Drive Away 2Day

1937 Cord 810 Westchester : Classic Cars

Today's generation of young car enthusiasts has little idea how innovative the cars of Errett Lobban Cord were when they were introduced more than 70 years ago, with their front-wheel drive and hideaway headlamps. While hideaway headlamps have gone the way of leaded fuel, nearly every passenger car made today has front-wheel drive. Cord's cars are among the most influential American cars ever built, and while not common or found for sale very often, offer a unique alternative to the more traditional classics built by the Big Three and the other independent manufacturers.

Although his empire lasted much longer than Preston Tucker's, Errett Lobban Cord's life resembled Tucker's. Cord was part promoter, part visionary. He tried exceedingly hard to succeed, but like Tucker, fell hard. His ultimate creations were the Cord L-29 and 810/812. Cord was a salesman and business tycoon, who was drawn to the car-making business because of its money-making possibilities. In 1924, when he was just 30 years of age, Cord took over the day-to-day operations of the Auburn brand. Rather than focus on the conservative design of the day, Cord focused on cosmetics, and Auburns almost overnight were transformed into some of the best-looking cars on the road. Success seemed imminent because they were both technical and styling masterpieces.

The heart of the Cord was the front-wheel-drive system, pioneered by Harry Miller on the American champ car race circuit. Cord was so enamored with this revolutionary system that he bought the patent rights from Miller, and an early L-29 prototype took shape in Miller's Los Angeles race car shop. We all know the benefits of front-wheel drive, but it's been said that Cord didn't care about the mechanical end of it, but rather the styling advantages front-wheel drive offered him. Cord himself did not design the car's gorgeous body; John Oswald, who had designed many Auburns, drew the lines of the L-29, whose hood line sat a foot lower than its luxury car competition.

Like many other companies at the time, Cord succumbed to the Great Depression, and production stopped on New Year's Eve 1931. But he returned four years later with arguably the most recognizable car in American history-the Gordon Buehrig-designed Cord 810. With its long, upright hood and horizontal band of trim, the car soon earned the nickname "coffin-nose," to which it is still referred today. While other American cars had externally mounted door hinges, Buehrig included concealed hinges in the revolutionary design, and full-face wheelcovers. The headlamps, an industry first, were concealed in the fenders, and were raised by way of a pair of small cranks, one at either end of the dashboard.

The 1936 810's engine was a Lycoming 125hp V-8 with three main bearings. This did not change for the 812 model in 1937, but now a supercharger became available, and this boosted horsepower substantially to an advertised 170hp at 3,500 rpm. The actual rating was 195hp at 4,200 rpm (gross). The L-head V-8 in non-supercharged form displaced 288.6 cubic inches, with a bore and stroke of 3.50 inches x 3.75 inches, respectively. The compression ratio, typical of the time, was 6.3:1, while a Stromberg AA25 duplex carburetor and mechanical pump supplied the fuel. The engine featured aluminum cylinder heads, to take advantage of the heat-dissipating benefits, but strangely, only a single exhaust was used and, of course, a six-volt electrical system.

There were four models in 1936: Westchester Sedan, Beverly Sedan, Sportsman and Phaeton. All rode on 125-inch wheelbases. In 1937, two models, the Westchester and Beverly sedans, kept their 125-inch wheelbase, but the other four models-Sportsman, Phaeton, Custom Beverly and Custom Berline-had longer, 132-inch wheelbases. The longer-wheelbase cars had eight louvers on the hood side panels, with the shorter-wheelbase cars having seven louvers.

In 1936, Cord built 1,764 cars, and in 1937, just 1,066 cars were built. No supercharged Cords were built in 1936, but in 1937, about 40 percent of production were supercharged. In 1937, just 11 Berlines were built featuring their characteristic roll-up partition between the front and rear seats and rear instrument panel so that, some theorize, the car's owner could keep tabs on the engine, as many of these were chauffeur-driven.

Driving Impressions
Ken McCartney, 74, of Carefree, Arizona, saw his first Cord while leaving a high school football game in 1949. He's owned four since and still owns our feature car, a beautiful Egyptian Sand 1937 Beverly. He says the car is very advanced for its time, performs and handles well and is beautiful, even by today's standards. Our West Coast associate editor Jeff Koch photographed and drove this car earlier this year, and he said, "Acceleration is smooth and, while not packing supercharged power, acquits itself admirably." Jeff found that the transmission shifted smoothly and the U-joints were silent, despite being told otherwise. "The manual steering is delightful on the straights, even with the usually suspect bias-ply tires, and the ride vaults the Cord into the realm of the contemporary."

