The 1936 Cord 810 Convertible was definitely radical. It was radical in that it posed a sharp break from the previous notions of how an automobile should look and run. As extreme as it was, it is surprising to remember that the Cord began life as a conscious effort to be middle of the road.
Actually middle-of-the-lineup is more like it, for Erret Lobban Cord wanted to field an automobile that would be positioned somewhere between Auburn and the lofty heights of Duesenberg.
The car that ultimately filled that slot in the ACD empire would bear the company president's name: Cord. The first vehicle to wear that moniker was the L-29. Introduced on the cusp of the stock market crash in 1929, it was mechanically innovative, regally styled, and pitifully under-powered. After production of some 4429 units, L-29 assembly was halted on December 31,1931, and the Cord name was temporarily mothballed.
The label re-emerged in 1936, on a car originally envisioned as a junior Duesenberg. The new Cord lineup was quite simply unlike anything anyone had seen before. The obvious focal point was styling: extraordinarily clean, sleek and bold, from the hideaway headlights and pontoon fenders up front to the gently tapered tail.
Capping it all off was the trademark "coffin-nose" -- a deco-style hood with wrap-around louvers that became the lasting visual cue of classic Cord styling.
Underneath the slippery skin was a chassis several steps beyond that of the L-29's. Still front-wheel drive, the Cord 810 series cars were shorter, lighter, better balanced, and more powerful than their predecessors, with refinements born of L-29 shortcomings.
The full 1936 lineup included the Westchester and Beverly four-door sedans, four-place Phaeton Sedan convertible, and two-seat Sportsman convertible coupe, all riding a 125-inch wheelbase.
Cords would shine brilliantly but briefly. Lack of development due to lack of funding made for mechanical problems, and leading-edge styling and innovation were ill-matched to "hard times" conservatism, especially on a high-end automobile. When the company's shaky finances finally gave way, Cord followed stablemates Auburn and Duesenberg into automotive oblivion in 1937.
But time has been kind to the Cord, if market conditions were not. History's rearview mirror reflects a car that was ahead of its time mechanically, with styling that's proven to be just plain timeless. John Kepich, of Fort Myers, Florida, owns this elegant 810.