Errett Lobban Cord got everything right except timing. Born in 1894, he happened to be a brilliant businessman; his Cord Corporation controlled dozens of companies, from the car manufacturing firms of Duesenberg Inc. and the Auburn Automobile Company, to the Checker Cab Company, the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, and lots of major aviation interests such as Stinson Aircraft Company, AVCO Lycoming, and American Airways. Why was his timing bad? Because he and his businesses came to prominence in the U.S.A. of the 1920s and 1930s; they found themselves trying to succeed in the worst economic climate imaginable. The Wall Street Crash (‘Black Thursday’) of October 24th, 1929, and the decade-long Great Depression which followed it, plunged the world into financial chaos, and left the Auburn Automobile Company and Duesenberg Inc. with no wealthy customers for their splendid automobiles.
Here we see an example of the rare Cord 810 Phaeton of 1936, on display at the New England Air Museum, Windsor Locks, Connecticut. The three marques, Cord, Auburn and Duesenberg are inter-related (indeed, there is a flourishing Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg Club) and E. L. Cord arranged for the Auburn concern to build the limited edition Cord automobiles. Gordon M. Beuhrig was a chief designer with the Auburn Company, and was the lead designer on the Cord 810 project. The Cord 810 included variable speed windscreen wipers, front-wheel drive and pop-up headlights concealed in the front wings of the car (a feature I remember from the unloved Triumph TR7).
Although the Model 810 was a huge hit at the 1935 New York Auto Show, the initial production run had been rushed (in order to make the minimum number of 100 cars to qualify for the show) and the build quality was truly awful. Despite the futuristic lines of the car – particularly the distinctively shaped nose – owners became disillusioned. The Model 810 was re-worked for 1937 as the 812, but even that could not save the car. Production ceased in 1938, and the company filed for bankruptcy.
The Cord 810/812 became a style icon – for example, Fred Astaire was shown driving a Cord 810 Convertible in the 1937 musical/comedy film ‘A Damsel in Distress’. There have been several attempts to re-launch the Cord 810/812. In the 1940s both the Graham-Paige and Hupmobile concerns tried (and failed) to re-engineer and market the car. Between 1968 and 1970, the Sports Automobile and Manufacturing Company (S.A.M.C.O) of Oklahoma built around 400 replica Cords called the Warrior and the Royale, when suddenly production was stopped once again, this time in favour of building mobile homes!
There have been, other, sporadic attempts to re-launch the marque, but somehow this wonderful piece of automotive artwork has never met with the success it deserves.