The Truth About Cars » Gordon Buehrig The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 19 Jul 2014 05:27:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Gordon Buehrig Antique Auto Advertising: Why We Introduce A Front Drive Automobile by E. L. Cord Wed, 26 Dec 2012 14:00:06 +0000  

When you say the word Cord, most car enthusiasts think of the “coffin nose” 810/812 models, designed by Gordon Buehrig for the 1936 and 1937 model years. There was much about the ’36-’37 Cords that was revolutionary, or at the very least advanced for their day. Buehrig’s art deco masterpiece was E. L. Cord’s automotive swan song. His styling included hideaway headlights flush mounted in pontoon fenders, hidden door hinges, no running boards, and that distinctive one piece hood was hinged at the cowl and opened from the front, not from the sides as in most prewar cars. From a technical standpoint, what people remember about the ’36 Cord is that it had front wheel drive. Some mistakenly believe that the Cord 810 was the first front wheel drive American production car. Actually, the first front wheel drive Cord was the L-29, named for 1929, its year of introduction. The L-29 was not just the first Cord with front wheel drive, it was indeed the first American car with front wheel drive that was offered for sale to the public, beating the now obscure Ruxton to the market by a few months.

1929 Cord L-29. It sits lower than the 1940 Ford next to it. More photos here.

The Ruxton is best remembered for its stylish but ineffective Woodlight headlamps. Pretty much nobody then knew who Ruxton was (the company was named to entice a potential investor, who demurred but by then the name had ironically stuck) but by 1929 plenty of people knew who E.L. Cord was. Errett Loban Cord was a savvy businessman, a wheeler dealer, a pioneer in a variety of industries and the father of some of the greatest automobiles ever made.

A racecar driver and mechanic and then a successful car salesman, he was brought in by Auburn in 1924 to help turn the moribund company around. By 1928 he owned Auburn, part of a growing empire that eventually included Duesenberg, Lycoming Engines, Stinson Aircraft, radio stations, the predecessor of American Airlines, and for a while the Checker Cab and Checker Motor companies (which got him into trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission).

For 1929, Cord decided to launch his self-named brand to slot in between the supremely patrician Duesenberg and the slightly more plebeian (but still not cheap) Auburns. Racing legend Harry Miller had already demonstrated the promise of front wheel drive on the racetrack. E.L. Cord realized that FWD had some advantages for road cars as well so he had Cornelius Van Ranst design a front drive layout based on Miller’s patents, using a straight eight Lycoming engine sitting behind the gearbox with a De Dion axle and inboard drum brakes up front.

Cornelius Van Ranst designed the Cord FWD layout based on Harry Miller’s patents. More pics here.

By eliminating the need for a driveshaft to the back axle, the engine and transmission could sit low in the chassis, allowing not just a lower center of gravity but also letting the body sit lower to the ground. The long drivetrain meant that stylist Alan Leamy could give the L-29 an exceptionally long hood. Leamy used the long hood and the low body to give the car a rakish and very sporting look, not unlike chopped and channeled hot rods.

The L-29 was not a huge success, having the misfortune of being introduced a few months before the stock market crashed and the Great Depression was triggered. It also was heavy, slow, and had some reliability issues, so only a few thousand were made and sold, ending production in 1932. Still, the L-29 remains the first American production car to offer front wheel drive and it continues to be a great looking car, timelessly rakish and sporting.

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s L-29 in his signature Taliesin Orange color. More pics here.

To promote the then revolutionary layout, the Auburn Automobile Company published a 15 page brochure with technical drawings of the chassis, photos of the L-29 with various body styles in locations in what I believe was southern California, extensive technical specifications and about two pages of advertising copy, attributed to E. L. Cord himself, titled Why We Introduce A Front Drive Automobile.

It’s fun to watch Cord (or whoever wrote the text) try to tout FWD as the latest and greatest while insisting that the traditionally laid out Auburns and Duesenbergs were not being made obsolete by his company’s new brand. In many ways, the brochure isn’t that much different than what you’d see today, though a modern advertisement is not likely to start out with two pages of text from the company founder.

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 dig deeper and 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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What’s Wrong With This Picture? Alan Leamy’s Spinning Faster Than A Supercharged Model J Over the “Tom Mix” Duesenberg Edition Thu, 19 Apr 2012 12:00:25 +0000 The third worst thing about this car is the fact that it’s known as the “Tom Mix Duesenberg” though western actor Tom Mix had apparently had absolutely nothing to do with it. That was a ginned up provenance by a former owner of the car. The second worst thing would be that somebody thought that the car pictured above looked better than the Murphy built Beverly Berline body styled by Gordon Buehrig pictured here:

Now I understand that in the late 1940s or early 1950s, when the Murphy body was removed and replaced with an amalgam of Buick, Olds, Plymouth and Texas longhorn parts, a body designed in the early 1930s might look a bit old fashioned. To each their own and all. Car owners have every right to turn their ride into a testament to their own poor taste – it’s rather amazing what some people who claim to love Corvettes will do with fiberglass – but c’mon, do you really think that most people circa 1950 would look at the results and say, “yeah, I think that’s an improvement”? Still the rebody isn’t the worst thing about this car,  it’s the fact that underneath all that that pastiched together kitsch is a genuine Duesenberg, arguably the most esteemed prewar American car ever made. It gets better, or worse, the real Duesey wears engine number J-462, so it’s a Model J, the peak of Duesenberg’s perfection. Just to clarify, the headline uses some literary license, and this is not one of the supercharged SJ models.

