After E.L. Cord’s automotive dreams collapsed in bankruptcy in the late 1930s, a Detroit entrepreneur named Dallas Winslow bought the remaining parts and the rights to the Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg brands. Winslow had a business selling parts to collectors and restorers. In the early 1960s, an Oklahoma schoolteacher and Cord enthusiast by the name of Glenn Pray bought the remaining stock of Cord parts and the rights to the Cord name. At first he just sold parts but was seized by the idea of putting the Cord 810 back into production. He enlisted the Cord’s original designer Gordon Buehrig in the project and Buehrig provided some initial drawings of a scaled down 810. At the time, the designer was working for Ford. Serendipitously, executives of the U.S. Rubber company trying to sell Ford a new composite body panel material stopped by Beuhrig’s office while Pray was there. After he told them about his Cord project, they agreed to provide the tooling and body panels for free, just to be able to use the production repliCords as demonstration vehicles to get business with the Big 3.
Pray sincerely wanted to make a car that didn’t just replicate the Cord’s classic looks, so he figured out a way to use a Corvair drivetrain and some Citroen Traction Avant parts to make a functional front wheel drive car, the first postwar American front wheel drive car – predating the Oldsmobile Toronado by 4 years. The fact that his major financial backer was Wayne McKinley, a Chevrolet dealer may have had something to do with choosing a Corvair drivetrain, though Pray’s novel implementation of FWD might not have been possible with any other US drivetrain*. Unfortunately for Pray, his financial backers didn’t like the way he ran the company and they took over after only a handful of cars were made. Pray went on to make some very highly regarded Auburn Speedster replicas, while the company he started managed to make about 100 “Cord 8/10” cars, as they were branded, reflecting the fact that they were 8/10th scale replicas of the original Cords. Pray had worked hard to make a car that, while smaller, was true to the original’s proportions and styling. Wayne McKinley, a Chevy dealer who was Pray’s primary backer, ran the company until it went bankrupt in the late 1960s when inventor Bill Lear (LearJet) took an interest, bought the company and renamed it Sports Automobile Manufacturing Company (SAMCO) and proceeded to change the design. The car featured in this post is a SAMCO Cord.
Considering that Lear was involved with relatively high tech things like sleek private jets, the resulting product was low tech and the opposite of sleak. The body was redesigned to fit on a RWD International truck chassis that used a Ford van’s solid beam axle up front. Instead of the Corvair’s aircooled flat six, the SAMCO Cords had either small block 302 Fords or 440 Chrysler engines. At least they weren’t slow. For some strange reason, perhaps cost, one of the original Cord’s signature styling elements, hideaway headlamps integrated into the 810’s flowing front fenders, was discarded and replaced with conventional exposed headlamps. The result is visually jarring. From the “coffin” hood, you get the idea that it’s modeled after the Cord, but the conventional headlights tell you that something’s not quite right. About 400 SAMCO Cords were produced.
Though the SAMCO Cords are welcome at Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club events, because the company was indeed the legal heir to the original Cord company, Cord enthusiasts haven’t embraced them as warmly as they have the Pray Cords. No wonder. The Pray Cords are one man’s tribute to a great car design, preserving the original’s FWD, even using some of his stock of original Cord parts. The SAMCO Cords are funny looking and built on truck frames. They were meant to replicate the Cord 810/812’s classic good looks and they don’t even do that.
Still, they have a following. I saw this particular one at the Crusin’ Hines event. I asked if it was a Cord replica of some kind and the owner of the car kept insisting that it was a real “1970 Cord”.
*Actually, the Corvair’s Powerglide automatic transmision, which Pray used, was also used in the “rope drive” Pontiac Tempest’s rear transaxle, though modified since the Corvair was rear-engined and the Tempest was a conventional layout.