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The Cord Corporation was founded and run by Errett Lobban Cord as a holding company for his many transportation interests, including the Auburn Automobile Company. Cord was noted for its innovative technology and streamlined designs. It is said that Mr. Cord had a philosophy to build truly different, innovative cars, believing they would also sell well and turn a profit. This did not always work well in practice.
Cord innovations include front wheel drive on the L-29 and retractable headlights on the 810.
Front wheel drive became common only in the 1980s, though General Motors introduced front wheel drive in the Oldsmobile Toronado in 1966 and Cadillac Eldorado in 1967. (Buick Riviera remained rear-wheel-drive until 1979). As personal luxury cars, these three GM models, especially the Toronado, were undoubtedly influenced by Cord.
Retractable headlamps did not become common as a standard feature until the 1960s (though DeSoto used them in 1942). The early Oldsmobile Toronados, whose GM stylists later stated they were trying to capture the "feel" of the Cord's design, also featured retractable headlights.
This was the first American front-wheel drive car to be offered to the public, beating the Ruxton automobile by several months. Its drive system allowed it to be much lower than competing cars. Both stock cars and special bodies built on the Cord chassis by American and European coachbuilders won prizes in contests worldwide.
Cord Model 810
The body design of the Cord 810 was the work of designer Gordon M. Buehrig and his team of stylists that included young Vince Gardner. Nearly devoid of chrome, the new car was so low that it required no running boards. Pontoon fenders, wraparound grille and concealed gas hatch were featured. Its engine-turned dashboard included complete instrumentation, including a tachometer and built-in radio. The new car caused a sensation at the 1936 New York Auto Show in November. The crowds around the 810 were so dense, attendees stood on the bumpers of nearby cars to get a look. Many orders were taken at the show, but the cars were not ready to deliver until February. The engine featured a transmission which extended in front of the engine (rather than sideways or out the back and front again as in modern cars), like a Citroën Traction Avant . As a result, the front wheels were well forward of the engine. This also enabled the floor of the car to be much lower than the typical automobile.
Demise of the Cord
Early reliability problems, including slipping out of gear and vapor lock, cooled initial enthusiasm. Although most new owners loved their sleek fast cars, the dealer base shrank rapidly. In 1937, after producing about 3000 of these cars, Auburn ceased production of the Cord. The Cord empire was sold to the Aviation Corporation, and E.L. Cord moved to Nevada where he earned millions in real estate and other enterprises.
The design of the Cord 810/812 remains the most distinctive of the entire 20th century. In 1996, American Heritage magazine proclaimed the Cord 810 sedan, "The Single Most Beautiful American Car." The "Classic Cord" Hot Wheels toy car of the 1960s, a convertible coupe, is one of the most valuable, and commands up to $800 (2006) if still in an unopened package.
The sensational Cord 812 design was re-marketed almost immediately in 1940, but as a weakly-funded effort by ailing automakers Hupmobile and Graham-Paige. Their 4-door sedans, the Hupp Skylark and the Graham Hollywood, were unremarkable beneath the body dies. Retractable headlights gave way to plain headlight pods, and power came from a standard front-engine/rear-wheel drive design. Only about 1900 were built before production ceased in the fall of 1940. From 1964 to 1970, two attempts were made to replicate the original Buehrig design for limited production. Both Oklahoma-based companies soon halted production amid financial difficulties. The replica Cord 8/10 was powered by a Corvair drivetrain.
- Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club
- Auburn/Cord/Duesenberg Museum
- Automotive History Online - Cord History and Photos Albums
- CordNet, a site for Cord enthusiasts
- Malks, Josh B. Cord 810/812: The Timeless Classic