Celebrating the Spirit of Competition

1937 Supercharged Cord 812

Chassis Number : 8121446F             Horsepower : 190           Displacement : 8-cylinder, 4.73 L           Wheelbase : 125"

These Cars

In 1937 the supercharged Cord was just about the only stock performance car one could purchase. Auburn had already gone out of business and the other car manufacturers were making rather staid conventional models for general use. In this milieu, the dramatic Gordon Buehrig design stood out as a symbol of sport and style. In order to capitalize on that power and to set a stock car records, which it was clearly capable of doing with its increased horsepower and modern features, a supercharged Cord sedan was taken to Bonneville, Salt Flats to compete in the American Automobile Association “Unlimited Class Official Stock Car Speed Records”.

Josh B. Malks, in his classic book Cord 810/812: The Timeless Classic, recalls the Bonneville record set by Ab Jenkins and the super-charged Cord in 1937.

On September 16th and 17th, the Cord set a new speed record of 107.66 miles per hour for the flying mile. The run took place on a circular course of ten-mile radius, so the two-way runs were not needed. Racing puts extraordinary pressures on vehicles designed as passenger cars. But let those who question the Cord’s reliability note that at Bonneville, Jenkins’ Cord covered nearly 2500 miles in 24 hours at an average speed of over 101 mph including stops for tires and gas. But the decision had already been made to stop Cord production.

Malks continues,

While the crew was waiting out the rains, the production lines at Connersville came to a halt. Someone in Auburn management must have decided that since most of the expenditures had already been made – for personnel, transportation of cars and people to Utah, food and lodging fees, fees for the use of the Salt Flats, fuel oil, timers and equipment, the attempt to set a new American stock car speed records would proceed. The original intent of the record runs were to provide favorable publicity and thereby boost sales. When they finally did take place, the publicity might have helped dealers dispose of the remaining stock.

These records stood until in 1953 a stock Austin Healey 100-4 reached 109.24 and set other marks at Bonneville as well. In later years, Malks comments, slide-rule engineers estimated that the 812 that set the AAA records would have had to produce 220 bhp to perform so mightily. Magazine articles and books list every figure from 130 to 225 for the supercharged horsepower.

It’s even been written that changes were made to the cam grind and supercharger gearing during productions so that the highest figures apply to only the later engines. He believes that production super-charged engines produced in the range of 186 to 195 horse power. He concludes that the expected horsepower increase from the superchargers’ six pounds of boost, an increase of 50 brake horsepower, which was 35 percent over the 140 unblown horses. Some of this is attributed to redesigned cam as well.

Our Car

This is one of the in the collection with the most sentimental attachment. As a young man, dad longed for the outlandishly advanced supercharged Cord, which he occasionally saw in the streets of Philadelphia. Front wheel drive, electric gear shift, airplane dash, and remarkable styling made it every young man’s dream, though economically it was beyond his reach. I guess some day he knew he would find one. Still somewhat impecunious in 1954, he finally found the car of his dreams. It belonged to a Lehigh University student named Bill Collins who apparently previously obtained the car from Bob Gegen, one of the pioneer automotive historical collectors. By the way, Bill went on to join Pontiac for 20 years, and he was involved in the design of the famous Banshee concept car, the GTO, and the Grand Am. Subsequently he joined Delorean. After Delorean’s demise he started a company that built the 574 Vixen motor home. He now enjoys his retirement in North Port, Michigan.

When dad got the car he set about making it perfect. After achieving his desired degree of perfection, which translated to 100 points in judging competition he went on to win the Classic Car Club of America Senior Award given to the best car of the year in the annual divisional Grand Classic Competition. The Cord is Grand Classic number four, the oldest winner still registered in the Classic Car Club of America. We had many arguments about the restoration process during which time I felt he was destroying the original fabric in order to seek perfection. All he had to say was “the judges won’t like this”, and I petulantly submitted. The car still has its 1954 restoration which is softly showing its age. When it came time to formulate the collection, I recalled that the Bonneville record set in 1937 by a supercharged Cord (although a sedan) by Ab Jenkins, I thought this would be a fair example of the American stock car record holder for the 1930s with an average of 101MPH for the 24 hours.