‘Murica Monday usually brings with it a barrage of classic American muscle and pig iron, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, on this evening before the 2016 presidential election, I think it’s high time for us to take a look back at when American car manufacturing was truly great. The past decade or so has been rocky for the United States automobile giants, but in what many would call the heyday of the early car there were far more players than just GM, Ford, and Chrysler. Duesenberg. Packard. Hupmobile. Studebaker. Stutz. Marmon. and Cord.
Cord was among the most innovative of automakers in its era. The L-29 was the first American FWD car and had revolutionary de Dion axles, inboard brakes, and awesome teardrop-shaped headlamps. However, that’s not the Cord that we know best today. That would be the mighty 810/12.
Styled by someone named Buehrig and looking like nothing else on the American roads, the 810 series was launched in 1937. Like the L-29, they were FWD although they had Lycoming V8s where the L-29's were straight. Moreover, they had independent front suspensions, pop-up headlamps, concealed fuel-filler caps, and variable-speed wipers! The FWD layout with the transmission forward of the engine mimicked the Traction Avant from Citroen allowing the car to be low enough for passengers to easily embark thus eradicating the need for running boards.
In 1937, the 812 was made available with supercharging for the Lycoming V8, raising hp figures from a respectable 125 to a heady 170. With it came the elegantly powerful twin exhausts which exited through the side of the long “coffin” hood. The war, though, was to put an end to this madness, and the 810/12 sold only 3000 examples before its demise.
Today we have Hot Wheels’s Cord 810, the non-supercharged variant. In the ‘70's, they did make a more crude rendition of the Cord 812 which fetches high prices today. The wonderful sparkle-plum finish is a devil to photograph and so my pictures do it far from justice.
However, the 810/12 story did not end with the line’s demise in ‘37. In 1938, a Mr. Rust Heinz took the liberty of rebodying a 810 with an all-new design of his own. He consciously started with what was the “most advanced chassis available in the United States” and added fully faired wheels which were then covered by spats as well as electronically-opening doors (a la TVR).
The slippery body was revolutionary for its time although it has never been drag-tested so the exact coefficient is still unknown. Still, the shape allowed the two-ton car, christened the Phantom Corsair, to reach speeds of about 115 mph reportedly. Quite a feat with only the stock 125 hp V8.
Because of the war only one Corsair was ever made, and it today resides in the National Automobile Museum in Reno, NV.
This example by HW is just as nice as the 810, even heftier and with subtle but noticeable white pinstriped tires. The Hot Wheels logo down the side is a bit gratuitous, but hey, it’s better than most of their liveries today.
So there you have it, two all-American Cords, one elegant, the other sinister. Two lovely, concours-ready American classics as a breather before the sh*tshow that will go down tomorrow. May the best woman win.
Also, photographing dark-colored cars is just as hard as everyone says it is. I hate it. Only buying brightly colored diecast from now on. ;) Thanks for looking, and see you around LaLD!