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We all dream and when we wake up we realize that our dreams were not real. The automobile industry dreams also, and almost every year we see a dream car exhibited - a fabulous machine with devices from the realm of science fiction. Many of these cars are no more real than our own fantasies. At least they are not real for our time. Some time in the future, we will be able to own these wonderful glittering creations. But not now! There are too many things yet to be invented and the dream cars appear only as a suggestion of things to come.
But there was one time when a dream car came true. It was the brain child of Erret Lobban Cord. He envisioned it, saw that it was built, and sold it to the American public. It was far ahead of its time - too far - and it eventually vanished from the scene. But just think of what the Cord offered, and remember that this was the 1930's.
Here was a car that was low and long with racy, rakish lines. Back in the thirties when cars were high, square, and utterly dignified, the snappy Cord resembled a modern sports car. It had a long hood with simple straight grill lines running around the famous "coffin nose." During the day the headlights disappeared into recesses in the front fenders, and the taillights rounded smoothly with the softly curved rear fenders. Not even door hinges marred the flowing contours of the Cord - they were set in flush with the body. There were no running boards, and one stepped down into the Cord where leather bucket seats offered comfort under all conditions. On the convertible models, the top disappeared completely, folding into a recess behind the seats.
The engine-turned dashboard resembled an airplane instrument panel with a great variety of dials and knobs. But all were functional and the driver always knew the condition of his machine. The Cord even had The L-29, the beginning of the Cord. a tachometer, today a luxury on passenger cars. In addition - this was the 1930's, remember - the Cord featured an electric pre-selector gear box, unit-body construction, and front-wheel drive! It actually was the kind of car most people dreamed of owning, and it was not a fantasy. It existed; it could be bought, and today those who acquire an old Cord feel as though they have the custody of a precious jewel.
What happened to this dream come true? The Cord failed, and for many reasons. It all began in 1924 when Erret Lobban Cord took over the Auburn Automobile Company. Cord was not an engineer, he was a salesman, financial wizard, and promoter. Auburn was in dire straits, and Cord felt he could put the staggering company on its feet. He did - for a while. First he built an automotive empire by adding other corporations. He acquired Duesenberg, Lycoming, and several bodymaking firms. The new redesigned Auburns began to sell, and then Cord had his great idea for an advanced machine.
It was sired by Duesenberg out of Auburn and was born in 1929. The Duesenberg brothers were the engineers, Lycoming supplied the engine, and the famous front-wheel drive was licensed from Harry Miller who used it on his fabulous racing cars. The styling was magnificent and the first L-29 Cord looks modern even now. But the entire corporation had financial difficulties and the L-29 had mechanical difficulties. It was made for only three years and then withdrawn.
In 1935 a brand new Cord was exhibited. This was the famous 810 which had all the dream car features. The exciting body design was executed by Gordon Beuhrig. At the New York Automobile Show the car created a great furor and orders poured in. But the car was not ready. All the machines exhibited had no transmissions, and they needed more testing. There was an agonizing six-month delay and by that time many orders were withdrawn. The rest of the industry opened fire on this radically different car and managed to scare many prospective purchasers by warning them of the dangers of untried engineering schemes. They were partly right. The Cord was born too soon for its type of engineering. Although the car performed magnificently, it did have problems - problems that were not fully solved in the industry for at least another ten years, In addition, the Cord was expensive and the country was just coming out of a great economic depression. Very few were sold.
Yet Cord stuck to his guns. He decided to give up the medium priced market and make the car an out-and-out luxury machine by adding a supercharger, and a host of expensive appointments. This was the 812 Cord and it sold to a small number of wealthy people. But it was all wrong for its time. Prospective customers found it hard to accept the daring innovation; they also counted their pennies carefully in the late thirties, and so the Cord ended its short life in 1937.
Yet, in spite of all the shortcomings, the Cord was and still is a fine car. Many of the old Cords are still being driven today and exhibit magnificent performance. Properly driven, a Cord can hold the road with many a modern sports car.
Today the Cord is a treasured collector's item, and there is a very solvent firm called the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Company that has a complete supply of parts and accessories. Its engineers are willing to offer expert advice just to keep the old Cords running.
Erret Lobban Cord's dream car did cross the threshold into reality, and while it did not survive as a continuing make, there are enough Cords alive today to remind us of its greatness.