The Cord Corporation was founded and run by E. L. Cord as a holding company for his many transportation interests, including Auburn. Cord was noted for its innovative technology and streamlined designs. Cord had a philosophy to build truly different, innovative cars, believing they would also sell well and turn a profit. This did not always work well in practice.
Front-wheel drive was introduced Citroën in the Traction Avant in 1934, and Cord followed, becoming the first U.S. maker to adopt it.
Hidden headlamps did not become common as a standard feature until the 1960s (though DeSoto used them in 1942). The early Oldsmobile Toronados, whose GM stylists later stated they were trying to capture the "feel" of the Cord's design, also featured hidden headlamps.
Cord L-29This was the first American front-wheel drive car to be offered to the public, beating the Ruxton automobile by several months, in 1929. The brainchild of former Miller engineer Carl Van Ranst, its drive system borrowed from the Indianapolis 500-dominating racers, using the same de Dion layout and inboard brakes. This allowed it to be much lower than competing cars. Both stock cars and special bodies built on the Cord chassis by American and European coachbuilders won prizes in contests worldwide. The L-29 came with full instrumentation, including a temp. gauge, oil pressure gauge, and speedometer on the left with a gas gauge, oil level gauge, and Ammeter on the right of the steering wheel.
It was powered by Auburn's 4,934 cc (301 cu in) 125 hp (93 kW) L-head Lycoming inline 8 from the Auburn 120, with the crankshaft pushed out through the front of the block and the flywheel mounted there, driving a three-speed transmission. Gearing in both transmission and front axle was inadequate, and the 4,700 lb (2,100 kg) car was underpowered, limited to a trifle over 80 mph (130 km/h), inadequate even at the time, and readily exceeded by the less expensive Auburn. Still, the styling was lovely, and despite the 137.5 in (3,490 mm) wheelbase and steering demanding fully four turns lock-to-lock, handling was reportedly superb. Priced around US$3000, it was competitive with Marmon, Lincoln, Packard, Franklin, and Stutz; the 1930 Chrysler copied several styling elements. It could not outrun the Great Depression, and by 1932, it was discontinued, with just 4,400 sold. Wheelbase was 137.5" and the height of the sedan was 61".
Cord Model 810/812The Model 810/812 are probably the best-known of the company's products. Styled by Gordon M. Buehrig, it featured front-wheel drive and independent front suspension; the front drive enabled the 810 to be so low, runningboards were unnecessary. Powered by a 4,739 cc (289 cu in) Lycoming V8 of the same 125 hp (93 kW) as the L-29, The 810 had a four-speed electrically-selected semi-automatic transmission, among other innovative features.
The car caused a sensation at the New York Auto Show in November 1935. Many orders were taken at the show, but the cars were not ready to deliver until February. Despite production delays, Cord promised Christmas delivery, expecting production of 1,000 per month. This proved extremely optimistic; the first production vehicles were not delivered until April 1936. In all, Cord managed to sell only 1,174 of the new 810 in its first model year.
Demise of the CordEarly reliability problems, including slipping out of gear and vapor lock, cooled initial enthusiasm, and the dealer base shrank rapidly. Unsold left-over and in-process 1936 810's were sold as 1937 812's. In 1937, Auburn ceased production of the Cord. A single 1938 Cord prototype with some changes to the grille and transmission cover was built, and it still exists (2009). The Cord empire, amid allegations of financial fraud, was sold to the Aviation Corporation, and E.L. Cord moved to Nevada where he earned millions in real estate and other enterprises.
RevivalThe Cord 812 design was re-marketed almost immediately in 1940, as ailing automakers Hupmobile and Graham-Paige tried to save money, and revive the companies, by using the same body dies. Except for their similarity to the 810, their 4-door sedans, the Hupp Skylark and the Graham Hollywood, were unremarkable. Retractable headlights gave way to plain headlight pods, and power came from a standard front-engine/rear-wheel drive design. Only about 1900 were built before production ceased in the fall of 1940.