Vintage vehicles, Automotive history and stories from motoring's past. 

The Landmark Cord 810/812

Cord 810

The Landmark Cord 810/812

In Front in more ways than one

As the Great Depression ground on, car companies started dropping like flies. Many historic brands like Pierce-Arrow disappeared forever, but innovative automaker E.L. Cord decided the time was right for a radical new approach. Company designer Gordon Buehrig was assigned to design a car that would come to be recognized as one of the most beautiful automobiles ever produced. And Cord was serious about innovation; that gorgeous sheet metal would rest atop an innovative, front-wheel drive chassis.

Cord's auto empire included the premium marques Deusenberg and Auburn, but they were hanging by a thread during the economic collapse of the 1930s. In the midst of his own severe cash crunch, E.L. Cord introduced his most innovative car ever. The "coffin nose" Cord 810 featured several firsts; front wheel drive with independent front suspension, hidden headlights, hidden door hinges, rear-hinged hood, concealed fuel filler door, variable speed windshield wipers, and a radio as standard equipment. Superchargers were optional for the second year, 812 models. They came with chrome-plated exhaust pipes that graced the car’s beautiful nose then tucked into its fenders.

And then there was the Cord’s styling. Smooth, clean, low-slung and sexy, when compared to its peers the 810 looked like a visitor from an alternate reality. Available in two-door convertible and four door sedan bodies, it came close as any car has to a “perfect” design. The 810 had that illusive look of "inevitability" like the Porsche’s 356, Jaguar’s XKE, the ‘61 Lincoln Continental, and the Lotus Elite.

No one had ever seen anything like it. The new Cord caused a sensation when it was introduced at the New York auto show in November 1935. Orders piled up by the thousands. But Cord wasn’t ready for production. Budget limitations forced him to cut corners with the car's development, resulting in troubles that soon appeared to vex owners. Cars weren't available until months after promised delivery dates and when they arrived, their pre-selector gearboxes had a tendency to slip out of gear and the engines suffered vapor lock.

Around three thousand coffin-nose Cords were built for the 1936-37 model years before E.L. Cord gave up on his dream and ceased making cars altogether. He soon moved to Nevada where he made millions in real estate.

Graham/Hupmobile bought the body dies for the sedan and used them to build Graham Hollywoods and Hupmobile Skylarks (the same car with different names) before they too went broke after producing less than two thousand examples. Attempts have been made to revive the Cord’s classic design, with the most successful being a plastic-bodied, shrunken version powered by a Corvair powertrain turned back to front in order to mimic the original’s front wheel drive. But once it’s gone, it’s impossible to recapture magic like the 810/812. The original Cord 810/812’s “just-rightness” ensures that its status as one of the most beautiful cars of all time will remain secure.

Written by Jim Cherry