Gordon Buehrig needn't have worried. His new 1936 Cord 810 was the star of the seven-day New York show. Critics voted it the year's most attractive car by a wide margin, and showgoers mobbed the Cord stand, climbing all over each other just to get a glimpse of it.
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The value leader of the debut 1936 Cord 810 line was the pretty Westchester sedan, advertised at a still-formidable $1,995.
Though demonstration drives weren't possible, company representatives took numerous orders on the spot, optimistically promising delivery by Christmas. Meantime, congratulatory telegrams poured into corporate headquarters.
The 810 was the most talked-about car in years. Said one show reporter: "This entirely new car is of greater interest than all the other exhibits put together." Another went much further: "For sheer taste, for functional correctness, and for beauty, the Cord is the best design the American industry has ever produced."
This enthusiastic debut promised a new lease on life for moribund Auburn. But a firm Auburn had hired to gauge public response sounded a sobering note, warning that the 810's "success would seem to be assured, provided the car in service lives up to its first impressions and provided too long a time does not elapse between impressions made on possible buyers and the time at which they have a chance to get deliveries." Events were about to prove this an eerily accurate prophesy.
Christmas came and went, then New Year's, but not a single 810 emerged from Connersville. One of the 11 show cars was made drivable and delivered to an E.L. Cord crony. The others, overburdened with lead and having served their purpose, were returned to the plant and stripped of usable parts. Most were broken up for scrap.
Meanwhile, the company sent out 1/32-scale bronze models on marble bases to placate increasingly impatient buyers, acknowledging their advance deposits and assuring that real cars were on the way. But the first 810s didn't start trickling off the line until February 15.
Predictably, there were problems, as there are with almost any all-new car. The main ones were chronic overheating, excessively noisy U-joints, and transmissions that shifted in and out of gear as if they had minds of their own. These and other "bugs" were eventually exterminated, but by then it was too late. For all its advances -- or maybe because of them -- the second-generation Cord seemed as flawed as the first.
High prices didn't help. Though nowhere near a 12-cylinder Pierce-Arrow, Lincoln, or Packard, the 810 was far too costly for the upper-medium-price field Cord had targeted. The Westchester four-door, the lesser of the two sedans offered and cheapest of the four-model lineup, came in at a hefty $1,995. Topping the line was the Phaeton Sedan at $2,195. Thus, the Cord was in class by itself. Many saw it as neither fish nor fowl, an uncomfortable position for any car in 1936.
Cord 810s were soon seen on America's highways, but not often: only 716 were built in the first five months. Technical complexity, the overwhelming amount of hand labor required, and Auburn's dwindling resources all precluded volume production, which in turn largely accounted for the stiff prices. The early "teething" troubles and Auburn's shaky public image did the rest.
So although the Cord was still widely admired for its design, the bloom went off its rose quite quickly. What was supposed to be a much-needed shot in the arm for failing Auburn division turned out to be a very bitter pill instead.
See the next page to see if Cord recovered with the 1937 Cord 812.
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