Cord: A Different Roadability
Its front-wheel drive was innovative; its design was low, sleek and daring; and many owners loved it. The Cord, both the L-29 and the later 810/812s, won speed race awards and design accolades. Even though the Cord was never a great commercial success, it's definitely a classic we'd all love to own.
Founder E.L. Cord
Born July 20, 1894 in Warrensburg, Missouri, Errett Lobban (E.L.) Cord was destined to be a deal maker. His dad C. W. was a grocer and his mom Ida Lobban a teacher. When E. L. was ten, his father's general store failed and C.W. moved the family to Joliet, Illinois where his wealthy brother-in-law offered to set him up in a jewelry store. In 1904, when the brother-in-law picked up stakes to move to Los Angeles, C.W. and his family went along, too.
In Los Angeles, E. L., who confessed himself crazy about cars, went to a polytechnic school. Whether in school or hanging around with the guys, E. L. started learning more about how cars worked. By age 15, he was done with school and left to take a job as a used car salesman, taking business courses at night at the local YMCA. His father died in 1911, leaving him with a mother and sister to care for. It helped that his mother was earning money managing an apartment building but E.L., no doubt, felt obliged to help support his family, as well.
Somewhere along the way he got the notion of "improving" cars. In 1913, he bought his first car — a Model T Ford speedster — for $75, threw the old body away, gave its new body a flashy paint job with nickel plate accents, and sold it for a tidy profit. Next he purchased a new Model T, gave it similar treatment, and sold it for nearly double what he'd paid for it. A quick learner and a lover of speed, he discovered early on that if he won a race in his modified car, he could sell it on the spot for several hundred dollars more than he'd otherwise get. So he became a regular on the dirt and wooden track race scene.
To support his automotive pursuits, he took a job in an auto shop as mechanic and service station supervisor and talked the owners into letting him work on his own cars after hours. In September 1914, he eloped, driving one of his special Model Ts — with a "For Sale" sign on it; no opportunity missed. By the end of that year he had bought and sold something like twenty cars, making a good profit on each of them.
That was the year, too, that, in partnership with a cousin, he bought a truck and secured a hauling contract to take ore from an Arizona mine to a mill at some distance. By the next year, however, he'd grown restless, a condition that befell him often. Leaving the business in his cousin's hands, he moved his growing family to Phoenix where he worked as a salesman for a Paige car agency and continued to race.
For a time it seems he worked at an electric company, perhaps selling components that had become more familiar to him through his work on cars. He also entered several other businesses that failed in short order. One was a bus service that transited from Los Angeles to San Diego, another a car rental agency with only one car in its fleet. When businesses failed, like any good entrepreneur, he had no trouble picking himself up, dusting himself off, and starting all over again — and more than once.
By 1919, however, his luck and his pluck were running out. He left his family with his mother in Los Angeles and headed to Chicago to see what he could scour up. He had managed to get an introductory letter to Harold T. Ames, a gentleman, like Cord, in his mid-twenties who was selling Chandler cars for the Hay Company. When Cord asked to see Mr. Hay, Ames arranged it. As E. L. made his pitch seeking employment, he casually lit up a cigarette. Since Mr. Hay hated cigarette smoking, the interview was over.
Fortunately, though, Cord had impressed Ames or maybe Ames just felt guilty for not having mentioned the boss's smoking ban. At any rate, Ames put Cord up for a while. When the boss went away on a month's holiday, Ames also introduced Cord to Jack Quinlan, the dealership's sales manager, and Quinlan hired him as a salesman. Cord didn't disappoint him, in time becoming his top salesman.
Although he was doing well, Cord was still in search of the next big thing and, in 1920, secured the California sales rights to a new home gas heater. He bought a used car, built a wooden crate to fit in the back seat to hold camping gear, and headed west. He hadn't been in California long, however, before he learned that new state laws had been enacted requiring features for heaters his model didn't have. Cord was busted again. He tried selling real estate but that led nowhere.
His luck, however, was about to improve. Quinlan, who had just secured the Moon car distributorship for the Chicago area, asked him to return and offered him the opportunity to purchase a 25% interest in the business, to be paid from future commissions. Cord gratefully accepted the offer to sell Moons which looked a bit like small versions of the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. The Moon was doing well, in 1922 outselling Buick in the Chicago area. Cord again succeeded as a low-key, sincere, extremely knowledgeable salesman. Nonetheless, he felt the urge for independence and sought his own territory, taking a Moon dealership for Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin and relocating to Milwaukee. He did very well there, too, but sold out after about a year to return to Chicago and buy back into the Quinlan organization.