The Cord 810 and 812 models of 1936/37 were some of the most visually striking cars of all time and the most mechanically advanced of their day. They were also the last products of an under funded company scrambling to survive the Great Depression. Unfortunately, it failed. Only 1174 of the 810 model were produced and with the 812 model in 1937, production declined to 1146. In December 1937, Cord’s parent company, Auburn Automobile filed for bankruptcy, leaving behind 2320 Cords to be coveted by future collectors and enthusiasts.
Fortunately, George Arakelian of Clarkston, MI, is the proud owner of a 1937 Model 812 Phaeton convertible and is loaning for exhibit at the Michigan Modernism Exposition. The Detroit Area Art Deco Society (DAADS) has arranged to have this rare vintage automobile at the Preview Party on Friday evening, April 18, and on the floor during the Michigan Modernism Exposition show on April 19th and 20th. Mr.Arakelian’s automobile has won “Best In Class B2” at the 2004 Bay Harbor Concours d’ Elegance and the “Gordon Buehrig Memorial Award – Best Auburn, Cord or Duesenberg” at the 2005 Meadow Brook Concours d’ Elegance.
In 1924, after achieving great success as an automobile distributor, Errett Lobban Cord convinced the board of the Auburn Automobile Company that he could revive their slumbering enterprise. He delivered on his promises. By 1929, Auburn sales had increased fifteen-fold and E. L. Cord was the head of an empire. His Cord Corporation owned Lycoming Mfg. Co, Limousine Body Co. and Duesenberg, among other auto related businesses. The Auburn was mechanically ordinary, but E. L.used outstanding styling and clever paint combinations to make them hot sellers. E. L. Cord also oversaw the introduction of the fabulous Model J Duesenberg. The same year also saw E.L.’s most novel car yet, the Cord L-29. It was to be the first American production car with frontwheel drive, allowing it to be much lower than other cars of the era. But 1929 saw the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression. The market for cars like the L-29 came to an end, and production was phased out in 1932.
Gordon Buehrig crossed paths with E.L.Cord in 1929 when he was hired as chief stylist at Duesenberg. Buehrig had accumulated design and coach building experience at a variety of bodyand auto companies, including General Motors. Between 1929 and 1933, Buehrig created many of the striking body designs for which Duesenberg became famous. In 1933, with the Depression taking its toll on super luxury cars like the Duesenberg, Buehrig returned to General Motors, where he participated in a Harley Earl design competition that Earl held periodically. Buehrig’s design had a coffin-shaped nose and horizontal hood louvers that contrasted sharply with the upright grilles that were then typical.The hood coupled with flowing pontoon fenders and hidden headlights, put the car on the cutting edge of the streamline look.Buehrig and his team thought the design was the winner but Harvey Earl and other GM executives place the radical design last. Duesenberg president Harold Ames invited Buehrig to return and style a “baby Duesenberg” intended to fill the price gap between the expensive Model J Duesenberg and the middle-priced Auburn. Buehrig’s GM design contest entry became thebasis of the “Duesenberg” design.
The running prototype of the new Duesenberg was finished by April of 1934 but by July, 1934, the parameters had changed.The new car would not be a Duesenberg but a Cord. Workingfuriously, Buehrig’s small team completed the design in Decem-ber. But the lack of money caused the car to be shelved again. E. L. Cord wanted the car introduced at the New York Auto Showon November 2, 1935. Buehrig deemed the task impossible, and although it was accomplished (after a fashion), it was not done well. The cars that went to the auto show were hand-built but not drivable, because the tooling for the new four-speed transmissions was not ready. Never-the-less, the stunning styling was the hit of the show, and Cord salesmen took numerous orders that the factory was unready to fill. New Cords did not come off the line until February 15, 1936, and even these had numerous bugs. Transmissions unexpectantly popped out of gear, engines overheated, front universal joints were excessively noisy. Eventually these problems were worked out, but the damage was already done. The fabulous Cord never made a profit, and production ended in August 1937 with the Auburn Company filing for bankruptcy in December.
“It didn’t look like an automobile. Somehow it looked like a beautiful thing that had been born and just grew up on a highway.”
In the end, everything conspired against the success of the Cord.The long delay between introduction and production, the early mechanical problems, the precarious financial state of the Auburn Company, all made potential buyers leery. The Cord automobile could not save E. L.’s empire, but automotive enthusiasts would come to regard it as one of the greatest classics of all time.
– Ron Ortiz