1930 Cord L-29 Cabriolet

1930 Cord L-29 Cabriolet

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Historian Arch Brown called it the “Magnificent Makeshift” and it’s difficult to think of a beloved Full Classic in its original context, but the L-29 Cord was both a calculated effort to fill a hole in Auburn’s lineup (much like General Motors did with Pontiac); and a compromise in design.

  • YEAR & MAKE - 1930 Cord
  • MODEL NAME - 
  • SERIES - L-29
  • MODEL/BODY/STYLE NUMBER - 
  • BODY TYPE - 2 Door, 2/4 Passenger Rumble Seat Cabriolet
  • BODY BY - Cord
  • # CYLS. - Strt. 8
  • TRANSMISSION TYPE & NUMBER - 3 Speed, FWD
  • WEIGHT - 4,500
  • ESTIMATED PRODUCTION - 5,010
  • HP - 120
  • C.I.D. - 298.3
  • WHEELBASE - 137.5″
  • PRICE NEW - $3,000

 

Errett Lobban Cord was, seemingly, fearless. He’d worked his way into the industry on sheer chutzpah by bluffing his way into a Chicago Moon dealership, and his success there led frightened investors at failing Auburn manufacturer to take a chance on him as the man who could turn their brand around. First as general manager in 1923 and soon as president he did so in magnificent style. Auburn became the springboard for an empire.

Like Henry Ford, E.L. Cord believed in controlling as much of the manufacturing process as he could, and acquired Auburn’s engine supplier Lycoming. New subsidiary Duesenberg used Lycoming engines as well, albeit heavily a modified version.

With Auburn selling between $1,000 and $2,000, and Duesenberg starting at over $8,000, there was a big gap in the lineup, and Cadillac, Packard and Pierce-Arrow were all targeting a sweet spot at $3,000 to $4,000 with their mid-range cars. The market was booming, and E.L. Cord wasn’t about to miss out.

The new car would be the first with Cord’s name on it, so he was determined it had to be special, especially in styling which he wanted to be lower and sleeker than the competition. At the same time he didn’t want to compromise on headroom. In keeping with his “be different” motto, he determined that front-wheel drive was the answer.

In 1926, Cord purchased the rights to a front-wheel drive passenger car design from Harry Miller, whose FWD race car had made a very strong showing at Indianapolis in 1925. He hired Miller himself on as well to oversee engineering, and Miller in turn brought on engineer and driver Cornelius W. VanRanst; together, they had a working prototype by 1927. Together with Auburn and Duesenberg engineers in Indianapolis, they began developing it into a production-ready automobile. On a test drive in 1928, the doors popped open on a rough road, which inspired Auburn to use the first known application of an x-brace in the frame. Cross and roller joints in the driveshafts were replaced with double universal joints to quell vibration. The engineering reportedly wanted more time to develop the car further–for instance, despite the engine being set far back in the chassis with the transmission in front of it, the weight balance is unfavorable and L-29 Cords have difficult with traction under certain conditions, such as climbing hills in the rain. The car was capable of high-speed driving, but Lycoming’s 125hp, 298.6-cu.in. straight-eight was taxed during acceleration of a 4,320-pound cabriolet and never designed to be in this reversed installation, driving the transmission in front of it.

But any shortcoming were lost behind the L-29 Cord’s styling. The longest and lowest hood in the industry combined with that sensational radiator made the car a sensation, as well as proving irresistible to coachbuilders.

In four short years of production, Auburn built just over 5,000 L-29 Cords, before the Depression combined with a lack of distribution and lingering public mistrust of the unconventional configuration ended sales in 1932. That was ample time, however, to make it a legend and completely change the course of American luxury car styling.

Because of the L-29s avant garde construction and high cost, some $3,000 and up, comparable to a less-expensive Chrysler Imperial or V-8 Cadillac, owners tended to be artistic and adventurous. Frank Lloyd Wright famously owned one, as did designer Brooks Stevens.

Texas painter Thomas Stell fits that mold. Like many children, he enjoyed drawing cars for fun; unlike most, however, he was sketching streamlined designs as early the Teens. He didn’t follow Frank Lloyd Wright as far as actually designing his own, but he did pursue a career art, first as a draughtsman, then by the late Twenties becoming known as an influential portraitist and member of a group of pioneering Texas artists now known as the Dallas Nine or Lone Star Regionalists. From 1923 to 1932, he divided his time between the New York City and Dallas, before eventually settling at the Dallas Art Institute. During the Depression, Stell was also deeply involved with the WPA, directing the Texas section of the Index of American Design, as well as painting several public murals for the WPA.

According to Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club documents, Stell purchased this Cord L-29 In 1931, when he would either have been studying art at Columbia University in New York; or teaching in Trenton, New Jersey. He kept it with him until 1958, a period during which he was lecturing and travelling widely.

While the car was in Austin, Texas for at least the next 30 years, the next few owners are more obscure. A man named Leonard Reineke bought it from Stell, and owned it until 1985, but even those involved in the Classic Car Club of America in Austin since the early 1970s have no memory of him. In 1985 Jim Beauchamp  also of Austin, bought the Cord from Reineke. A member of the now-disbanded Lone Star region of the CCCA, Beauchamp is the son of a car collector and owned several Auburns, including volunteering as a 12-cylinder Auburn techical advisor for the ACD club. He had the car certified by the ACD Club’s late Paul Bryant, who inspected the car several times, including at the 1986 ACD annual meet in Auburn, Indiana, where he reported it was in completely original, unrestored condition; and appeared to have the same body, engine and frame from new. The ACD documents also record multiple appearances in the Lone Star CCCA’s Longhorn magazine, including on the cover in May 1986. By 1993, new owners named Stan Block and Bruce Barnett had certification documents reissued in their name, but their ownership was brief, and the car was soon in Richie Clyne’s Imperial Palace collection, from which it was acquired for Chicago Vintage in the late 1990s.