Ken bought this car in basket-case condition, with four truckloads of parts, and except for the paint and interior, did all the assembly himself. He remembers the car being completely disassembled. Ken says, "For a heavy car, it handles well, and I can drive it about 20 mph faster around a curve than a normal rear-wheel-drive car because there's less unsprung weight. At slow speeds, the car feels heavy, but at speed it handles quite well. It is a good stable car and can be driven between 75 and 80 mph on the open highway with no trouble."

"I had my first Cord in 1955," Ken told us, "and had driven that one up to 100 mph several times. The supercharged cars would run about 110 to 115 mph. I never had one, but the first Cord I ever saw had me in awe." I walked around that car and vowed that someday I would own one. That first Cord was black, a convertible, and had those big chrome exhausts, as it was a supercharged model. There was nothing on the car to identify it. I didn't know what it was, but that 150-mph speedometer really impressed me. I figured it would go pretty fast."

The 1936-1937 Cords had unit construction with an all-steel body, built by Central Manufacturing Co., with the powertrain carried on stub-type sub-frame. The transmission is a Detroit Gear T2971 and a four-speed unit with a dry clutch. The shifter pre-select is an electrically operated unit made by Bendix. The transmission itself was made in Auburn, Indiana, and the spiral bevel differential carried semi-floating drive axles with a 4.7:1 ratio. The braking system was also made by Bendix and featured four-wheel, 11-inch hydraulic brake drums. Some vendors specializing in Cord parts are: Stan Gilliland in Wellington, Kansas, and Glen Pray in Oklahoma, who in 1960, bought most of the remaining NOS parts. Reproduction body panels are available from D&D Classic in Covington, Ohio.

Believe it or not, you can find a few mechanical parts for these down at NAPA or J.C. Whitney and in Hemmings Motor News because some of the parts were the same ones used on other cars of the era. The Lycoming engines are durable, but the revolutionary front-wheel-drive transmission had one weak link-a failure-prone thrust washer that, when it failed, would jam the gears. That was in the 1930s and Ken McCartney says anyone who owns or restores a Cord today knows of this inherent problem. The problem can be fixed by installing a quarter-inch thrust washer to replace the original one-eighth-inch thrust washer.

Another problem back in the day was overheating. This occurred because the radiator was positioned over the transmission, which normally ran quite warm. McCartney says there are a number of fixes to bring down the temperature. The most logical and common thing to do is make sure the radiator and engine block are clean, with no sediment build-up inside. The fan can be adjusted to draw air in better, and a radiator shroud can be added. Some Cord owners install a six-volt electric fan mounted up in the hood to draw in air. Another problem with the 1936 models was the front wheels, which had a tendency to crack due to the front-wheel-drive system; the problem was rectified for 1937. Like all metal cars, they do rust, but mainly in the rocker panel area and floor boards, says Cord expert J.K. Howell of Illinois.

Obviously, with such low production and its avant-garde styling, the dynamite-looking Cords are quite collectible. They were truly ahead of their time, and despite about 3,000 being built in 1936 and 1937, it is estimated that about 1,800 survive.

Cords are not cheap. The low-end 1936 810 Westchester Sedan sold new for $1,995, and today is worth between $25,000-$60,000. The top-of-the-line 1936 four-door Phaeton convertible sedan can fetch up to $150,000, and even in poor shape is worth about $65,000. Prices of 1937 models today are similar, with the lower-end models worth in the vicinity of $62,000 and top-of-the-line cars worth about $145,000 depending on condition. If the car is supercharged, add about 20 percent. There were more than a half dozen 1936-1937 Cords listed for sale in Hemmings Motor News recently, and we found a 1937 supercharged Beverly sedan with an asking price of $45,000. Another 1937 model for sale was a phaeton for $138,000, and another 1937 Beverly, sporting a $100,000 restoration, was offered at $75,000.

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Sources : 1937 Cord 810 Westchester Photo | 1937 Cord 810 Westchester Article | 1937 Cord 810 Westchester Photo 2 | 1937 Cord 810 Westchester Photo 3 | 1937 Cord 810 Westchester Engine Photo | 1937 Cord 810 Westchester Interior Photo | 1937 Cord 810 Westchester Interior Photo 2 | 1937 Cord 810 Westchester Interior Photo 3


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