The iconic shape of the Cord 810/812 was initially a proposal by the great industrial designer Gordon Buehrig as a “baby Duesenberg” to support E.L. Cord’s flagship brand into the late 1930s. But as the faltering economy led to Duesenberg’s untimely demise, E.L. Cord recycled the concept to revive his eponymous car company, which had not produced a car since the L-29 of 1932. The Cord 810 and 812 pushed the boundaries of automotive design, employing semi-monocoque construction, front-wheel drive, an electro-magnetic pre-select gearbox, and later, an optional supercharged engine. Yet, with all of that technical wizardry, the styling made the most significant impact. The unconventional yet striking shape eschewed contemporary norms such as running boards and flashy upright chrome radiator shells. Buehrig’s advanced streamline form featured curvaceous aerodynamic fenders with hideaway headlights, slab-sided bodywork, full-length doors that concealed the running boards, and a distinct coffin-shaped hood with wraparound air intake slats in place of the traditional radiator grille. It is widely recognized as one of the most significant works in industrial design history, treasured by car collectors and design aficionados the world over.
Cord offered several body styles to suit the individual buyer’s wishes. Four-door models consisted of the Beverly and Westchester sedans, with long-wheelbase options coming later in 1937. Two open two-door models were also offered – the four-seat Phaeton and the two-seat Cabriolet, both with sophisticated disappearing top designs. The two-seat Cabriolet as presented here has become colloquially known as the “Sportsman” among Cord enthusiasts, despite the name never appearing in period literature. Nomenclature aside, the Sportsman is one of the most desirable of all Cord models, and with a total of just 195 built, superb examples such as this are prized by collectors.
According to production records compiled by marque historian Josh Malks, chassis number 2431F is a genuine Cabriolet, originally sold as an 810. It is believed that it returned to the factory early in its life and fitted with a supercharger to upgrade it to 812 specifications. Interestingly, the owner chose to omit the signature outside exhaust pipes, retaining the purity of the original design and making this one of only six supercharged cords without the “pipes.”
Mr. R.W. Ballantyne of Orchard Lake, Michigan, acquired the 812 in 1953 in its current specification with the factory-installed supercharged engine. He owned the car for decades, and it changed hands just two more times after his ownership. During that time, it received a world-class restoration by the renowned experts at Classic and Exotic Service. It has made numerous concours appearances since, earning a class award at the 2010 Meadowbrook Concours, a coveted Best Cord award at the Auburn ACD Festival, and a CCCA Senior Premier award (#1725).
As offered, this Cord 812 is in superb condition, and the restoration has been impeccably maintained through the years. The black paint perfectly complements the 812’s sophisticated form, and highlights include wide whitewall tires and correct chrome wheel covers. The convertible top disappears beneath a body-color panel for a sleek profile. Exterior brightwork is minimal, though the bumpers, handles, and other fittings are impeccably restored. Dark red leather upholstery is restored to factory-authentic standards, and only a hint of character from use is evident on the driver’s seat. The Cord has one of the most stylish instrument panels of the era – with an array of aircraft-inspired dials set into an engine-turned alloy fascia with chrome accents and switches. Gear selection for the pre-select transmission is handled via the H-pattern selector jutting from the steering column. Fit, finish, and detailing are superb throughout the cabin.
It was common practice for Cords to return to the factory for service and upgrades, and this car is no exception. Originally produced as an 810, it is understood to have returned to the works early in its life for updates to supercharged 812 specifications, and it retains its “FC” block. It is recognized as one of the 64 supercharged Sportsman cabriolets and is one of only six examples without exposed exhaust headers.
At the intersection of art and the automobile sits the Cord 812. The stunning form remains one of the most recognizable in history, and no significant collection is complete without one. With its superb restoration and highly desirable specification, this 812 Sportsman Cabriolet would be a welcome addition to any gathering of important automobiles.
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