E. L. Cord was a master salesman who acquired Auburn in 1928 after saving it from bankruptcy by unloading about 700 sedans languishing on the lot. He spiffed up the orphans with bright paint schemes and applied his considerable sales talent to move them. His reward was the company, which he revitalized. In 1929 he took Auburn to the next step, introducing the front-wheel-drive Cord L-29 with low-slung sporting styling. He also bought Duesenberg and Lycoming engines to add to his portfolio of 156 transportation-related companies. He tied them all together with his holding company, the Chicago-based Cord Corporation. In the early '30s a product intended to be a "Baby Duesenberg" became the basis for a new medium-priced front-wheel drive car, the Cord 810. The 810 was intended to restore Auburn to health with style, performance, and reasonable cost. Gordon Buehrig's clean, coffin-nosed, retractable-headlight design was a sensation at its 1935 New York Auto Show debut, but Cord was in dire financial trouble, and while orders poured in, the first deliveries were not until mid-1936. The 1937 Cord 812s were little changed except for the supercharger option, which brought horsepower up to 190 and gave the car one of the best power-to-weight ratios in the market. Approximately 195, some sources claim 225, of the attractive convertible coupes were built in 1936-37. About 64 of the 1937 convertible coupes were supercharged. This Cord 812 SC Convertible Coupe was restored from the ground up in the mid-1980s and received the Auburn Cord Duesenberg (ACD) Club Level 1 Certification as a correct and original Cord. In the late '80s it went overseas to an important collection and returned to the U.S. in January 2005. While it was restored 20 years ago, it is still an impressive example that looks quite fresh.

SCM Analysis


This 1937 Cord 812 SC Convertible Coupe sold for $236,500 at RM’s Meadow Brook auction in May 2005.

The 810/812 Cords were full of clever ideas like front-wheel drive, the electro-vacuum shifter with fingertip control, roller cam followers in the engine, and an oil level dash indicator. The chassis had a separate front sub-frame with trailing-link front suspension giving a favorable unsprung weight ratio for great handling and ride. The disappearing top was another first for a production car, as was the “step-down” floor design. The car’s four-speed transmission included an indirect overdrive top, allowing high-speed cruising.

For its era, the Cord was fast; Autocar in its March 1937 test recorded 0-60 in a shade over 13 seconds. The Cord’s power to weight ratio was superior to its contemporaries, the Cadillac 60 and Packard Super 8. Just last summer, a West Coast Cord enthusiast drove his 812 to Auburn, averaging 60 mph for 2,500 miles. The editor of the ACD publication awarded him the unofficial Ab Jenkins Hero Drivers Award.

The two-seater 812 SC Convertible Coupe was the ultimate expression of Buehrig’s design. The hidden headlights and coffin nose with the Venetian blind grill were strikingly modern for the late ’30s. Unlike the Chrysler Airflow, it was beautifully integrated and admired.

Never officially referred to as the Sportsman, the two-seat convertible’s moniker came from an ad with the caption “Sportsman’s Convertible Coupe,” which really referred to the driver, not the car. The 812 Convertible Coupe or cabriolet with supercharger is among the most sought after of all 810/812 Cords.

Roger Huntington wondered in a 1975 Car Classics article what made the Cord one of the most famous cars in history and a coveted collector’s item. He concluded it was a perfectly integrated, completely cohesive design.

However, it was also rushed into production on a shoestring. Several problems cropped up early and combined with the long wait for delivery to shoot down sales targets. Fixes have since been devised for the various weaknesses: troublesome front U-joints can be replaced with modified Olds Toronado transplants; cracked steel wheels can be replaced; and the Rube Goldberg transmission upgraded. That hastily produced Borg-Warner unit with its electro-vacuum shift mechanism can be trashed by an inexperienced driver and oil leaks onto its electric terminals can leave it stuck in gear. The ACD Newsletter recently ran an article entitled, “Cord Shifting for Dummies,” with emphasis on shifting techniques. Solutions to the overheating problem are still being devised 69 years later.

Only about 2,900 810/812s were made, and the Convertible Coupe is the rarest body style. The ACD Newsletter recently estimated that about 60% of the 810/812s survive. How many of the original 64 supercharged Convertible Coupes exist is not known, but there are probably more than originally made, because many 810/812 Cabriolets and four-seater Phaetons have gained superchargers from sedans.

So is this Cord 812 SC worth $236,500? The auction estimate was $225,000-$275,000, which many Cord aficionados thought was generous. The selling price is at the top of the market and followed the sale of a ’37 SC Cord Phaeton, also in black, for a generous $187,000, though that was a late ’90s restoration, still like new.

But this car is an original supercharged car with ACD Level 1 certification and maybe less than 40 of these exist. It was restored by George Ehresman, known for excellent work among Cord cognoscenti. On the down side, it’s a 20-year-old restoration and showing its age, especially the chassis. It appears to be a very good driver but no longer a number-one show car. The rumble seat fitted during restoration is practical but also turns off some purists. The title is incorrect, but should be easy to rectify; 30 years ago, numbers were transposed. Titled as 23379F, It’s actually chassis 32379F.

Recent sales of these Convertible Coupes have been strong. Barrett-Jackson sold an 810 with marginal paint and chrome in January 2004 for $201,900. It had a good interior but the dashboard had paint over rust pits. It had been driven just six miles since it sold for $103,880 at the Branson auction in October ’03, certainly a tidy profit. In January ’05, RM sold two SC Phaetons for over $185,000, so all the SC Cords are bringing big money this year. Perhaps they are the muscle cars for the over-65 set?

While the price was a record, this car’s the top of the Cord line-beautiful, rare, fast, and drivable. As the auctioneer pointed out: How long are you prepared to wait for another chance at an authentic SC Convertible Coupe?

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