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1931 Cord L-29 Boattail Speedster

The 1931 Cord L-29 Boattail Speedster was one of a kind.

It's a phrase often bandied about, but every now and then it is justifiably applied to something truly special. The L-29 was built to garner prestige for itself at shows and events in the United States and Europe. The car's dramatic appearance was enhanced by a bold color scheme of Chinese Red matched with bright yellow panels flaring out along the bodysides and around the interior tub. Narrow, slit-eyed Woodlite headlights added an eerie look. Interior touches reflected the high life of a bygone era.

Folding door panels housed etched shot glasses and a humidor. Credit for the slippery Speedster design was attributed to Philip 0. Wright, of Murphy Body in California. (Interestingly, this would be the only commission Wright would receive from the company.) The coachwork was done by the Union Body Company, an Indiana firm that produced custom bodies under the name LaGrande.

The L-29 Speedster made its show debut in 1931 (having first traded in its Woodlites for conventional round lamps), and voyaged across the Atlantic to Europe twice in its short lifetime. Along the way it gathered legions of admirers and left behind intriguing, yet unverifiable myths about possible ownership by prominent people, such as Paul Bern, the ill-fated husband of film star Jean Harlow. The Speedster disappeared during one of its European jaunts, never to be seen again.

But neither was it forgotten. In 1990, Stan Gilliland completed this recreation of the fabled Speedster. Commissioned by Dr. F. H. Culbreth, it is the result of a painstaking process that began with a technique called "lofting," in which historic photographs and calculated dimensions are used to generate full-size drawings. The rebodied Speedster rests atop a genuine front-wheel-drive L-29 chassis with a wheel-base of 137.5 inches, and employs an original Cord drivetrain and instrument panel. The 299-cid Lycoming inline eight-cylinder engine is rated at 125 bhp.

Those who want a closer look for themselves can get one by visiting the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana. The Speedster was donated in part by noted East Coast car collector David Stevenson.

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