Fantastic Failures

Sketches of the 1936 Cord 810 / 812 Sedan, designed by Gordon Beuhrig. 

When the Cord 810 was introduced to the public at the New York Auto Show in late 1935, the world took notice of its radically different design. Gordon Beuhrig penned the car and its distinctive coffin nose and flip-up headlamps. The doors had hidden hinges, a feature that was relatively new at that time. The hidden headlights were later sourced from aircraft landing gear. Cords also lacked running boards and sat lower to the ground than their contemporaries due to a revolutionary front wheel drive system. Throw a peppy Lycoming V8 and semi-automatic transmission into the mix and you had one lean machine.

The trouble was...the public demand for the new Cord was so great, that the company couldn't deliver on their promise for December 1935 delivery. Troubles with the new semi-automatic transmission and other production delays pushed the car's debut to the spring of 1936. Many impatient customers pulled their orders and once the 1100 buyers received their cars, they were frequently plagued with mechanical problems with transmissions, carburetors and chronic breakdowns. The following year saw minor improvements to the 810, but the damage was done. After selling only 3,000 models, the coffin nose Cord had been briefly laid to rest.

1938 Graham advertisement featuring the "Spirit of Motion"
designed by Amos Northup

Meanwhile at struggling independent automakers Graham-Paige and Hupmobile things weren't doing so good, either. Graham had bet the farm on their "Spirit of Motion" cars of 1938, and they looked incredible by today's standards. Consumers in 1938 didn't dig the swept front end with unique square headlamps and a supercharged six. As a result, financial woes followed the company into 1939.

A 1938 Hupmobile sedan on tour in 2011 in Wisconsin. 

Hupmobiles had a similar streamlined look, but like the Grahams, they didn't win any popularity contests. By 1938 they also needed a shot in the arm in order to stay alive in the waning years of The Great Depression. In 1939, Hupmobile and Graham-Paige struck a deal to purchase the body dies used by Cord for the 810/812 cars in an attempt to dig out of financial ruin. Graham would manufacture the bodies and Hupp and Graham would use their own dealer networks to sell them separately as Graham Hollywood and the Hupmobile Skylark.

With a redesigned front clip and minor trim changes, the warmed-over Cord bodies still looked fresh four years after their initial splash at the New York Auto Show, but production delays returned. The curse of the Cord followed the body dies that stamped out the next generation of cars. 

This 1940 Hupmobile Skylark  (above) and Graham Hollywood  (below) advertisements clearly show off the new body formerly used by Cord.

In late 1939, over a thousand people placed orders with Hupmobile for the low-priced Skylark and same with the supercharged Graham. Just as with the Cord, customers grew impatient with the long wait for their new cars and eventually walked away. Production of both ceased in September, 1940 after a few hundred cars were built. Both companies eventually folded.

Here are a few remaining examples of the seldom-seen Skylark and Hollywood...

A 1940 Hupmobile Skylark sedan as seen at an AACA meet in 2013. 

This 1941 Graham Hollywood blended in nicely at the MSRA's "Back to the Fifties" car show in 2007. 

Its hard to say why the Cord / Graham / Hupmobile designs failed. Were they doomed from the beginning? Maybe. The same car that didn't sell in its time, is consistently referred to as one of most influential automobiles of all time. Regardless of their low production numbers and sad story, they're remarkable pieces of history. If a scarce 810, Skylark or Hollywood ever crosses your path, take a look at its beautiful lines and one-of-a-kind features. You may not see another one for many years.



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