By on August 3, 2014
cordallsop

Harold Allsop and the Cord he loved.

There were a couple of 1937 Cord 812s* for sale at RM Auctions’ sale held in conjunction with the 2014 edition of the Concours of America at St. John’s, the Detroit area’s member of the triumvirate of top-shelf car shows in North America (along with the Pebble Beach and Amelia Island shows). One was a restored four seat Phaeton that caught my eye because the exhaust pipes coming out of the engine compartment indicated that it was a supercharged model. While I was trying to get photos of the blower, mounted on top of the engine, between the cylinder heads, just below the carburetor, a consultant was pointing out to his clients all of the incorrect things about the restoration, from engine compartment parts that shouldn’t have been polished or chrome plated to the wrong radiator cap. Over on the other side of the tent was another ’37 Cord, this one a two passenger cabriolet, normally aspirated.

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Full gallery here. The sleek, Art Deco, streamlined styling of the Cord 812 stands in sharp contrast to the very traditional “French front” styling of the adjacent 1925 Renault.

As soon as I got close, I realized it was a survivor car, not a show car. Evidence of wear was noticeable, with the current black paint wearing away to reveal the original maroon. The odometer showed 58,519 miles, well driven, though not driven into the ground. It looked well used, a bit worn, but not really worse for the wear. The definition of patina. I hadn’t read the catalog description before the auction preview so I really knew nothing about the car. Still, something about it seemed special. It turns out I was correct.

Though successful Ontario engineer Harold Allsop wasn’t the original owner of the cabriolet, he did own the car for 66 years and it’s impossible to separate the story of his Cord from Allsop and his family. He had other interesting automobiles including a Jaguar Mark V and a JAP powered Morgan three wheeler, but the Cord was his car. He was known to drive it everywhere, including to personally deliver restoration parts he’d machined for other collectors. He was proud that as long as he owned the car, it was never on a trailer. He regularly drove it across Canada and the United States to events of the  Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club, of which he was a founding member in 1952 (and a great resource to enthusiasts and collectors of those great American cars).

The car was originally delivered new to a member of the family that owned the Brights Winery in Queenston, Ontario, the only 812 two seat cabriolet sold new in Canada. After a few years at the family estate the car was sold to a Toronto garage, which is where Allsop spotted it in 1947, after combat service as a pilot in China and in the Pacific theater during World War II. He fell in love with the car. Less so the Cord’s known mechanical problems. Gifted engineer that he was, Allsop started to modify things. Since he understood the Cord’s historical significance and did not want to damage its status as an artifact, parts he repaired were painted in red, to keep track of what was still original and whenever he made a modification, he removed the original part and saved it so the vehicle could be returned to how it had been when it left E.L. Cord’s factory in Auburn, Indiana.

Allsop painted replacement parts red, to distinguish them from original equipment.

Allsop painted replacement parts red, to distinguish them from original equipment.

The most notable changes that Allsop made to his Cord were to upgrade to a 12 volt electrical system and he replaced the 812’s less-than-reliable factory installed vacuum operated shifter for the Cord’s preselector transmission with a device he designed himself. Based on a Hudson unit, it’s been described as “masterpiece of functional engineering”, with the gearbox’s vacuum shift cylinder moving synchronously with the shifter lever on the steering column. Though I doubt one could say that he was ever completely done fiddling with it, when he finished most of his work on the Cord it was one of the most reliable cars of that make still on the road. Allsop last drove the car in 2011 at the age of 90, passing away just last year.

The Cord has been a member of the Allsop family even before there was an Allsop family. When Marion Allsop was asked what attracted her to her future husband, she would say, “His car, of course.” They honeymooned in the Cord and later took their two children on road trips and vacations. The fact that it was a two seater didn’t stop them. The kids rode in the trunk, with flashlights for reading and playing games. Drivers would be surprised to see their heads pop up when the car would stop. Marion had her own role in the Cord’s history, its current maroon leather interior being a gift from her to her husband and to the car.

Harold Allsop started two successful businesses but mostly he was known as a brilliant, kind and funny man to his friends and to the family that he loved. Cars weren’t his only hobby. He continued to fly after his military service, even building his own airplane, which he flew for decades.

As their children grew, Marion and Harold found the need for a family car. In 1959, Harold bought a Jaguar Mark V 3.5 liter Drophead Coupe for that purpose and started to restore it, but found that it took time away from his beloved Cord so he put aside that project. When he retired at 70, he started putting “every cent of his old age pension” into a meticulous body-off restoration of the Mk V, according to his daughter Heather. In addition to having the the chassis, body, and all of the mechanical and electrical components restored, Harold Allsop fabricated all new period-correct door frames from ash wood himself, and drew patterns for the canvas top and leather upholstery. He was within days of finishing the Jaguar when he got sick in 2011, so the Allsops’ son Peter finished the project.

