Cord changed everything and Harley was pissed

You can’t get anywhere more mid-west USA than Auburn, Indiana.

Its main street is as small town cute as cute can be.

I’m sure Walt Disney came to Auburn and had a good look around before he laid out the plans for his own Main Street in the Magic Kingdom.

And it is here that you will find one of America’s best car museums– the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum.

Staffed by volunteers, the museum is located in the former Auburn Automobile Company’s national headquarters, an evocative art deco building.

The museum has the most extensive collection of Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg automobiles in the world.

These are cars from a grand era of custom built elegance.

But I came for one reason only, and that’s the iconic Cord 810/812.

The Cord is a pivotal moment in global car design and engineering, made even more remarkable because it was styled and engineered amid a menacing economic depression and a financially dying corporation.

Mr E.L Cord and Gordon Miller Buehrig are the men responsible for the Cord.

The former owned the Auburn, Duesenberg and Cord brands.

Buehrig styled the car.

The Cord 810 was originally conceived, in 1933, as a small, rear-drive Duesenberg.

But E.L Cord’s enthusiasm soon saw the car become the basis for his new front drive concept. It was released in November 1935 to overwhelming acclaim.

Everything about the car was different.

It was a V8, front-wheel drive and of unit construction when all else used big chassis.

This meant it was 20cm lower than anything else on the roads, standing only 150cm high — about the height of a Holden Caprice.

Running boards were eliminated.

Door hinges were hidden, something even General Motors (GM) had not been able to achieve.

The bonnet was hinged at the rear — very new and innovative in 1936.

The headlights were concealed in the front mudguards, which flowed along the body like water over smooth river stones.

But it was the horizontal grille, those exquisite lines of blades, which grabbed everyone’s attention.

Up to that point all cars fronted the world with massive vertical grilles.

Suddenly it all changed.

GM’s Chief of Design, Harley Earl, was said to have raged “why couldn’t we have thought of all of that!!”

The styling slap in the face had more sting because Buehrig had worked for Earl at GM’s styling studios and proposed such an idea, but it was overlooked.

In 1936 Cord added superchargers to in order to deliver 195bhp (135kW).

And with that came those big chrome exhaust pipes exiting out the side of the bonnet. The iconic look was complete.

As futuristic the Cord might have been the rush to market combined with scarce resources for technical development meant it was not tested properly.

Reliability issues arose, and its reputation suffered.

E.L Cord exited the company in 1937 and Auburn, Duesenberg and Cord were consumed in the financial fire that followed.

Of the 2320 Cords registered nearly 70 per cent remain intact and operational today.

Seven are in the Museum.

David Burrell is the editor of

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