Lot Number

1930 Cord L-29 Boattail Speedster

Sold For $165,000

Inclusive of applicable buyer's fee.

RM | Auctions - HERSHEY 6 - 7 OCTOBER 2011 - Offered on Friday

Chassis No.


Please note that we do have supporting documentation for the AACA Show Vehicle of the Year award.

125 bhp, 298.6 cu. in. inline L-head eight-cylinder engine, three-speed front-drive manual transmission, live front axle with dual quarter-elliptic leaf springs, tubular beam rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Wheelbase: 137.5"

- Offered from the Estate of John O’Quinn

- Pioneering front-wheel drive American car

- Reproduction of LeGrande Speedster

- The car that should have been

Errett Lobban Cord was the savior of the Auburn Automobile Company and the patron of Duesenberg. Were those the totality of his accomplishments, we’d probably remember him, but his long-standing ambition was a car to bear his own name. In August 1929, he realized his dream with the announcement of the Cord L-29.

Cord had been the top salesman for Moon cars in Chicago. He made a deal with the foundering Auburn Automobile Company of Auburn, Indiana, taking the job of general manager in 1923. As part of the deal he could buy into the firm if sales improved sufficiently. They did, and by 1926, Cord was president of the company and held a controlling interest. He readied new models and positioned Auburn as a performance car at a low price, which further enhanced sales. That year, he acquired the foundering Duesenberg operation to serve as flagship of his growing empire.

With the top and the bottom of his automotive catalogs complete, Cord set out to define the middle. There was nothing ordinary about the Cord automobile. For architecture he chose an x-braced frame, and for propulsion he selected front-wheel drive. Chief engineer on the project was Cornelius Van Ranst, assisted by Auburn chief engineer Herb Snow, with consultation from race car engineer Harry Miller and driver Leon Duray.

The engine was a straight eight from Lycoming, another of Cord’s companies, turned around in the chassis so the transmission was at the extreme front. The drum brakes were mounted to the inboard ends of the drive axles, and a long shift rod went up and over the engine. The car was long and low, and production body styles included a five-passenger brougham, a sedan, a cabriolet and a very handsome phaeton sedan. There were, however, various coachbuilt bodies done for L-29 chassis and numerous design studies, many originating at the Walter M. Murphy Company in Pasadena, California.

A particularly distinctive example is the boat-tail “LeGrande” speedster designed by Phil Wright. Wright had left Murphy and was headed to Detroit in search of work when he stopped in Auburn. Auburn Automobile Company president Roy Faulkner found Wright’s sketches intriguing and authorized the construction of a body. Company stylist Alan Leamy was called in to make the car more “Cord-like,” and a single example was built.

According to Cord restorer Stan Gilliland, actress Jean Harlow and her husband, MGM executive Paul Bern, saw the finished car at the New York Auto Show. Bern bought it for his wife, and they took it to France, with the intent of exhibiting it at the Paris Salon. They returned to the United States, leaving the car in France, but its trail has gone cold after that.

The idea of building a reproduction had been floated for years. Only when North Carolina orthodontist Fay Culbreth offered to finance the project did it come to fruition, with Gilliland’s help. When finished, the car became a permanent exhibit at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum.

Several further reproductions have since been built, the last in 2005. This is one of those cars and was acquired in 2005 from the Al Wiseman Collection in Florida, at which time it was noted to be an outstanding example. Striking in red and black, it has chrome wire wheels and was a 1999 AACA National First Prize winner, with Senior status. It was reportedly also named AACA Show Vehicle of the Year, for which no documentation is on file, however.

There are cars that never were and cars that managed but a short life. The Cord speedster is one of the latter, and this car is an example of the automobile that should have been. It is a beautifully designed and constructed sporting motor car on the forward-thinking L-29 chassis.

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