Recently, while reminiscing about my automotive obsession, I decided to offer a thank you to E.L. Cord. Indiana automotive pioneer Errett Lobban Cord is one of the individuals most responsible for the Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg automobiles of the classic era. Without his influence, insight, and entrepreneurship, these fine auto products of the Cord Corporation would never have existed.
Before graduating from high school, E.L. Cord demonstrated the spirit that led to his entrepreneurial success. He purchased a Model T Ford, modified its engine, hand-built a speedster body, and then sold it at a substantial profit. Later, he barnstormed for a time as a racing driver and mechanic, while continuing to sell modified Ford speedsters at an average of $500 profit per vehicle. In the early 1920’s, Cord became a successful salesman at the Moon Dealer in Chicago, Illinois.
In 1924, a group of investors enlisted Cord to salvage the faltering Auburn Automobile Company. He took over the general manager position at no salary with the provision to acquire a controlling interest in the company if his efforts were successful. Cord had the large stock of unsold cars repainted in bright, attractive colors. He also instituted new designs and models and offered them at attractive prices. Sales moved forward, and by 1926, E.L. Cord was president of the company. About the same time, he purchased Duesenberg Motors and instructed Fred Duesenberg to design the world’s finest motorcar.
In 1929, he assembled a holding company called the Cord Corporation. The holdings included Auburn, Duesenberg, Central Manufacturing, Lycoming Engine, Limousine Body, and Columbia Axle. In the 1930’s, he added Stinson Aircraft Co., Century Airlines, and New York Shipbuilding Corp.
Cord lured top designers, engineers and marketers to his companies and encouraged excellence. For example, Auburn became one of the first automakers to offer straight-eight power in a medium-priced car. He also introduced the Cord L-29 America’s first front-drive automobile and the magnificent Duesenberg Model J, the most luxurious and best-engineered motorcar of the day.
Production at the automotive operations ceased in 1937. Later, Cord developed a career in broadcast ownership, real estate, ranching, and politics.
Today, E.L. Cord’s automotive legacy is celebrated at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum, the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival over Labor Day weekend, and on numerous other occasions around the world. So, the next time you see one of these works of automotive art, be sure to offer a thank you to E.L. Cord.
This story was excerpted from Indiana Cars: A History of the Automobile in Indiana.