Following Harold Allsop’s passing, the family decided to let another family make the Cord a part of theirs, which is how I came to see it at the auction preview, on display with the family’s Jaguar Mk V, also for sale. The Cord is still in driving condition, as Harold left it. One of his unfinished projects was to add a supercharger to the car. He’d already installed a different engine block, machined to accept a blower, and that block is in the car. The original block is still in good condition and was part of the sales package, along with 13 crates of new old stock and used parts as well as documentation and memorabilia.

Cars are about the only collectibles where restoring something doesn’t degrade its value. As a matter of fact, perfectly “restored” cars often fetch significantly higher prices than all but pristine, original condition survivors. The Allsop’s Cord is hardly pristine and it’s hardly original, what with Harold’s improvements, but perhaps it’s a sign that automobile collectors are starting to reappraise how they appraise survivor cars that in the auction, the Allsops’ Cord sold for $143,000, while the restored, supercharged Cord sold for slightly less, $132,000. My guess is that at least part of the difference in price has to be the value of the Allsops’ story.

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The Cord is famous for its retractable, hidden headlights, operated mechanically with cranks on the dashboard. Less well known is the fact that it takes about 15 turns of each of the two cranks to raise or lower the headlamps (I know how many turns it takes because I tried them, see the exposed headlights above) or that it’s a bit of a stretch, literally, to reach the passenger side crank from the driver’s seat.

* It’s a bit redundant to say “1937 Cord 812″. “812” was the model designation for 1937. The 1936 Cord was called the 810.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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16 Comments on “When Asked What Attracted Her to Harold, She Replied, “His car, of course.”...”


  • avatar

    The women who will be the most attracted to you will see your style and your care-free attitude even when you don’t notice them.

    If a woman comes up to you and asks about your car, you’re already half-way in there.

  • avatar
    petezeiss

    Who wouldn’t want to keep that sleek beast rolling forever?
    Magnificent story, car and man. An Alpha DIY’er.
    I just want to take a big jug of Lexol to that gorgeous, cracky leather.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    This car is unusual in that it gives you the best of both alternatives. The modifications are well done and the owner kept all the original parts so that the car could be returned to its original state. I suspect this combination is why it brought such a high price.

  • avatar
    Fred

    I’m surprised no one in the family wanted to keep the car, especially his sons.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Thank you for this .

    Well done .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Syke

    Your take on the Cord model designations is a new one on me. Going back to the first Auburn Cord Dusenberg show I ever attended (Harrisburg 1968 – where I got the chance to drive the Dusenberg J) I was taught that non-supercharged models were 810’s, no matter what the year; and 812’s were supercharged (1937 only).

    Still the most beautiful car ever made. In my memory, I still cringe at that article in Special Interest Autos that showed the clays for the 1938 and 39 model years – which would have hurt the car’s reputation for beauty.

    • 0 avatar

      I also thought that was the distinction, but I’ve asked Cord owners about the model numbers and that’s what they told me. As mentioned in the post, there were two 1937 Cords at the auction, one supercharged, one naturally aspirated, and the auction catalog lists both of them as 812s. I think that follows Auburn’s three digit model number scheme.

  • avatar
    doug-g

    Can we get a comparo test between the Camry and a Cord?

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I’ve got to ask, was the supercharged one being advertised as a “concours” restoration? (I know this was a concours show and all.) The only time I appreciate someone point out what is wrong is if the car is being advertised as either a concours restoration or “all original.” Otherwise educate YOURSELF and know what you are looking for. But then what do I know because I think buying a car as an investment is slightly less stupid than having unprotected intercourse with someone you paid for sex.

    Of course it might just be my hot button from taking my Mustang to shows and having “helpful” individuals point out what side of the damn engine they think the coil should have been mounted on for my MSD ignition or that the chrome valve covers on my 289 are 302 covers because they aren’t rounded enough, or…

    • 0 avatar
      doug-g

      Any time I think of such things I recall Kris Trexler entering this absolutely mint original Oldsmobile in a car show and having the judges start off by dinging it for having a paint run under the deck lid. I can appreciate that this occurred before the concept of “survivors” came into being, but really…

      http://www.kingoftheroad.net/59olds/olds-2.html

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      Just insert a Cadillac 501 series engine into the bay of a 60s Ford and watch how many self-professed experts fail this first-year test by calling it some sort of experimental factory prototype engine built for NASCAR – even when the HEI is staring them in the face.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Another home run article, Ronnie.

    Really enjoyed this one.

    Posthumous congrats to Mr. Allsop. What a character.

  • avatar
    3Deuce27

    Provenance… almost priceless

    Thanks for a great Story, Ronnie… Made my Sunday, that and building 4 saw horses and 40 ft of fence.

  • avatar
    carve

    OK- this settels it: this week I’ll try to carve out enough time to get my girlfriends 1941 Graham Hollywood running. It’s all original and purchased by her grandfather in 1943. It’s body is based mostly on the Cord 812, but it’s RWD with Graham/Continental running gear. The original owner modified it to Cord-style retractable headlamps, but about 10 years ago it was put back to original headlight pods.

    It ran when parked about 3 years ago. I’ve only been able to get it to idel for about 20 seconds though and since then…nothing but empty cranking.


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