On August 10,1935, just 15 weeks before the first of the big national auto shows and the debut of the 1936 Cord 810, E.L. Cord inexplicably announced that production of his new namesake would get underway immediately at Auburn's Connersville, Indiana facility. Initial funds would come from one of his corporation's few profitable divisions, a maker of metal kitchen cabinets.
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The 1936 Cord 810 Phaeton Sedan was a four-seater with innovative roll-down rear quarter windows.
What followed was near total bedlam as workers, factory managers, tool-and-die makers, and parts and materials suppliers scrambled. Worse, the firm had to complete at least 100 of the new models before it could exhibit even one, clearly an impossible task.
Under heavy pressure from E.L. Cord, show officials decided to accept a lesser number, and 11 cars were finished in time. Even this was a minor miracle, as they were literally hand-built, with most sheetmetal hammered out on the spot. Because transmission tooling couldn't be had on such short notice, none of the show cars was drivable.
As if Gordon Buehrig didn't have enough headaches, E.L. Cord next demanded not one, but two different convertibles to share the limelight with his new sedan. Working from quarter-scale clay models, the designer translated dimensions directly to full-size steel bodies right on the assembly shop floor.
But he did it masterfully, and his two-seat Sportsman convertible coupe emerged as one of the most beautiful open cars ever produced. Its four-seat companion, euphemistically dubbed "Phaeton Sedan," was a convertible club coupe with pivoting, crank-down rear quarter windows, another U.S. production first.
Both had cloth tops that lowered into a well behind the cockpit, where they were completely concealed by a close-fitting metal cover. Harley Earl copped this idea for his 1938 Y-job and a number of General Motors' early postwar show cars.
Limited funds dictated strict production economies and no little improvisation, though, if anything, this only contributed to the new Cord's uniqueness. For example, the four sedan doors were made with just two dies; a smaller trim die was used to finish the rear ones. Items like steering wheels, instruments, window cranks, and door handles were purchased in bulk as manufacturer's surplus, thus eliminating their tooling costs entirely.
In some areas, the simplest answers worked best. Take the hubcap, which covered the entire wheel, an innovation that would later sweep the industry. Though it was originally a solid stamping, repeated brake failures due to heat buildup suggested punching 12 cooling holes around its perimeter, an elegantly functional solution.
Equally clever -- but far more troublesome -- was the sedan's all-steel roof. Though more advanced than contemporary fabric-insert types, it comprised no fewer than seven separate pieces that had to be welded together. The reason? Auburn didn't have a press large enough to stamp it as one panel.
As showtime approached, Cord Corporation announced that it would have the largest display of any auto maker at the big New York exposition, with the reborn Cord occupying center-stage amidst a bevy of 1936 Auburns and a smattering of Duesenbergs.
The 11 hand-built cars, four convertibles and seven sedans, left Connersville by rail in the waning days of October, destined for shows in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles beginning November 2. At his Auburn, Indiana home, Gordon Buehrig anxiously awaited the people's verdict.
And unquestionably, the future of Auburn Automobile Company was riding on those cars. Despite Buehrig's attractive 1935 restyle, Auburn was still generally considered an also-ran, a make that might become an orphan at almost any time. Few buyers cared to gamble on such cars in the Depression years, and this more than anything had prevented Auburn from improving its market position. With the company losing money at a prodigious rate, the Cord was quite rightly seen as its salvation.
For more on the 1936 Cord 810, see the next page.
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