Rare Find: 1936 Cord 810 Phaeton

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There are very few cars as beautiful as the Cord Phaeton. As the first American designed and built front wheel drive car with independent front suspension (the 1934 Citroen Traction Avant and the Cord L-29 were the first mass production front wheel drive cars) and it was also the first car to have hidden front headlights.

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Image courtesy of BoldRide

Cord was a division of the struggling Indiana based Auburn Automobile Company. The 810, with its iconic coffin nose, was the work of the great designer Gordon Buehrig (whose team included Alex Tremulis, later a well known Ford designer). It was a sensation when it was launched in at the November, 1935 New York Auto Show, and was much in demand, especially by the rich and famous of Depression era America.

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The Cord 810 had many features that were far ahead of its time. Because the four speed semi-automatic transmission was mounted ahead of the engine, there was no driveshaft and transmission tunnel, enabling a very low car and dispensing with running boards. The 810 had hidden door hinges, a concealed fuel filler door, and variable speed windshield wipers at a time when many cars made do with hand operated or at least vacuum operating versions.

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At launch, Cord took many orders for its fantastic car, but because of production problems with the transmission, cars did not reach dealers until April of 1936 and only 1,174 810s were built in 1936. There were too many reliability problems, including cars slipping out of gear and carburetor vapor lock, which harmed the car’s reputation among buyers. The dealer base began to desert the company and soon, Cord was stuck with unsold 1936 810 cars that had to be re-numbered and were later sold as 1937 812 models. In 1937, Cord produced only about 3000 more cars, before Auburn closed the doors on the Cord factory.

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The Auburn story is far too long to tell here, but much of its history revolves around the remarkable E.L. Cord. The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum is definitely worth a visit. There’s a good summary of the Auburn company history here.

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Barn Finds reader Doug M. sent us a link to this incredible and rare Cord 810 survivor, advertised for sale on Prewar.com, a car that has some great history behind it.

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According to the current owner, this is an early production example that has been in his possession for ten years. He knows very well how rare and special this car is, as the asking price is a probably realistic but lofty $65,000. This Cord is said to have been driven daily until 1954 and garaged carefully since then. It has avoided being attacked by rodents, and has been kept indoors, but clearly is deteriorated and needs a complete restoration. Happily, the current owner has been accumulating parts for the car for the last ten years.

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As you can see from the photos, the front fenders are rough but are restorable. The car was originally painted Ganges Green but at some point was painted its current maroon color. Complete headlight assemblies with new sealed beam conversion kits are included with the car. The tail light lens have been removed to prevent breakage and are included.

The seats have seat covers installed, however the original leather upholstery appears to be under the seat covers. The original door and side panels are intact (drivers side door panel is not with the car). You will notice the door hardware is not correct. All the correct door handles and escutcheons (interior and exterior) are in a box with the car.

The instrumentation is complete and correct. The car does have a period heater and radio however they are not original Cord. The convertible top is in the trunk and appears to be complete. The engine is equipped with an electric fuel pump and an oil filter. The spark plug wire looms are in the box with other parts.

All in all, this is a fantastic and highly original example of one of the greatest classic cars ever built. This car will end up in the hands of a high end collector. In concours condition, an early 810 with documented history like this one has probably will sell for something close to $150,000. These cars are way out of my price range so I have no way to say definitively if the seller’s price is reasonable, or too high. Perhaps one of our experienced readers can weigh in. Given its rarity and place in automotive history, I’m guessing this car will sell.

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Comments

  1. Rob

    Yes that 810 is reasonable, ‘n no doubt in my mind it’ll be scooped up.. IF I had the $$, I’d give my left nut as a deposit in an instant for that beauty. The Supercharged Sportsman was always my favorite, but the Phaeton comes in at a darn near close 2nd. Cords have been one of my favorite cars for over 50 yrs.. sigh*

  2. Randy Burnett

    The front opening hood and fully disappearing top were also pretty new in the industry at the time and atleast with the roof, really give it a sleek uncluttered look. There were some strange things though like the 1/4 windows which were crudely operated by pivoting up and being held in place with a pin. There is no mechanism to raise and lower them. Even the cover over them is bolted in place with a thumb screw.
    They are beautiful cars though. I have a 36 810 Phaeton in my shop awaiting a restoration some day. I enjoy just looking at it. Makes people take a double take when they walk through the door.
    The paint is shiny and the interior is presentable so it makes a good display.

