Tom Mix - Cord 810
Image: LaertesCTB 2008
On a clear day in the fall of 1940, workers along the road from Tucson to Phoenix suddenly became aware of a plume of dust in the distance. There was nothing unusual about that - the road was just a trail of packed sand in those days - but this time, as the cloud came closer, its vortex approaching at a breakneck speed, the car did not slow down.
As the crew scrambled to safety, the yellow monster smashed through the barriers at the work site. Swerving wildly, the car plowed headlong into the ditch the workers had been digging, overturned and crushed its driver. Tom Mix, hero of the silver screen, lay dead at the age of 60.
Today, the monument that marks the spot of Mix's demise also serves as an epitaph of sorts for the car he was driving, a Cord, which had met its own demise three years earlier.
The seed that grew into the 810 Cord had been sown by Gordon Buehrig in sketches dated November 7, 1933. His fertile mind had formulated plans for a futuristic automobile, with a sealed engine compartment flanked by outrigger radiators that snuggled between separate pontoon fenders.
The 810 had been conceived as a "baby Duesenberg," but Buehrig's work on the Auburn Boattail Speedster placed the project in limbo. Back on the board, Buehrig refined his sketches into a patent drawing, which was registered on October 2, 1934.
The on-again off-again project received the go-ahead in July of 1935. Its introduction was set for November 2 at the New York Auto Show, which left less than four months to develop a prototype and build 100 examples. Against all odds, the task was accomplished, but - thanks to the cars having been built by hand - the cost grew so high that it spelled the beginning of the end.
Mechanically, the 810 Cord was inspired by its front-wheel-drive predecessor, the L-29. This time the engine was a 90-degree V-8, designed for Cord by Lycoming's Forest Baster. Bore and stroke measured 305 inches by 3.8, for a displacement of 289 cubic inches (4.7 liters) and on output of 125 hp at 3500 rpm.
Its four-speed transmission, featuring electro-vacuum activated gear selection via a lever on the steering column, was located ahead of the engine. The 810's wheelbase was 125 inches, weight 3650 pounds and top speed 90mph. Available originally in four body styles starting at $1995, the 810 was superseded in 1937 by the $2,445 812, whose optional supercharger increased output to 170hp and top speed to 110mph.
The Cord featured in the Collection is the Actual car in which Tom Mix met his maker. It was sold wrecked to R. E. Nelson on October 3, 1942 for $100. Restored, it still features Mix's gun holster, as well as his oversized gas pedal, which he unfortunately had a habit of keeping pressed to the floor.