1937 Cord 812 Westchester
March 30, 2009 12:52 PM
In 1929, Errett Lobban "E.L." Cord founded his Cord Corporation as a holding company to manage the over 150 companies he owned, including Auburn Automobile, Lycoming Engines, Duesenberg, Checker Cab and American Airways, which would go on to become American Airlines. When it came to automobiles, Cord focused on creating innovative, streamlined cars with the philosophy, "If you can't be the biggest, it pays to be different." After rescuing Auburn and acquiring Duesenberg, Cord began to dream of creating a revolutionary new low-slung, front wheel drive passenger car that would bear his name. Introduced in June of 1929, Cord's L-29 became the first American front wheel drive production car. Business was good until the stock market crash in October of that year cut sales to a dribble. By 1931 when Cord halted production after only 5,000 L-29s were made, the company was hemorrhaging money. Cord floated the concept of a radical looking "baby Duesenberg" to appeal to a cash-strapped populace, and began hunting for the designer that could deliver a stand-out prototype on a shoestring budget.
Meanwhile, former chief stylist for Duesenberg, Gordon Buehrig entered a contest for car design pitched by his new employer GM. Buehrig's futuristic entry placed last, and he filed it away for future use. So when Buehrig returned to the fold in 1935 to revitalize the Auburn line, it wasn't long before his art deco-inspired design was chosen for the newest iteration of the Cord automobile. Everything about the car was different. Low-slung and high-powered, running boards, door hinges and hood ornaments were done away with, and head lights and gas cap were concealed for further streamlining its body. Under the hood was a 288 cubic inch, 125 hp V-8 made by Cord's own Lancoming. And the transmission featured the Bendix "Electric Hand" gear preselector.
With money made available for development thanks to a contract to manufacture kitchen cabinets for Montgomery Ward, Buehrig rushed to complete several models for introduction at the 1935 New York Auto Show. With its unique body style and advanced technology, the Cord 810 was an instant sensation, with crowds standing on the running boards of other cars to catch a glimpse. Orders came pouring in. The only trouble was that Cord hadn't had the time or money to adequately research, develop and test the car's mechanics, and it quickly developed the reputation of being gorgeous, but unreliable, especially when it came to problems like overheating, gear slippage and vapor lock. Unsold 1936 models were re-numbered and sold as 812 models beginning in 1937. As Cord's transportation empire began to crumble, the last 812 rolled off the line in August of 1937.
Although only about 3,000 of the original 810s and 812s were manufactured, it's estimated that about two-thirds of them are still in existence, a testament to their incredible beauty. Jay was lucky to find his 812 Westchester, which had been lovingly restored over a period of 20 years by self-taught machinist Arthur Pirre. According to Jay, Pirre was a "gentleman and a genius," who solved all of the Cord's original issues. Now it runs better than it would have when it was new!