Even without the fact that it’s a sow’s ear made out of a silk purse, there are so, so many things wrong with this car. To borrow a term from Sajeev Mehta, there’s enough venom in this thing to kill. That malignant growth on the back deck alone is enough to make you wonder just what kind of person would look at that and say, “Yeah, that looks goood, I like it!” and then get out their checkbook. There is not a single sense of line or proportion anywhere on the car and we haven’t even gotten to the air-cooled-Franklin-swallowing-a-bullet-nosed-Studebaker styled grille yet. What lines there are fight with each other shouting, “look at me, not him!”. Come to think of it, the Boss Hogg style bull horns are the least objectionable thing about this thing. It’s the hot mess of hot messes.

J-462 has also been passed around the Duesenberg collecting community a bit, finally ending up in the collection of deceased Texas tobacco and breast implant litigator, billionaire John O’Quinn. After all a Model J chassis and engine is still worth nicely into the six figures, nobody’s going to sell it for scrap metal. Still, it failed to meet reserve at a Bonham’s auction last year with a $400K-$600K pre-auction estimate and now the O’Quinn estate is offering it with no reserve at Worldwide Auctioneers‘ May 5, 2012 auction, where it has been given a $400K-$500K estimate.

Reportedly, the original Beverly Berline body still exists somewhere in Virginia. I suppose that a purist might buy the car, track down the original Murphy built body, and restore it to better than new condition. I can understand that, but the car’s already no longer original (though the auction catalog says that J-462 is one of the more original Model J engines), one might as well go the custom route, though hopefully a different path than taken by the original customizer.

Alan H. Leamy Jr. had a crippled leg, from polio, and he compensated with a fine sense of sartorial style. He was an avid outdoorsman and collected firearms.

Much as I understand the purist’s motivations, if I could afford it, I’d do something a bit different, after removing the existing body and loaning it to the Museum of Kitsch to preserve it as a cautionary lesson. One of the most talented and influential but least well known American automotive stylists was Alan H. Leamy Jr. He died at the age of 32 in 1935, which explains his obscurity, but Leamy was undoubtedly one of the greats, designing two of the greatest automobile designs ever, the L-29 Cord and the Auburn [boat tailed] Speedster and having a hand in a third masterpiece.

Alan Leamy at work in the Auburn design studio. Those studios have been preserved in the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobilie Museum.

Behind a clay model of Gordon Buehrig's Cord 810 is the same drafting table used by Alan Leamy and Buehrig. Note the same curtains on the windows.

As a designer, Leamy was completely self-taught, with a range of knowledge and skills that continued to amaze his associates. His resume includes being hired by both E.L. Cord and Harley Earl on the strength of his portfolio. He was held in the highest regard by other designers. When Gordon Buehrig was brought on to the Auburn team by Errett Cord, he declined to restyle Leamy’s design for the Model J’s signature grille and front end, saying that you don’t mess with perfection.

As Auburn faced increasing financial straits during the Great Depression and as Buehrig was given increasing responsibilities, Leamy got restless and started looking for another job. Enthused with the notion of front wheel drive from his work on the Cords, he showed Packard a proposal for a FWD Packard, but Alvan Macauley, who ran Packard, thought it was “too extreme”. When Leamy approached Harley Earl about a job at GM’s Art and Colour styling department, Earl hired him on the spot, and within months named him head of styling for the LaSalle brand. Tragically, Leamy, who survived polio as a child and never was in great health, died of a blood infection caused by a medical injection shortly thereafter. Leamy did, however, leave a legacy and not just his designs that made it to production. The Leamy archive at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum includes scores of Leamy drawings, many of them of custom body proposals for Duesenbergs, Cords and Auburns that never got made.

Leamy's design patent for the Cord L-29. He took full advantage of the FWD Cord's low height.

Earlier this year a couple of interesting “classic” cars from the Milhous collection crossed the auction block. They were somewhat controversial because they were Cadillac V-16s that had never actually been built in the classic era. Master Packard restorer Fran Roxas found a couple of designs in Fleetwood’s catalog of custom bodies that he admired, but apparently those exact Cadillacs had never been ordered. So working with designers Strother MacMinn and Dave Holls, using original V-16 chassis, Roxas made one-of-none versions of the 5859 Custom Dual Cowl Phaeton, and the 5802 Custom Roadster. Each sold for right around a million dollars. Roxas is one of the world’s master automotive craftsman. His last project was the Packard Myth, his first custom car, which was a Great Eight finalist for the Ridler Award at the 2011 Detroit Autorama, the custom world’s most prestigious award. Making the Great Eight first time out of the box is a great accomplishment. If there’s one person to build a what-if prewar classic, it’s Roxas.

We don’t know who designed and fabricated the body currently on J-462. I think we can safely say that whoever did do it didn’t have the talent and taste of Alan Leamy and Fran Roxas. I don’t have a problem, really I don’t, with the then owner of this Model J doing what he wanted to do with his own property. It offends me aesthetically and think it was an indignity to the Duesenberg, but property rights are important. If J-462 was my property, though, I’d hire Mr. Roxas to rebody it with one of Alan Leamy’s as yet unbuilt designs.

You can see more of Alan Leamy’s designs, drawings and models, from the archives of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Car Museum in Auburn, Indiana, here.

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 dig deeper 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 – RJS

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