The Cord Corporation was instrumental in the development of several American car brands and aviation companies during the 20s and 30s.
Errett Lobban Cord founded the Cord Corporation in 1929 as an umbrella for the 150 companies that he controlled – mostly in aviation or automobile manufacturing. During the 20s and 30s he owned Lycoming and Stinson aircraft companies as well as Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg and Checker cabs. He was also the owner of American Airways, the forerunner of today’s American Airlines, who he bought from Aviation Corporation, 3 years before he sold the whole group back to them!
Cord, the manufacturer, only made cars for 6 years in two stints: 1929 to 32 and then 1936 – 37. Only two models were produced, the L-29 during the first stint and the 810/812 during the second period.
The L-29 was the first front-wheel drive car in the US and took technological ideas from racing cars of the time. Errett Cord had been a racer before a businessman so had the contacts with engineers who could help him transfer racing tech to road use. The car was powered by a straight 8, 5 litre motor shared with sister company Auburn and the car was underpowered for its weight, however it was highly specified with aircraft style dials – the start of the car dashboard that emulates aircraft cockpits. Only 4,000 odd were sold due to the Great Depression hitting sales, especially as it was competing with the likes of Lincoln!
During the second production period, the 810/812 models were distinguished by its retractable headlights. They were also front drive cars and the designers cleverly used independent suspension and a forward positioned motor to allow the car to be lower and therefore better handling than other cars of its time. The 810 used a Lycoming 4.7 litre V8 for power – again re-using components from the main corporation and the headlights were also from an aircraft manufacturer, this time the sister company of Stinson. They were actually the landing lights of a plane!
The 812 was an uprated 810 with an optional supercharger to increase power. The main problem with the Cord brand was unreliability, which seems strange considering that the other brands in the group were not so bad, the cars were made in the same factories as Auburns and Duesenbergs and they shared components with aircraft, that have a much higher reliability stake!
Probably less than 10,000 vehicles were ever produced under the Cord brand until Auburn ceased production of them in 1937 after EL Cord had sold the whole company to Aviation Corporation. Auburn sold the design of the 810/812 and several attempts were made to recreate the cars by other manufacturers. Hupmobile and Graham-Paige used the body dies to build cars in the early 40s but both failed to be successful. Even as late as the 60s, companies wanted to build a replica with newer power plants, however they also never really succeeded.
Aviation Corporation changed its name to Avco and was acquired by Textron in 1986, however, like Studebaker, its financial services arm was spun off as a separate entity, and is now owned by Citigroup.
For further information on this brand visit the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club and to see one in action, here is a Youtube video of Jay Leno with his machine: