1937 CORD 812 Supercharged Westchester SedanView vehicle description
Errett Lobban Cord (1894 – 1974) founded the Cord Corporation on December 28th 1929.
It became the holding company for over 150 businesses controlled by him, including Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg vehicles, Lycoming engines, the New York Shipbuilding Co, Checker taxi cabs, Stinson aircraft and American Airways – which later became American Airlines.
So successful was E.L. Cord that he bought himself 18 acres of prime Beverley Hills real estate and built a modest home of 32,000 sq ft, 16 bedrooms and 22 bathrooms which he promptly christened ‘Cordhaven’.
In 1934 his phenomenal wealth and fame prompted him to move to England for 2 years in order to escape the growing threat of kidnap in the US.
Cord cars were the more luxurious cousins of Auburn cars and were often referred to as ‘Baby Duesenbergs’.
They were also a showcase for all things new, innovative, groundbreaking, experimental and exciting, including the front-wheel drive technology first introduced to American buyers on the Cord L-29.
The 1937 sales brochure for the Cord 810 (the L-29’s immediate successor) tells us that “…of the 24 American makes of motor cars, 24 of them are all of one kind: rear drive. This car is in a class of its own: the front drive Cord.”
But front-wheel drive was just the most obvious of countless Cord innovations.
Most American cars of this era had running boards. Not the 810/812. With no driveshaft or transmission tunnel to worry about, the cars were so low to the ground that running boards weren’t required.
There were many, many other innovations.
The 810/812 had a four-speed pre-selector transmission system. The Bendix ‘Electric Hand’ consisted of an exquisitely miniaturised gear gate attached to the steering column and connected to a number of electromagnets and vacuum diaphragms.
It was the first car to have a ‘horn ring’ on the steering wheel.
And the first to come with a radio fitted as standard.
And the first to have hand-cranked pop-up headlights recessed into the front wing pontoons (these were gently repurposed landing lights from a Stinson aircraft).
And the first to have hidden door hinges.
And the first to have the petrol cap concealed behind a door.
And the first to have rheostat-controlled instrument lighting.
And the first to have CV joints on the driveshaft.
And the first to feature trailing-arm independent front suspension on a front-wheel drive car.
And the first to have variable speed wipers.
To say these cars were ahead of their time really is an understatement. They introduced now commonplace engineering breakthroughs that wouldn’t be seen on some British cars for another 40 years.
And you have to keep reminding yourself that the 812 first emerged in 1937, the year Amelia Earhart went missing, the Hindenburg went up in flames, J.R.R. Tolkien published The Hobbit, and the Golden Gate Bridge opened.
British drivers, happily pootling along country lanes in their Austin Sevens and Humber 16/50s, must have thought the aliens had landed when one of these gleaming beasts shot past them with a flash of chrome, a roar of V8 and all manner of gizmos and technologies that no-one had seen before.
The 812 offered a series of improvements and tweaks over the 810 plus the option of a Schwitzer-Cummins supercharger. This option gave the car the designation ‘812S’ and, more importantly, 170bhp and a top speed in excess of 110mph.
Those numbers made the car a true hot rod in its day and quite possibly the fastest car in America at the time.
Only 688 supercharged 812 cars were sold.
The 810/812 Cords are undeniably, unquestionably, unforgettably beautiful.
Small wonder, then, that in 1996 American Heritage magazine proclaimed the Cord 810 sedan to be “The Single Most Beautiful American Car”.
We wouldn’t argue with that.
The designer, Gordon Buehrig, was an admirer of Le Corbusier and you can see the latter’s design influence in the car’s louvered ‘coffin-nosed’ front.
The 812S, with its chromed exhaust pipes running down the outside of the bonnet from the manifold, is every bit as gorgeously, authentically Art Deco as the Chrysler building.
The overall aesthetic makes this car one of the most instantly recognisable automotive icons of all time.
We are extremely fortunate in having a particularly fine example of this very rare, very special car here with us right now.
This fine-looking vehicle is the same age as Jack Nicholson, David Hockney, Shirley Bassey and Anthony Hopkins. With apologies to Ms. Bassey, it’s in far better condition than any of them and almost certainly emits fewer groans and creaks when asked to press on a bit.
This rare Westchester sedan version was first registered in the UK in 1990, having been recently imported from New Jersey. At the time, we’re told, it was in pretty much concours condition.
By 2011, its condition had somewhat succumbed to the ravages of time and the then owner took it upon himself to embark upon a major, difficult and very expensive restoration.
Unsurprisingly, given that UK Cords are as rare as the teeth of a particularly endangered breed of hen, he had to spend a lot of time liaising with US experts, importing various bits and pieces, and seeking advice from Cord owners’ clubs.
The bulk of the restoration work was undertaken by Moorland Classic Cars of Stone-On-Trent, with guidance from various US-based experts.
