In 1929 Errett Lobban Cord, expanding his automotive empire, introduced a front-wheel drive automobile that he named after himself. The Cord L29 offered a distinctive, sporting appearance and great performance for its price. Unfortunately, when the stock market crashed shortly after the car’s introduction, so did the market for the L29. The Cord’s distinctive styling did, however, provide the basis for a new medium-priced front-wheel drive car, the 810. The 810 was intended to restore Cord’s auto manufacturing operations to health, using the proven formula: styling, performance and a reasonable price. (In the process, Gordon Buehrig’s clean and unadorned, coffin-nosed, retractable-headlight design created a standard by which cars are still judged today.) Powered by a Lycoming-built V8 engine, it created an instant sensation at its November 1935 introduction at the New York Auto Show— so much so that Cord could not meet the initial demand. The 1937 Cord, designated the 812, was little changed from the 1936 models except for the optional supercharged engine. Cord’s experience with Duesenberg provided the expertise for them to add a Schwitzer-Cummins centrifugal supercharger that provided a 6-psi boost and increased the rating of the Lycoming V8 to between 185 and 195 horsepower. The chromed outside exhaust pipes, which were also a trademark of the supercharged Auburns and Duesenbergs, identified the increased capabilities of the supercharged 812. Cord built six different models in 1936 and ’37 during the life of the 810/812: the Convertible Coupe, the phaeton, the Westchester Sedan, the Beverly Sedan, the Custom Beverly and the Custom Berline. Approximately 195 of the very attractive Convertible Coupe model were built and, according to company records, only 64 were supercharged. The Convertible Coupe has become the most sought-after Cord model and is commonly referred to as the “Sportsman” even though that designation was never used by Cord. The example pictured here features the characteristic engine-turned instrument panel with ivory trim and dual spotlights. The subject of a high-quality older restoration, it is clean and well presented throughout. With striking all-black livery, Gordon Buehrig’s classic design stops traffic as readily today as it did 64 years ago.  

SCM Analysis


This Cord 812SC Convertible Coupe sold for $143,000, including buyer’s premium, at RM’s Arizona Biltmore auction, held January 19, 2001.

When the Cord 812 was introduced in 1937, little changed from the prior year’s 810. In November 1936, the clouds of doom had settled over E.L. Cord’s automotive empire. Designer Gordon Buehrig had resigned in August and was replaced by Alex Tremulis as head of the design department. In truth, there was no department left so he essentially worked alone. Cords were selling at what could best be described as a leisurely pace, as dealers were closing their doors or switching to other lines of automobiles. Fewer dealers, of course, meant fewer sales, and this was a cycle that could not be broken.

When Cord 810s began coming off the assembly line in early 1936, it was apparent that little time had been spent testing their unique design. The cars were not cheap and the complaints were quick to arrive. The pre-select transmission slipped, rain leaks were horrendous and the paint was often of questionable quality. Engine overheating, attributed to the coffin-shaped nose, was a common complaint. Many of these problems were addressed “on the fly” but it is estimated that only 1,100 810s of all types were sold.

With this ominous background, Cord greeted the 1937 selling season by raising the price of the 812 by $450, about the price of a new Ford, to a whopping $2,560. In addition, the optional supercharger added another $450 to the final price. The decision to add external exhaust pipes on the supercharged cars was not made until a few weeks before the car’s introduction at the 1937 Auto Show and they were greeted with mixed reactions.

While only 64 of the Convertible Coupes that were built in 1937 were ordered with the optional supercharger and external exhaust pipes, it is difficult to find one for sale today without them, whether installed at the factory or not. A number 3 in the prefix of the chassis number indicates that the car was originally equipped with a supercharger and since the option adds about $25,000 to the current value, it is wise to make sure it is not an “add-on.” The Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club offers a certification program that authenticates the originality of ACD vehicles. If a Cord has not gone through this program, you should proceed very carefully before writing a check.

Although I personally couldn’t verify the chassis number, I was assured by three different Cord experts that this 812 Convertible Coupe was a legitimate SC, unlike the one offered by Barrett-Jackson on the same weekend that had external exhaust but no supercharger (Lot # 646, sold at $124,200). This car did, however, carry an incorrect exhaust configuration and air cleaner.

The value of these cars has been held down by two factors: the unfavorable reputation of their cantankerous transmissions and the number of reproductions that have been manufactured. All things considered, this “Sportsman” sold on the money.

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