1931 Cord L-29 Front Drive LaGrande SpeedsterSOLD

RM Vintage Motorcars in Arizona - Biltmore Resort & Spa, Friday January 19, 2007

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ESTIMATE: $400,000 - $600,000

$418,000 Sold

125bhp, 299 cu. in. inline eight-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission, live axle front suspension with dual parallel quarter-elliptical leaf springs, live axle rear suspension with semi-elliptical leaf springs, four-wheel hydraulically-actuated drum brakes mounted inboard at the front: Wheelbase 137 5/8"

Having rescued Auburn and given Fred Duesenberg instructions to build the world ’ s best automobile, Errett Lobban Cord looked for a medium-priced car to fill out the product line of the automobile empire he was building. He couldn ’ t find one to buy so he set his engineers to work creating one. It was assigned the internal project designation “ L-29 ” .

Never one to overlook an opportunity to make a splash, Cord proposed that the new line adopt front wheel drive, then enjoying tremendous success in Harry Miller ’ s racing cars. Cord contacted Miller and agreed to buy the rights to his front drive system. It was refined for production by Cornelius Van Ranst, Leon Duray and Tommy Milton.

The Cord Front Drive was a breakthrough when it was announced in 1929, with production beginning in June. Its front wheel drive layout conferred several advantages, most particularly the low chassis which the absence of the conventional rear wheel drive mechanism permitted, and the long hood necessitated by the length of the combined engine-clutch-transmission-differential front wheel drive package. Al Leamy and his design staff took full advantage of the Front Drive ’ s layout and created some of the most attractive and sporting automobiles of the early thirties on the Front Drive chassis. These were exceptional automobiles that caught the imagination of celebrities and the public alike.

Some fifty of the long, low Front Drives were grabbed up by custom coachbuilders. The most notable was Alexis de Sakhnoffsky ’ s spectacular coupé built for Hayes Body Company which won the European Grand Prix concours at Monaco and the Grand Prix d ’ Honneur at Beaulieu.

The Cord Front Drive hit the market in mid-1929. Hopes were high and, aside from the expected teething problems with the Front Drive ’ s revolutionary drivetrain, the new Cord automobile was received enthusiastically.

All that changed on Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929.

Over the next several months prospects for the economy ’ s recovery evaporated and along with them the market for medium-priced high performance automobiles. Cord was especially hard hit. New on the market, with no reputation upon which to fall back and challenged by a drivetrain that was a radical departure from accepted practice, the Cord Front Drive struggled to gain the recognition which its specifications and aggressive pricing deserved.

Cord needed to keep the Front Drive L-29 in the public eye after the fanfare of its introduction. Philip O. Wright, a young designer who had been working for the Walter M. Murphy Company in Pasadena, presented this dramatic boattail speedster body proposal for the Cord L-29 Front Drive to Auburn President Roy Faulkner, who authorized the low, sleek speedster ’ s construction.

The job was placed with Union City Body Company, part of E.L. Cord ’ s growing industrial complex. It was completed in time for the New York Auto Salon in late 1931 where it was introduced as the LaGrande Speedster.

Following the New York Auto Salon the LaGrande Speedster was exhibited in Toronto, then toured Cord dealerships throughout North America to draw traffic to the dealers ’ showrooms with its dramatic appearance. Upon completing its tour of North American shows and dealers, the LaGrande Speedster was refreshed at the factory in Auburn, Indiana. Its slim Woodlite headlights (illegal in Europe) were replaced by standard round headlights.

It then departed for France where it appeared with actress Suzy Vincent at the Paris Concours d ’ Elegance. The stylish combination achieved a First Place award. At some point an unproven, but persistent, connection between the LaGrande Speedster and French movie director Paul Bern, Jean Harlow ’ s husband, appeared. Equally mysteriously, the LaGrande Speedster disappeared in Europe and, despite the best efforts of collectors, historians, restorers and dealers in the ensuing sixty-plus years, not the slightest hint of its fate has surfaced.

Only 5,010 Cord L-29 Front Drives were built, and only one was bodied with the dramatic LaGrande Speedster coachwork designed by Philip Wright. Lost in the mists of history, perhaps the victim of a World War II scrap drive in France, the LaGrande Speedster is one of the enigmas of classic car collecting: a dramatic, singular styling and design triumph that no longer exists.

That is, until Arnie Addison came along in 1995 and decided to make the dimly-remembered and long-sought Cord L-29 Front Drive LaGrande Speedster dream car a reality.

No drawings of the LaGrande Speedster survived, not even in the archives of the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana, but Addison sought out every report and photo available, then took them, along with an original L-29 Front Drive chassis, engine and drivetrain, to Greg and Jeff Tyree in Turlock, California. The Tyrees meticulously re-created the LaGrande Speedster in every detail. Addison ’ s search for authenticity included locating an A-C-D Club member, Bill Kinsman, who had seen the Speedster at the New York Auto Salon and recalled its original colors: Royal Cranberry and Cashmere Cream.

The Tyrees ’ restoration project was much more involved than body construction and mechanical restoration. The LaGrande Speedster had many intricate and unique details that had to be re-created to meet Addison ’ s insistence on accuracy. These included a humidor hidden in the driver ’ s door and a bar in a similar passenger ’ s side compartment. The door hinges were fared into teardrop-shaped blisters which were, along with special dashboard knobs, modeled after those of the de Sakhnoffsky Coupe, and a unique radiator ornament was created by a third Tyree brother, Mark, a sculptor. The flathead Lycoming straight eight engine was lavishly detailed and painted Duesenberg Green. The dashboard was fitted with an altimeter and chronometer from Duesenberg stock. Even a working convertible top was meticulously constructed, then carefully fitted to fully disappear into a compartment behind the seats.

The nearly ten year process was completed in 2004 and the Cord L-29 Front Drive LaGrande Speedster has enjoyed a succession of universally favorable publicity and exposure. It has been displayed in important concours including Meadow Brook, Silverado, Art Center, Palo Alto and the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Festival, earning Blue Ribbon and “ Most Popular Car ” awards and was judged 398 of 400 points.

The speedster has been featured in several prestigious national magazines including the Robb Report Collection, the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club Newsletter and Hemmings Classic Car. In the July 2005 issue of Automobile Magazine renowned designer Robert Cumberford observed, “ Always skeptical about re-creations, I was particularly severe in my analysis of form and line, and I compared early photographs with the car from the same angles. To me this is the LaGrande, down to the last curve and detail. ” That is high praise indeed from a fastidious critic of design and execution.

Now offered publicly for the first time, the Cord L-29 Front Drive LaGrande Speedster is a magnificent, compulsively accurate, meticulously detailed re-creation of the lost LaGrande Speedster. Constructed by artisans, based on wide-ranging and careful research, it is as correct and accurate as humanly possible. Built to the highest standards of fit, finish and function, the LaGrande Speedster is a reminder of the talent, creativity and foresight of E.L. Cord and the team he built in Auburn, Indiana.

Reference Number 5828

as of 1/10/2007

Car 1931 Cord L-29 Front Drive LaGrande Speedster
VIN 2927156  
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