Why Was Cord Special?
Cord was the third part of E.L. Cord's Auburn Cord Duesenberg group, and it was the one he named after himself. The fact that people still remember Cord says a great deal for a brand that produced precisely three models over an eight-year period. In the end, it comes down to two things: innovation and styling. Not only was Cord technically innovative, but the company's fame may also be ascribed to the fact that it employed Gordon Buehrig as a designer and that it's his work that has been remembered.
What Were Cord's Innovations?
Cord introduced several innovations, some of which are still in use today.
- Front Wheel Drive: The 1929 Cord L-29 introduced front wheel drive to the American public; it was a feature on all three Cord models, as well as on many subsequent designs.
- Retracting Headlights: Cord introduced retracting headlights with the 1936 Model 810. They were manually operated with individual cranks and the passenger-side one required quite a reach from the driver's seat.
- Pre-Selector Gearshifts: This was the only feature not carried over by other manufacturers, though it was meant to make driving easier. You just selected the gear you wanted to change into, and then it changed automatically when you worked the clutch.
What were Cord's Models?
Cord's initial model was the L-29, a relatively conservative design that featured front-wheel drive and was produced from 1929 to 1932. This was followed in 1936 with the famous 810 design, also known as the "coffin-nose Cord." Buehrig's blunt-nosed stylings called to mind the streamline moderne style of the late 1930s and was matched by the car's V8 performance. For 1937, the Cord was back as the 812, this time with a supercharged offering featuring chrome exhaust pipes alongside the hood.
What Happened to Cord?
In the end, production issues killed Cord. Despite strong demand for the 810, it took Cord five months after taking orders to get the first car into customers' hands and that was only the beginning. In addition to delays, the company also faced various quality-control issues with its transmissions. Overheating also plagued the design, and eventually, Cord just ran out of money.
What Legacy Did Cord Leave?
Cord's legacy is best shown by the fact that even as late as 1996, American Heritage Magazine named the Cord 810 as America's Most Beautiful Car. Both Hupmobile and Graham-Paige attempted to resurrect the design, but without the innovations that made Cord stand out. Both the Skylark and Hollywood had conventional headlights and drive trains, though neither made a splash in the market. After 1940, Buehrig's design passed into history, and one of the greatest chapters in American automotive history drew to a close.