In 1925, at just over 30 years of age, Errett Loban “E.L.” Cord took the helm of the floundering Auburn Automobile Company on the condition that he turn the floundering business around. By 1929 the young executive had founded the Cord Corporation as a holding company for Auburn and his other transportation interests. In that same year, he debuted the first model to bear his name: the L-29.
Months later, in October, the stock market collapsed, ushering in the Great Depression. The L-29 would continue production until 1931, and it wouldn’t be until 1935 that a successor model would take form.
The Cord 810/812 was a product of its era, a radically innovative streamlined machine that bore with it the underlying anxiety of the Great Depression. During its unveiling at the 1935 New York Auto Show, the car created a commotion. Attendees clamored for a glimpse of the Gordon M. Buehrig-penned design. This Cord radiated a cold aggression. The famous “Coffin Nose” was absent, as were the traditional opulence of chrome radiators and elaborate hood décor. The car was a stark departure from the traditional offerings of its contemporaries and went on to serve as Batman co-creator Bob Kane’s inspiration for the initial Batmobile.
The 810/812 brought with it a number of firsts. It was the first car to feature enclosed headlights, the first to feature a horn ring, the first car to have a gas cap hidden under a door at the rear and, most notably, the first American car to feature front-wheel drive with an independent front suspension.
A 288ci Flathead V8 that produced 125hp was provided by Lycoming, which served as a subsidiary to Cord. The V8 power was sent to a semi-automatic electric pre-selector four-speed transmission featuring three forward-moving gears as well as overdrive. Operation was as simple as choosing the gear via the dash-mounted selector and depressing the clutch.
The Cord transmission would later find its way into Tucker 48s, and stories abound of Tucker mechanics scouring the nation for every working Cord gearbox they could find. With the engine and driving-unit assembly mounted in the front, the 810/812 had no need for a driveshaft or transmission tunnel. This allowed for the car to be low enough to the ground to forego running boards. Various body styles and trim levels were offered. The entry-level sedan model was the Westchester, while the range-topping model was known as the Berline. In between sat the Beverly, featuring its iconic “bustleback” trunk that made it easily identifiable from the Westchester.
For 1937 Cord evolved the 810 into the 812, and offered two additional sedans, the “Custom Beverly” and “Custom Berline,” both models having a 132-inch extended wheelbase to address customer complaints about rear space and legroom. The same year also saw the inclusion of a mechanically driven Schwitzer-Cummins centrifugal supercharger. The supercharged Lycoming V8 produced 195hp.
Beyond the innovative aspects of the 1937 model Cord, this Custom Beverly offered at the 2020 Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction with No Reserve has its own singular history and is unique in the world. Wearing a distinctive gray over a blue pleated-cloth interior, this matching-numbers example features a naturally aspirated version of the Lycoming V8, and is one of just two ever built to feature the spare wheels mounted onto the front pontoons. It is also the only Cord ever produced to feature armor plating.
The Cord model 812 is not common, and this 1937 Custom Beverly example set to cross the block at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction in January stands out as one of the most unique Cords to come to auction in recent years.
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