Curbside Classic: 1936-37 Cord 810/812 – Rolling Sculpture

(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.