The result of all that time, money, trans-Atlantic cooperation and effort is the truly magnificent car you see before you today.
It has had the engine and mechanicals stripped, checked and rebuilt. Anything that needed replacing, restoring or refurbishing has been done. All rust issues have been attended to and the body has been taken back to bare metal and painted.
It is a joy to behold inside, outside and underneath, and it is in first class overall condition.
The starting procedure may not be precisely what you’re used to and is a glorious piece of theatre in itself.
Turn on battery
Turn on ignition
Press chrome button under dash to operate Autoflux electric pump for 30 seconds
If cold, apply choke
Depress clutch pedal (car starts)
If necessary, increase revs using dashboard lever
Select gear using one finger on the Bendix ‘Electric Hand’ pre-selector
Depress and release clutch
And it starts on the button, or on the clutch to be more precise, every time.
It’s quite extraordinary.
It drives and handles remarkably well for a 2 tonne American car from the 1930s.
The engine pulls well and there’s plenty of supercharged power to push you along. The steering is not what you’d call razor sharp and the car has a bigger turning circle than a container ship in a heavy swell.
When it comes to stopping the car, we’d advise you to start braking about 2 minutes before you think you might need to.
The pre-selector gear change takes a bit of getting used to, but once you’ve got the hang of it it’s really very easy and smooth – far smoother, in fact, than many modern flappy-paddle affairs.
If you need to alert other road users to your presence, press the steering wheel ring and the twin horns under the bonnet will make a noise like the Queen Mary leaving port.
The vendor (only the third UK owner since 1990) has had the car for only 4 or so months and has reached the conclusion that he won’t be able to use and drive it as much as it deserves and needs.
No corners have been cut in restoring, maintaining and cherishing this vehicle.
No expense has been spared. There are no compromises in evidence.
Nothing rattles or clunks. Everything works. All is as it should be.
If we could take this car back in time and show it to onlookers in 1937, they’d
think they were looking at a new car.
It’s just fabulous in every respect.
On the Outside
It’s easy to see why the Cord has been an exhibit at the New York Museum of Modern Art since 1951.
Just look at it.
What a glorious symphony of powerful curves, alluring shapes and swooping flanks.
It’s like an Art Deco version of Jessica Rabbit, only with tyres.
And if it reminds you of something you can’t quite put your finger on, consider this: Batman creator Bob Kane based his original design for the Batmobile on the Cord 812.
The lustrous and shiny black paintwork shows off the svelte lines of the car to optimum effect. The quality of the finish is a testament to the expertise of the restoration team that worked on it in 2011/12.
The magnificent suicide doors slam home with precision and a reassuringly precise thunk.
The panels are smooth, even and free of any dinks, dents, scuffs, ripples, folds, warps or other blemishes of note. The panel fit and door gaps are impressive by today’s standards, let alone those of 1937.
The chrome work on the lights, badging, trim, handles, bumpers and wheels is shiny and bright wherever you look.
And the detail is superb – from the miniature Cord logos that adorn everything, to the heavy, chromed closure brackets for the boot, which are works of art in themselves.
The big wheels are damage-free and look great. They are shod in matching, whitewall tyres which appear to have a good deal of life left in them.
While the paintwork is in excellent overall condition there is some cracking and splintering to the paint on the lower leading front edge of the bonnet and a couple of thin cracks to the paintwork on the n/s pontoon wing.
There is also a small area of crazing and cracking to the paintwork on the bonnet beneath the chromed exhaust outlets on the near side.
On the Inside
The interior is a vision in plum-coloured fabric, machined aluminium and chrome knobs, levers, toggles, switches and buttons.
And because this car dates from a period before automotive standardisation and is, in any case, wilfully different and futuristic in everything it does, working out what’s what and where to find things is a true voyage of discovery.
You want to turn right, so you’ll need to find the indicator stalk. Where is it? Well, it’s tucked under the dashboard by the driver’s left knee. Of course it is.
There are other things inside that left us scratching our heads. A recessed cubby hole with hinged doors facing the passenger under the dashboard? Possibly something to do with the heating system? Possibly something to do with an audio system? Possibly something else?
Who knows? We’re sure you’ll have fun finding out.
The condition of the interior is, in the main, quite superb. The seats are vast and comfortable, although possibly a little too soft for modern tastes.
The headlining and door cards (all plum-coloured, naturally) are in first-class nick.
The headlamp activation winders work exactly as intended and succeed reliably in raising both the headlamps and a broad smile on the face of the operator.
You’ll immediately notice the comprehensive array of instruments on the dashboard. Other cars of the era were unlikely to have half as many. As far as we can tell, they all still work precisely as the good engineers and craftsmen of Indiana intended.
And you’ll notice a US WWII vintage petrol rationing sticker on the windscreen – which may or may not be genuine.