  3. Ed P

    These are good looking cars when restored to “as new” condition. This is definitely not a car for a working man’s budget.

    • Don

      There’s one two doors down from me, it’s burgundy and in the prosses of restoring it, I could ask if he wants to sell it.

  4. Dave Wright

    Now…..that is a car…..wonderful and worth restoring. The only problem is there are so many plastic phonies people wouldn’t think it is real.

  5. Roger Owen

    Cord and Auburn were my favourite American cars as a kid in the UK. Is the engine here a Lycoming Flat 8? This Cord’s interior looks quite plain – almost utilitarian.

    • Dairymen

      No its not a flat 8, it’s a V8 but it is a flathead if that’s what you mean.

  6. Paul R

    What a beautiful car so far ahead of its time.

  7. Blindmarc

    My grandfather was a service manager for them in the late 20’s thru early 30’s. I use to have a photograph if my dad as a kid standing on the running board of Tom Mix’ car.

  8. Pfk1106

    I remember a 60’s comedy show. A hillbilly con artist / used car salesman sold an F”ord” for $50. He thought he made a killing, until he heard the buyer on the phone, bragging about the cord he just bought.

  9. Bob S

    Just watched an episode of Jay Leno’s garage with a Cord. (it was excellent) Surprised a restored example goes for $150K. Seems reasonable.

  10. Dairymen

    Too bad it’s not a supercharged version.

  11. A.J.

    The transmission is a preselector, not semi-automatic. Basically you pre-select the gear and then when you want it to actually change you depress and release the clutch.

    I have always thought the 810/812 cars were undervalued in the market. I think people are scared of some of the mechanics. However, you can dial these cars in and go thousands of trouble free miles.

    • Paul R

      Tucker used a Cord design pre select transmission also.

  12. Rando

    Alex Tremulis was also part of the Tucker team.

  13. PackardMike

    I’ve had a 50+ year affair with Auburn, Cord & especially Duesenberg cars! Their design & elegance fill me with awe. This is a great find. Would love to see it when it’s restored. The Gilmore Museum has a nice display of A-C & D cars.( and others)

  14. Roger Owen

    I just wondered because the spark plugs look horizontal from the angle the picture is taken from. I know that Lycoming made flat 4 and flat 6 Aero engines and thought I heard of one ending up in an American car. Would be interesting to see 7 litre air-cooled flat 4 squeezed into a VW bus or a Corvair!

  15. onebugatti

    Fell in love with this one right away, I love it without the side pipes, a true classic design. Will do well in the snow uphill !

  16. Mark S Member

    Yes these are iconic and stylish, and they have many innovations. HoweverI IMHO I think these are overrated and over priced. I doubt that the build quality is any better than the high end cars built by many of the more common manufacturers of the same time period. Their like the Porsches climbing to the sky on an artificial bubble. I’d rather have the Chrysler imperial limo that was posted a few days ago the one that spent its life in Europe.

  17. Chuck Foster Chuck F 55chevy

    Seeing these at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival on Labor Day weekend, it doesn’t get any better than that. I was fortunate to live 20 miles west of Auburn IN from 8th grade to age 45, loved to go watch the Saturday parade of ACD classics, and watch the Kruse auction, the first collector car auction. If I won a lottery a 810/812 would probably be a top choice, next to a 36 Auburn Speedster, unless it was a big $ Lotto, then a Duesy would be acquired first. I’ve loved these since I remember my cousin having a model of one around 1970, I did live in Auburn with foster parents as a child of around 3 or 4, my foster dad George Pepple was a truck driver, and I don’t remember but family said he taught me to name all the cars on the road. I think that may have made me the car nut I am today. Living in Florida I do miss going to the ACD fest and auction, maybe time for a vacation up north this year.

    • PackardMike

      Been to the A-C-D museum a few times, but never to the festival. Sounds like a great time. Plan on it! Still love the supercharger side pipe look.

      • Chuck Foster Chuck F 55chevy

        You might be a car nut if your daughter gets married on the main show room stairs at the ACD Museum. I also shook Reggie Jackson’s hand at an auction at DeKalb County High School, before the Kruse’s built the auction park by I-69.

  18. Brad Clark

    The ACD museum is a ‘must see’ when traveling through Indiana.

  19. AJ

    First American car with front wheel drive and independent front suspension was the 1904 Christie. First mass produced front wheel drive car was the DKW.

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