E.L. Cord, Auburn Auto Company: L29, 810 + 812s

3 years 2 months ago - 3 years 1 month ago #1050 by JP
JP created the topic: E.L. Cord, Auburn Auto Company: L29, 810 + 812s
Cord, Auburn Automobile Company,
Auburn, Indiana

“One can only hope to avoid criticism,” a wise man once wrote, “by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” Erret Lobban Cord handily avoided all those pitfalls, and he was criticized a lot. Born in 1894, the industry's golden boy (or unwelcome intruder, depending on whose opinion you hear) came literally from nowhere. A high energy Los Angeles used car salesman in 1920, Cord had become president and chief stockholder of Auburn Automobile Company by 1926.

Time Cover of E.L. Cord in 1932

By the early '30s he owned Duesenberg and Checker, as well, plus a host of other unrelated industrial enterprises. His method of gaining control in a business was all too clear or perhaps very questionable. He dumped large quantities of common stock in a company causing a run by other investors in it until its value was so low he could buy controlling interest in the same company for a song. This was quite creative and wicked. When Cord left the United States for England in 1934, he left to avoid an SEC investigation, not for a holiday (vacation in American talk). When he returned to the U.S. in 1937, it was to close the doors on three Classic makes of automobiles. It would be no surprise if there were Cord auto enthusiasts who would have trouble forgiving him for that.

Cord L29 parked outside a showroom, USA, c1929-c1930

But during his wheeling and dealing decade of success, E. L. Cord was responsible for some of the most magnificent cars ever to take the road. Let’s look at the year 1929, for example. In that one year, Cord introduced three significant Classics: the Auburn cabin speedster, the Model J Duesenberg, and the front wheel drive Cord L29. The L29 proved to be rather less than its backers had hoped, but eventually it led to the Cord 810 and 812, which are among the most memorable cars of the late 1930s.

The spirit of uninhibited optimism in the 1920s saw many auto manufacturers expand with new models, and even new makes. Ford bought Lincoln and turned it into a rival for Cadillac and Packard. Chrysler bought Dodge, and then launched Plymouth and Desoto. General Motors' various divisions introduced the Pontiac, Viking, Marquette, and LaSalle. Nash built the Ajax, Hudson the Essex, and Willys the brought us the Whippet.

Even in the impenetrable market inhabited by E. L. Cord's cars, there seemed to be a price gap between the eight cylinder Auburn and the mighty Duesenberg. Cord's gap filler was a stylish new model bearing his name and the unorthodox feature of front wheel drive. The L29 was designed by racing car builder Harry Miller and Detroit engineer Cornelius Van Ranst, both avid proponents of the "horse pulls cart" principle. Their engine was based on Auburn's 198.6 cid straight eight, with 115 bhp at 3,300 rpm, but it was not a carbon copy of the Auburn unit. For the Cord's front drive chassis application, it had to be turned around 180 degrees so that the clutch, flywheel, and chain drive faced forward. The cylinder head was altered so that a water outlet would be up front, and the crankcase was changed to accept a rear engine mount so the power plant would bolt up to the L29 frame. According to Cord authority Robert Fabris, more than 70 parts of the L29 engine were not interchangeable with those of the Auburn unit. The L29's three speed sliding pinion transmission was mounted between the clutch and differential, following the practice of a 1927 Miller Indianapolis racer. The brakes were also Miller designed: inboard mounted Lockheed hydraulics. Front suspension was by quarter elliptic leaf springs, and by semi-elliptics at the rear with Houdaille Hershey shock absorbers all around. The driveshaft to each front wheel used Cardan constant velocity joints.

Cord L29 dash

1930 Cord L-29 Cabriolet

This layout was not without its disadvantages. Owing to the distance between the front wheels and the cowl, the L29's wheelbase was a tremendous 137.5 inches. The unorthodox gearbox/differential placement and long straight eight engine put more than half the car's weight over its rear wheels, where it did nothing for traction, and L29s were notoriously twitchy over any kind of loose surface. The universal joints weren't up to the pounding of the front wheel drivetrain and wore out with merciless frequency. Miller and Van Ranst could have licked these problems if they had more time; however, Cord was so anxious that the car debut before its time in 1930.

Nevertheless, the styling of the L29 was sensational. All that length from front wheels to cowl allowed body engineer John Oswald to create a flowing hood and fenders that looked about 20 feet long. Auburn chief designer Al Leamy applied a Duesenberg type radiator grille which added to the impressive appearance.

For 1930, the L29 was priced from $3,095 to $3,294 and was offered as a convertible cabriolet, sedan and brougham. The same model lineup continued in 1931-32, but prices had to be cut $800 across the board to spark lagging sales. Sales didn't spark. Aside from the L29's lack of traction and its U-joint wear problem, the front wheel drive idea was difficult to sell to buyers in the conservative $3,000 market. Furthermore, against the powerful Packards, Lincolns, and Cadillacs, the L29 was a pig.

