Amelia Island

9 March 2013

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Lot 152

1931 Cord L-29 Cabriolet

  • Chassis no. 2929758
  • Engine no. FF4653
  • Body no. F-1017

Sold for $407,000

125 bhp, 298 cu. in. side-valve inline eight-cylinder engine, front-wheel drive, three-speed transmission, quarter-elliptic front leaf springs at the front with rear semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 137.5 in.

  • Offered from the collection of Jim Fasnacht
  • Best L-29 at the 2006 Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club National Reunion
  • Restored with exhaustive attention to authenticity and detail
  • ACD Club Certified Category One car with long-term California history
  • Arguably the finest L-29 Cabriolet in the world

Great automobiles are like great people. Some become great loudly, with a great deal of self-congratulation. Others make change happen quietly and gradually, leading the way and patiently waiting for the rest to follow.

The Cord L-29 was one of those gentle leaders. The first major American car to offer front-wheel drive to the public, it came at a time of conservatism in automotive engineering, further deadened by the crushing weight of the Great Depression. Nonetheless, its engineering proved a starting point for those who followed, and who, inspired by it, worked until front-wheel drive was the mass success that it is today. If success is measured not in years of production or volume produced, but, like leadership, in the amount of influence it had on those who followed, the L-29 was the first successful American front-drive production car.

The Cord Front Drive (as the factory always called it) was the namesake of E.L. Cord, who was scarcely 35 when the first examples began rolling out of his Auburn Automobile Company in Auburn, Indiana. Its development was credited to the talented engineer Cornelius Van Ranst, working using some of Indianapolis legend Harry Miller’s front-drive patents, and Auburn Chief Engineer Herbert Snow.

Essentially and simplistically, the idea was to take a rear-wheel drive car and turn everything around. It began with the chassis, which featured an innovative central X-brace to provide extra rigidity and rode on newly designed suspension, designed by Van Ranst and based on de Dion ideas. Brakes were moved inboard, as on the Miller Indy cars. On this rather sophisticated chassis rode a Lycoming straight eight, another fine Cord Corporation product, and it displaced 298 cubic inches and produced 125 horsepower. The engine was reversed so that the crankshaft exited the block at the front of the car and met a three-speed transmission that sat between the front wheels. The relocation of the transmission to the front of the car required an ingeniously long shift lever that extended from the L-29’s dashboard down the length of the engine compartment and ended at the gearbox.

All this was wrapped in Alan Leamy’s beautiful coachwork, which was outstanding for its refreshingly simple beauty. The Cord’s innovative chassis engineering allowed it to stand only five feet tall. Leamy emphasized the lowness with clean, classic lines; long, flowing fenders; a simple radiator shell, painted to blend into the body; and wide beltline moldings that encouraged the use of factory-suggested two-tone color schemes. The interior boasted wide, comfortable seats, facing a fully instrumented dashboard with the distinctive dogleg shifter handle.

The Cord was mechanically genius and stylistically gorgeous. In the Great Depression, genius and beauty oft went unnoticed in favor of more practical matters. Production of the L-29 began in Auburn in late-1929 and wound up in late-1931 with a token run of 1932 models. Only about 5,000 had been made.

This cabriolet is one of the survivors. Certified and authenticated by the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club as being an original L-29 Cabriolet, its history includes long-term California ownership by enthusiasts Ernie Mendicki, Bob Morehouse, and William “Chip” Connor. Connor, a noted collector whose cars have won Best of Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, acquired this car in 1983, and following its restoration, it was an award-winner in the special L-29 class at Pebble Beach in 1987.

The car was still beautiful when Jim Fasnacht acquired it in 2002, but, in his words, “age had started to take the bloom off the rose.” As a result, L-29 expert Ken Clark performed chassis, engine, and preliminary bodywork, with paint, top, interior, and finishes performed by LaVine Restorations, of Nappanee, Indiana. The work done was painstaking and exhaustive, with absolutely no detail unresearched, as is proven by the thick stack of documentation, invoices, orders, and e-mails that accompanies the car today.

The car was finished in rich Limousine Maroon with accents of stunning Dark Grey. Against the outstanding mile-deep paint, the L-29’s many chrome accessories, including Woodlite headlamps, chrome wire wheels, and dual side mirrors, present as jewelry. The interior’s light grey upholstery and tan canvas top present as well as when they were installed, and in addition, the entire car is thoroughly detailed to show standards.

Attesting to that excellence, the Cord was returned to Pebble Beach for the second time in 2006, and once again, it was a class award winner. Weeks later, it journeyed to the prairie of Indiana for the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club National Reunion. There, a cadre of the most knowledgeable and finicky L-29 experts examined its every nut and bolt thoroughly, from top to bottom, inside and out. At the end of the weekend, the car was bestowed the E.L. Cord Award for Best L-29, firmly marking it as among the finest of its model in existence.

Jim Fasnacht’s Cabriolet is an example of the most desired factory body style, treasured for decades by enthusiasts and restored by some of the most knowing hands in L-29s, with close attention not only to fit and finish, but also to the absolute authenticity of all components. The result is that it has achieved among restored examples what period advertising claimed that the Cord Front Drive had accomplished among automobiles in general: it has created “a place for itself that no other car has ever occupied.” This quiet leader resides comfortably in the realm of perfection.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

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California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

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Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

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California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

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Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

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Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

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Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

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Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

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Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

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A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

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United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

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As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

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With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

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Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

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Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

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Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

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United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more