As Cord owner Frank Lloyd Wright said, “The proportions and lines of the Cord…come nearer to expressing the beauty of both science and logic than any car I have ever seen.” Despite any faults, the appeal of the innovation and style of the Cord L-29 has proven eternal.

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Errett Lobban Cord was, seemingly, fearless. He’d worked his way into the industry on sheer chutzpah by bluffing his way into a Chicago Moon dealership, and his success there led frightened investors at failing Auburn manufacturer to take a chance on him as the man who could turn their brand around. First as general manager in 1923 and soon as president he did so in magnificent style. Auburn became the springboard for an empire.

Like Henry Ford, E.L. Cord believed in controlling as much of the manufacturing process as he could, and acquired Auburn’s engine supplier Lycoming. New subsidiary Duesenberg used Lycoming engines as well, albeit heavily a modified version.

With Auburn selling between $1,000 and $2,000, and Duesenberg starting at over $8,000, there was a big gap in the lineup, and Cadillac, Packard and Pierce-Arrow were all targeting a sweet spot at $3,000 to $4,000 with their mid-range cars. The market was booming, and E.L. Cord wasn’t about to miss out.

The new car would be the first with Cord’s name on it, so he was determined it had to be special, especially in styling which he wanted to be lower and sleeker than the competition. At the same time he didn’t want to compromise on headroom. In keeping with his “be different” motto, he determined that front-wheel drive was the answer.

In 1926, Cord purchased the rights to a front-wheel drive passenger car design from Harry Miller, whose FWD race car had made a very strong showing at Indianapolis in 1925. He hired Miller himself on as well to oversee engineering, and Miller in turn brought on engineer and driver Cornelius W. VanRanst; together, they had a working prototype by 1927. Together with Auburn and Duesenberg engineers in Indianapolis, they began developing it into a production-ready automobile. On a test drive in 1928, the doors popped open on a rough road, which inspired Auburn to use the first known application of an x-brace in the frame. Cross and roller joints in the driveshafts were replaced with double universal joints to quell vibration. The engineering reportedly wanted more time to develop the car further–for instance, despite the engine being set far back in the chassis with the transmission in front of it, the weight balance is unfavorable and L-29 Cords have difficult with traction under certain conditions, such as climbing hills in the rain. The car was capable of high-speed driving, but Lycoming’s 125hp, 298.6-cu.in. straight-eight was taxed during acceleration of a 4,320-pound cabriolet and never designed to be in this reversed installation, driving the transmission in front of it.

But any shortcoming were lost behind the L-29 Cord’s styling. The longest and lowest hood in the industry combined with that sensational radiator made the car a sensation, as well as proving irresistible to coachbuilders.

In four short years of production, Auburn built just over 5,000 L-29 Cords, before the Depression combined with a lack of distribution and lingering public mistrust of the unconventional configuration ended sales in 1932. That was ample time, however, to make it a legend and completely change the course of American luxury car styling.

Because of the L-29s avant garde construction and high cost, some $3,000 and up, comparable to a less-expensive Chrysler Imperial or V-8 Cadillac, owners tended to be artistic and adventurous. Frank Lloyd Wright famously owned one, as did designer Brooks Stevens.

Texas painter Thomas Stell fits that mold. Like many children, he enjoyed drawing cars for fun; unlike most, however, he was sketching streamlined designs as early the Teens. He didn’t follow Frank Lloyd Wright as far as actually designing his own, but he did pursue a career art, first as a draughtsman, then by the late Twenties becoming known as an influential portraitist and member of a group of pioneering Texas artists now known as the Dallas Nine or Lone Star Regionalists. From 1923 to 1932, he divided his time between the New York City and Dallas, before eventually settling at the Dallas Art Institute. During the Depression, Stell was also deeply involved with the WPA, directing the Texas section of the Index of American Design, as well as painting several public murals for the WPA.

According to Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club documents, Stell purchased this Cord L-29 In 1931, when he would either have been studying art at Columbia University in New York; or teaching in Trenton, New Jersey. He kept it with him until 1958, a period during which he was lecturing and travelling widely.

While the car was in Austin, Texas for at least the next 30 years, the next few owners are more obscure. A man named Leonard Reineke bought it from Stell, and owned it until 1985, but even those involved in the Classic Car Club of America in Austin since the early 1970s have no memory of him. In 1985 Jim Beauchamp  also of Austin, bought the Cord from Reineke. A member of the now-disbanded Lone Star region of the CCCA, Beauchamp is the son of a car collector and owned several Auburns, including volunteering as a 12-cylinder Auburn techical advisor for the ACD club. He had the car certified by the ACD Club’s late Paul Bryant, who inspected the car several times, including at the 1986 ACD annual meet in Auburn, Indiana, where he reported it was in completely original, unrestored condition; and appeared to have the same body, engine and frame from new. The ACD documents also record multiple appearances in the Lone Star CCCA’s Longhorn magazine, including on the cover in May 1986. By 1993, new owners named Stan Block and Bruce Barnett had certification documents reissued in their name, but their ownership was brief, and the car was soon in Richie Clyne’s Imperial Palace collection, from which it was acquired for Chicago Vintage in the late 1990s.

As Cord owner Frank Lloyd Wright said, “The proportions and lines of the Cord…come nearer to expressing the beauty of both science and logic than any car I have ever seen.” Despite any faults, the appeal of the innovation and style of the Cord L-29 has proven eternal.