straight 8 and rear drive. Someone decreed front drive, so the program hurtled down the road of the clean sheet V8 design and the notorious transmission. Costs bloomed, schedules slipped. 100 cars were handbuilt in the basement of the experimental building in Auburn to qualify the car for the NY auto show. The handbuilt cars were unsaleable, so many were stripped and scrapped…more money wasted. Orders poured in from the NY show, but the car was not ready for sale until months later, as the order book withered, opportunity lost.
If the car had stayed with the off the shelf powertrain, management had been willing to outsource the big stampings to Budd or Murray, get the car to market not only sooner but in a more reliable form, at lower cost to the company.
But no. Someone wanted another halo product.
The first Hupp restyle was rejected as looking too much like the Cord. If this had been the 35 Auburn, it would have flown out the door.
I must go back and shoot the finished product the roadster is completed,I missed the open day this year a job intervened.
Gorgeous car with classic lines. The Hupp and Graham versions, not so much.
Technical question: did the Cord use U-joints to transmit power to the front wheels or some kind of early CV joint? I’ve read that there were massive problems with the drivetrain layout and this was one of the weakest points.
You made me look this up. These originally used a Rzeppa universal joint. It is my understanding that these were a weakness in the design. A Bendix design was often used to replace them.
Great article , thanx very much .
Great looking car. Do we know if the restoration has been completed?