The Legacy of Retractable Headlights: A Look Back at the Cord 810/812

Greetings, fellow motorhead! Today, we're taking a trip back in time to celebrate the innovation and ingenuity of the 1936/7 Cord 810/812. This vehicle, designed by industry legends like Gordon M. Buehrig and Alex Tremulis, was a marvel of luxury, speed, and futuristic design. However, it was also a commercial failure. Despite this, it left a lasting legacy in the automotive world, particularly with its pioneering use of retractable headlights.

The Vision Behind the Cord 810/812

E.L. Cord, the man behind the Auburn Automobile Company, was a giant in the transportation industry during the early and mid-20th century. His multifaceted background as a race car driver, mechanic, and car salesman fueled his desire for greatness across all aspects of his growing business empire. This drive led to groundbreaking innovations, such as the use of retractable headlights on a production vehicle. The patent for this design was filed on July 19, 1934, by Harold T. Ames, a Cord VP with an engineering background. The design used Stinson aircraft landing lights and configurations, another company in which E.L. Cord owned a majority share.

File:1937 Cord 812.JPG - Wikimedia Commons

The Birth of Retractable Headlights

In the original patent drawings, the lights were to retract into the inner fenders. However, in the production models, the lights were moved to the front of the fenders. This marked the first time retractable headlights were used on a production vehicle, setting a trend that would continue for decades.

The Cord 810/812: A Car Ahead of Its Time

The Cord 810, first delivered to consumers in February 1936, was a marvel of engineering. In addition to its retractable headlights, it featured a semi-automatic transmission, a front-wheel-drive setup, and independent front suspension. It was also the first American FWD car with such a suspension. The absence of a transmission tunnel allowed the car to ride so low it didn't need running boards, a feature that remained a staple on most other vehicles of the period. The Cord also had hidden door hinges, offering exceptionally smooth body lines.

The End of an Era

The first year of production only saw 1,174 of Cord's 810s leave the production line, in spite of Cord's ambitious plans. There were approximately 3,000 cars built by 1937, including one prototype in 1938. "Coffin Nose" Cord may have been the first car to feature hidden headlights, but it was certainly not the last. In fact, the next mass-produced American front-wheel-drive cars after the Cord, the Oldsmobile Toronado, and Cadillac Eldorado of the 1960s, each had hidden headlights. Unfortunately, safety regulations ultimately turned out the lights on retractable lamps. Among the last mass-produced cars to have this feature was the 2004 Chevrolet Corvette.

In Conclusion

The Cord 810/812 may not have been a commercial success, but its legacy lives on. Its innovative use of retractable headlights paved the way for future designs and continues to inspire automotive enthusiasts today. As we look back at this piece of automotive history, we're reminded of the spirit of innovation that drives the industry forward.

Stay tuned for more explorations into automotive history and technology. And as always, keep your passion for cars burning bright!

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