The rest of the features of the 1936 Cord 810's more compact power package comprised differential, clutch, and four-speed transmission within a single reinforced housing. Unlike the L-29, this was located ahead of the front axle centerline, with the engine just behind, providing more even fore/aft weight distribution and thus far better traction. Lower engine weight also helped, the V-8 being only half as heavy as the old straight eight.
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The hidden headlamps and 'Venetian blind' grille of the 1936 Cord Sportsman were strikingly modern for the late 1930s, as was the absence of running boards.
A full-pressure oil pump was built into the driveline case to assure constant gear lubrication. Unlike rear-drive cars, where engine/transmission misalignment often caused undue noise and wear, the Cord gearbox was rigidly attached to the engine, at the front. Driving torque was taken to each front wheel through a splined shaft with an angular constant-velocity universal joint at each end.
Front suspension was independent, with dual trailing "swing arms" acting on a transverse leaf spring, and made for an unusually smooth ride. Center-point steering made for easy operation. Replacing the normal stalk-like gearshift was the Bendix "Electric Hand," an electrically controlled vacuum servo that allowed the driver to preselect gears via a toggle on a stubby steering column extension. After moving to the gear desired, you simply stabbed the clutch to shift. Everything else was automatic.
No less innovative was the interior, actually an updated version of Buehrig's 1930 Duesenberg Beverly motif. Adorned with a chrome engine-turned appliqué, the instrument panel bristled with fingertip levers and a full complement of easy-to-read dials that included clock, tachometer, and engine-oil-level indicator.
Headlamps were raised and lowered manually by small, chrome-plated handcranks at the underdash extremities. (On the pilot model featured in early Cord advertising, the lamps were mounted inboard on the front fenders; production cars had them on the leading edges.) Instead of the usual button, you sounded the horn by pressing on a large chrome ring within the steering wheel, the first American car ever to have one. Finally, a pistol-grip handbrake hung from the dash at the far left, leaving a completely unobstructed front floor for full three-abreast seating.
By the end of 1934, the new Cord's basic design was locked up and production dies finished. Then, just when all seemed ready, the program was put on hold once more. Why? Lack of money. Cord Corporation was in trouble, particularly linchpin Auburn, which had yet to reverse its steep sales decline of the past several years.
Lacking sufficient development funds for a completely new Auburn line, the board briefly considered several strange compromises. One mated the would-be Cord's front-end sheetmetal with the existing Auburn sedan body, and looked quite ungainly for it.
Another was a rakish two-place convertible called the "Gentleman's Roadster." Intended as an inexpensive Duesenberg, it was really an upscale Auburn, with the V-12 in the six-cylinder chassis -- just the sort of car Ames had originally suggested. Only one was built. (It now resides at the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana.)
By July 1935, the board was again ready to proceed -- pending approval from the company's reclusive president. That meant taking the sole prototype to E.L. Cord's Los Angeles estate for a demonstration. Although several problems surfaced, notably overheating and a transmission that habitually slipped out of gear, the boss loved it.
Continue to the next page to read about the debut of the 1936 Cord 810.
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