You’ll also notice a small plaque in the driver’s footwell. This states that the car was tested (we understand that Cord conducted these tests at the home of the Indy 500, the Indianapolis Speedway) on leaving the factory and recorded a speed of 110.8mph. Which is, frankly, extraordinary.
There is a piece of paper in the history section that suggests that this car’s top speed was tested again, 50 years later in 1987, at the Bonneville Salt Flats. On that occasion, the speed recorded was 109.6mph. Which is even more extraordinary.
The carpets in the front footwells and the boot are worn, frayed and shabby in places but are mainly intact and usable.
The boot is mostly occupied by a massive spare wheel, but there’s probably enough room to squeeze a few bags around it – should you feel the need to go shopping in your supercharged 1937 Cord sedan.
Lifting up the carpets anywhere on the inside of this car reveals – just the fairly normal combination of carpet dust and superficial rust dust.
The undersides of the car look to have a great deal of structural integrity and don’t appear to be troubled by anything other than the standard bloom of superficial rust dust.
Everything appears to be in its right and proper place inside the gloriously shiny engine bay.
The twin horns look like something Louis Armstrong could have picked up and played.
Everything is gleaming, and appears to be clean and dry.
There is some enamel missing in places from the manifold, but nothing else that departs from the norm as far as we can see.
This car’s restoration is covered by a comprehensive array of bills and invoices detaining the work done.
There is also a variety of correspondence between the owner and various experts, outlining best approaches to tackling certain challenges and giving us some insight into the sheer scale and complexity of the restoration task.
In our opinion, any future owners should count themselves fortunate that someone else has already done most of the heavy lifting on this.
The car doesn’t have a current MoT certificate, and while it is exempt by virtue of its age, we would strongly encourage the new owner to have the car re-MoT’d at the earliest opportunity. The cost of an MoT certificate is a small investment when offset against the purchase and upkeep of any classic car, and it gives an independent, third-party assessment of the car’s condition, which not only provides reassurance to the owner (and any subsequent purchasers) but might also be invaluable in the event of a bump when negotiating with the police and any interested insurance companies…
If you’d like to inspect the car prior to placing a bid – something we would encourage given its project status – then please use the Contact Seller button to arrange an appointment.
What We Think
When new, these cars were bought and driven by people like Johnny Weissmuller, Al Jolson and Clark Gable.
Howard Hughes was said to be particularly interested in the new technology they showcased.
Tom Mix, who was a huge star of Westerns in the silent era, had a gun holster fitted to his supercharged Cord phaeton.
This car would have cost over $3000 dollars at a time when the price of the average American house was around $4000.
We think this is an absolutely superb example of a very rare car. It has been restored to the highest standards by people who knew what they were doing on behalf of a vendor who was prepared to spend the right (large) amounts of time and money to do the job properly.
The result is an utterly charming and thoroughly useable example of a very important pre-war US automotive icon.
We think you are highly unlikely to find another one of these in the UK. And even if you do, what are the chances that it’ll be in this kind of condition?
We’re lucky enough to see and drive an enormous variety of very special cars here at The Market.
We’ve not met one of these before and it’ll be a long time before we meet another one.
It’s safe to say that we’re all a little bit smitten by the thing. It is, in almost every sense, one of the most remarkable cars we’ve ever encountered.
And we’re more than a little bit envious of whoever gets to be the next owner.
Go on. You know you want to.
We’re confident to offer this vehicle for auction with an estimate in the range of £61,000 - £75,000.
Viewing is always encouraged, and this particular car is located with us at The Market HQ near Abingdon; to arrange an appointment please use the Contact Seller button at the top of the listing. Feel free to ask any questions or make observations in the comments section below, or try our ‘Frequently Asked Questions’.
If needed, Footman James classic car insurance and Classic Concierge offer storage options plus we have a list of contacts who can help with transport and shipping.
BORING, but IMPORTANT: Please note that whilst we at The Market always aim to offer the most descriptive and transparent auction listings available, we cannot claim they are perfect analyses of any of the vehicles for sale. We offer far greater opportunity for bidders to view, or arrange inspections for each vehicle thoroughly prior to bidding than traditional auctions, and we never stop encouraging bidders to take advantage of this. We do take a good look at those vehicles which are delivered to our premises for sale, but this only results in our unbiased personal observations, not those of a qualified inspector or other professional, or the result of a long test drive.
Also, localised paint repairs are common with collectable and classic cars and if they have been professionally carried out then they may be impossible to detect, even if we see the car in person. So, unless we state otherwise, please assume that any vehicle could have had remedial bodywork at some point in its life.
Additionally, please note that most of the videos on our site have been recorded using simple cameras which often result in 'average' sound quality; in particular, engines and exhausts notes can sound a little different to how they are in reality.
Please note that this is sold as seen and that, as is normal for used goods bought at auction, return policy does not apply. See our FAQs for more info, and feel free to inspect any vehicle as much as you wish.
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