Cord 810 Convertible Coupe
Whereas the Auburn automobile would have succumbed years earlier if there had been no Errett Lobban Cord, if there had been no Auburn there probably would have been no Cord car. Cord was the consummate salesman. By the early 1920s he had become the top seller of Moon cars in Chicago. With cash he had saved, he invested in the foundering Auburn Automobile Comp earned
any in Indiana, and jump-started sales by repainting unsold new cars in attractive, bright colors. By 1926, he had enough stock to become president of the company. Having acquired Duesenberg as a luxury brand in the growing Auburn empire, he decided to launch a niche car he would name for himself.
Choosing front-wheel drive, he used an inline eight from Lycoming, another company he had bought. The Cord L-29, introduced in the summer of 1929, was long and low, a thing of beauty. A blue coupe with body designed by Alexis de Sakhnofsky, the Russian count who had emigrated to the U.S. by way of Switzerland, won the Monaco Concours d’Elegance in 1930. Four factory bodies were offered and some were graced with custom coachwork, but sales were disappointing. After 5,000 cars were built, production was halted at the end of 1931. A planned L-30 successor never appeared.
Cord tried again with the 810 in 1935. Again with front-wheel drive, this time its engine was a V8, also from Lycoming, but a four-speed electrically-shifted pre-selector transmission was used. The body was designed by Gordon Buehrig, and it was a thing of beauty. Its blunt louvered hood gave rise to the nickname “coffin nose,” always as a term of endearment. Its reception at the November 1935 New York Auto Show was enthusiastic, and orders poured in. Alas, production startup was slow, and by the time supply caught up with demand some customers had changed their minds.
There were four body styles, two of them sedans and two open cars, a two-passenger Convertible Coupe and five-passenger Convertible Phaeton Sedan. Least expensive was the five-passenger Westchester Sedan. A four-passenger Beverly Sedan had a more luxurious interior that included an outsized arm rest in the back seat, akin to armchair seating. The Convertible Phaeton Sedan had a back seat for three, while the Convertible Coupe used this space to house the top when retracted. A steel cover then hid it from view. The two-passenger body style is generally regarded as the most desirable. Officially cataloged as the “Convertible Coupe,” it was described in company literature as “a sportsman-like automobile” and the name has stuck among enthusiasts as the proper noun “Sportsman.”
A hallmark of the Cord 810 is the hidden headlights, tucked neatly into the front fenders when not in use. Unlike modern systems of this type, which automatically open themselves when the lamps are lit, the Cord relies on crank-operated openers, operated manually. A crank on each side of the dashboard operates its corresponding mechanism with gears and cable – no electric operators and no vacuum. The owner’s manual admonished drivers to use them prudently: “To insure economical performance at higher speeds, greatest freedom of motion, to reduce wind noises, and add immeasurably to the beauty of the new Cord, we earnestly request all drivers to operate the car with headlamps retracted within the fenders during daylight driving, and bring them out only when driving conditions require lights.”
The Cord V8 developed 125 brake horsepower, but it had been designed for more, as the following year’s supercharged cars would prove. Cords for 1937 were designated “812,” although there were few changes aside from the optional supercharger. The Cord 812 was the last car to remain in production in the crumbling E.L. Cord empire. Cord sold his interests that August, and the new management immediately halted the lines. The tooling for Buehrig’s beautiful bodies was later used by Hupp and Graham in an ultimately futile attempt to continue the car business themselves.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in January of 2009 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona and in January of 2010 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona.
125bhp, 288.6 cu. in. L-head V8 engine, four-speed pre-selector transmission, front suspension via trailing arms and transverse leaf spring, rear suspension via semi-elliptic leaf springs, live rear axle, four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 125"
Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Simon Clay