This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Cord Model 810, which is probably the most well-known product of the Cord Corporation.
Gordon M. Buehrig’s original work on the Cord Model 810 began as a “baby Duesenberg” in 1933. By December 1934, the design of the new front-wheel-drive model was essentially complete and then shelved. When the project was revived in July 1935, there was less than four months in which to build and test a prototype, tool up, and get the cars into production for the New York Auto Show on November 2, 1935. The company made the deadline, but without some items in place. The missing parts didn’t matter.
The Cord 810 stopped the show. People had to stand on surrounding cars just to get a glimpse of Cord’s exciting new design. Cord received over 7,600 requests for more information on the 810. Unfortunately, due to unanticipated production start-up problems, almost six months would pass before any deliveries were made.
The Cord Model 810 was available in four models: the five-passenger Westchester Sedan, four-passenger Beverly Sedan, five-passenger Convertible Phaeton Sedan, and the Convertible Coupe with rumble seat.
The first Cord 810 rolled off the assembly line in Connersville on February 15, 1936. Innovations on the Cord 810 included disappearing headlights, concealed door hinges, rheostat-controlled instrument lights, variable speed windshield wipers, Bendix Electric Hand (steering column mounted-electric gear pre-selection unit), and factory installed radio. The model was the first automobile in the United States to adopt unit body construction in its full sense. (Chrysler Airflow and Lincoln Zepher used modified forms.)
In November 1936, the company introduced the Cord 812 for the 1937 model year. The 1937 Cord Model 812 had a 190 h.p. supercharged engine and boasted chrome-plated external exhaust pipes. An example of the model’s claim-to-fame was its use as the official chief observer’s car for the 1937 Indianapolis 500 mile race.
The year, however, witnessed a soft auto market, and Cord production fell to around 1,100 units. In 1937, only the wealthy few could afford the $2,500 to $3,500 needed to buy this exceptional automobile. Some of the internationally known celebrities purchasing Cord automobiles were the movie stars Sonja Heine and Tom Mix. In fact, actress Jean Harlow ordered a Cord with paint and upholstery to match her platinum blonde hair.
When production of the Cord automobile was terminated in October 1937, fewer than 3,000 Model 810/812 units had been produced. The automotive operations of Cord Corporation died when E.L. Cord shifted his focus to other interests.
In their day, these Cords stirred the imagination of the motoring public. Their clean simplicity of line, exciting innovations, and luxurious appointments won much admiration and many awards. At the 1951 Museum of Modern Art exhibit titled Eight Automobiles, MOMA curator Arthur Drexler declared: “We regard the Cord as the outstanding American contribution to automobile design.” This popularity still rings true some 80 years later.