27 July 2013
1931 Cord L-29 Cabriolet
- Chassis no. 2929040
- Engine no. FD3696A
- Body no. F-117
Sold for $231,000
- America’s first major front-wheel drive production car
- Offered from a prominent private collection
- ACD Club Certified Category One
When the Cord Front-Drive made its appearance in 1929, it did what few cars before or since have succeeded in doing: it was new and different, in a new and different way. At its debut, the first major American production car with front-wheel drive was easily the most innovative automobile offered to the public in a decade. Yet, it refused to be flashy, with its fascinating engineering concealed under beautiful, simple lines penned by Alan Leamy. In the words of its builder and namesake, E.L. Cord, “We submit it as a simple statement of fact that this car requires no selling to those who can afford it.”
The Cord’s front-wheel drive system, inspired by Harry Miller’s Indy Cars and developed by Cornelius van Ranst, employed a Lycoming straight-eight that was reversed in the chassis so that the transmission was at the extreme front. For simplicity, the drum brakes were mounted to the inboard ends of the drive axles and a long shifter rod traveled up and over the engine, passing through the firewall and into the dashboard. Moving the transmission to the front of the car offered numerous advantages, most notably improving handling and tractability. The lack of a driveshaft tunnel allowed for bodies to be mounted low on the frame, with the result being that the Cord was no taller than a person of average height. Interiors boasted flat floors, allowing for comfortable, spacious seating, even in the two-passenger cabriolet, which, driven by Wade Morton, served as the pace car for the 1930 Indianapolis 500.
The Front-Drive, like so many of the great automobiles of its time, had the bad luck to have been born at the worst possible moment. It was offered to market as the Great Depression’s crushing weight came down on the automobile industry, and production faded away in late 1931. It would be five years before another Cord arrived, and some three decades more before other manufacturers began to realize front-wheel drive’s advantages. The L-29, as enthusiasts have come to know it, has gone down in history as a noble pioneer that offered buyers the future three decades before anyone could afford it.
The Cabriolet offered here was built in July 1930, and it was a late 1930 model that remained unsold as the industry entered 1931; accordingly, the chassis was renumbered by the factory from 2928480 to the present 2929040, explaining the presence of both numbers on the chassis. The car’s history since includes long-term ownership by Louisiana enthusiasts Tom Landers and Bobbie Crump, prior to joining the present owner’s collection, which includes some of the finest Auburn Automobile Company products in existence. The Cord was restored in the late 1990s, and it was issued Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club certification number CL-077, certifying it as a Category One car—an important blessing of originality and authenticity of all major components, as bestowed by those who know these cars best. Showing well in its red and black, with a black leather interior and black canvas top, it is equipped with dual side-mounted spares, chrome wire wheels, driving lights, and dual cowl lights, and it would continue to present well for show with minor freshening; recent work has included the installation of correct cowl light and headlamp lenses and correct interior door handles. In addition, this would be an outstanding touring car suitable for ACD Club events and CCCA CARavans, in which many L-29s have covered thousands of enjoyable miles.
As the company’s own advertising put it, “No car ever built has a greater hold upon its owners than the Cord Front-Drive. The man or woman who has never driven a Cord, regardless of how much other fine car experience they have had, cannot appreciate the difference. The ease of handling, comfort, sense of safety, and the difference in maneuverability of the Cord are a revelation. We invite you to find out, by actually driving a Cord, why owners say ‘It spoils us for any other type of car.’”
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