Acceleration from 0 to 60 mph took over 30 seconds, and the car's top speed was barely 75 mph. One writer has optimistically described this performance as "pleasant tepidity," which is excusable only because it is easy to be overwhelmed by the car's styling. At the time, Cord couldn't give away the L29. A used car price guide published in 1935 quoted a cash value of $145 for the L29 convertible which had sold for $3,295 just five years earlier. Historically, the L29 is a CCCA rated Classic. Technically, it is a sort of primitive forefather of the Olds Toronado. In its time, it was a dismal failure. When production ended early in 1932, the L29 count barely exceeded 4,400 units and the Cord name went into limbo for the next three years.

Cord 810

1936 Cord 810 Phaeton Sedan

In 1936, it turned on the model 810, one of the most beautiful cars of all time. Like the L29, the 810 had front wheel drive but there was one key difference in the layout. The L29 mounted its long straight eight engine behind the transmission and both sat far behind the front axle. The 810's engine, on the other hand, was located just aft of the axle and the differential clutch assembly extended forward to the transmission which was located ahead of the axle line. Also, the 810 used a V8 engine which was approximately half the length of the L29's straight eight. The overall result was much more even weight distribution than in the L29.

1936 Cord 810 Convertible Coupe

1936 Cord 810 Convertible Coupe

The 810's suspension consisted of independent front trailing arms with a single transverse leaf spring and constant velocity U-joints. Its transmission was a four speed unit with electric preselector. You selected the next gear by means of a lever located on an extension of the steering column; then, when you were ready, you stabbed the Clutch to make the shift. The 810's Lycoming V8 engine displaced 288.6 cubic inches and was near square at 3.50 x 3.75 inches bore and stroke. It produced 125 bhp at 3,500 rpm or, with the Schwitzer-Cummins centrifugal supercharger also offered in 1936,170 bhp at 4,200 rpm. Almost immediately, a higher boost blower was fitted, which brought output up to 190. An unblown Cord would do 90 mph and 0 to 60 mph in 20 seconds. The blown version would do nearly 110 mph and 0 to 60 in 13 seconds performance which made it one of the fastest prewar American production cars.

Clessie Cummins Posing with Diesel Engine

All this good engineering seems almost superfluous compared to the Cord's body design, developed by Gordon Buehrig, Dale Cosper, Dick Roberson, and Paul Laurenzen. Initially, the shape was proposed for a junior Duesenberg which never made it into production, but whatever its origins, the styling of the 810 was unforgettable. The smoothly formed "coffin-nosed" hood, wraparound radiator louvers, exposed exhaust pipes, and clean side elevation were faultless design elements. Its turned metal dash with functional needle gauges was one of the most beautiful ever to grace an automobile. The 810 also bristled with innovations. Concealed headlights (electrically operated) were a first on any production car. Dual taillights with a separate license plate light, full wheel covers, a roof mounted radio speaker, and a hidden gasoline cap also seemed quite futuristic in 1936.

1935 Cord 810 Phaeton white convertible

1936 Cord 810 Westchester Sedan

The 125 inch wheelbase Cord 810 came in four models: Westchester and Beverly sedans (the main difference between them was their upholstery patterns), the Sportsman two passenger coupe, and a four passenger phaeton sedan (convertible Victoria).

Cord 810-812 1937

1937 Cord Supercharged 812 Beverly Sedan

1937 Cord 812 SC Sportsman Convertible Coupe

1937 Cord

In 1937, the model designation was 812 and two long sedans on a 132 inch wheelbase were added to the line, the Custom Beverly and Custom Berline. Cord also built a handful of hardtop coupes and speedsters. With prices in the low $3,000s, the cars were expensive but worth every penny.

E. L. Cord's empire collapsed in 1937 and the Cord automobile with it. Only 1,174 model 810s and 1146 model 812s were built. While the L29 was ignored by collectors for years, the 810 and 812s began appreciating in value almost immediately after production ceased. People knew about their collectability in the 1940s, a time when few prewar cars were regarded as more than rolling scrap metal. From the 1950s on, the 810/812 was hailed as one of the all-time automotive greats. Its acceptance was due largely to the efforts of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club, founded in 1952.

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(About JP: He is the author of the book, Terrorism Defeated: God’s Plan to Win the War on Terror which was released in 2008. He loves the classic car community and has made a commitment to partner with his brother to bring you a website that is a worldwide swap meet you can visit every day on your computer to find classic car parts, cars to buy or sell, or the opportunity to link your automotive needs to one of this website’s advertisers and/or experts.)
Last Edit: 3 years 1 month ago by JP.

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