There are a large number of visually stunning cars at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum. In addition to the museum’s namesake marques, there are representative examples of competing luxury brands as well as historically significant special interest cars. Truly there are too many magnificent automobiles to really pick a favorite or say that one car stands above the rest. However, there is one car in a position of honor in the museum’s showroom that deserves special mention, the 1932 Cord E-1 limousine prototype. It deserves notice not just because it is a very unique and beautiful one of one prototype of an already collectible marque, but also because of the history of the car’s restoration and the dedication of the Cord enthusiast who donated the E-1 to the museum.
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In the late 1920s and early 1930s, luxury car makers were engaged in a technology race, not unlike today’s horsepower race that sees a 580 HP Camaro one day and a 650 HP Mustang the next. Back then, though, the cachet went to the cars with the most cylinders. Pierce Arrow, Lincoln, Franklin and Packard introduced V12 engines. Cadillac responded with their own V12 but when Marmon upped the ante with a V16, Cadillac matched them. The L-29 Cords, with front wheel drive, established that brand as a technology leader and E. L. Cord wasn’t going to be left behind. First powered by an experimental V16 which was replaced with a V12 of the same 491 cubic inches of displacement, the E-1 has to be one of the longest cars ever made.
To begin with, it used Cord’s standard FWD layout which placed the engine longitudinally behind the transaxle. That’s the reason why all Cords, the L-29 and the 810/812, have long cowl to bumper dimensions. Add the length of a sixteen or twelve cylinder engine, and the result is even longer yet. I supposed that E. L. Cord figured that if you’re going to make an impressive luxury car to gauge interest it might as well be a limousine, so in addition to the long, long hood, the passenger compartment is also longer than even most large cars’ cabins in the 1930s. The E-1 is twenty inches longer than a L-29, with a wheelbase of 157″. The experimental V12 produced 200 horsepower, every one of which was needed to propel the three ton limo.
Cord used the E-1 as a personal vehicle for himself, but before the odometer ticked off 1,000 miles, it became obvious that the middle of a financial depression was not the time to launch a luxury car. The car was disassembled and the V12 was used to power a backup generator in the Auburn factory. The E-1’s story might have ended there were it not for Paul Bryant, a life long Cord enthusiast and retired physics professor.
Bryant is a respected Cord historian and collector who has restored more than one classic Cord, including the “Coppertone” Cord 810 prototype. More than two decades ago he found a limousine body in a barn in rural Illinois. It had no engine, no fenders, and no grille. Research proved the hulk to be the E-1 and Bryant loaned the find to the ACD museum where it was on display for a while, after which it was shipped to Stan Gilliland’s Auburn/Cord Parts restoration shop in Wellington, Kansas, where it sat while Bryant tracked down the rest of the car. Miraculously, all the E-1’s important original parts were found.
The fenders were all the way in Arizona, while the radiator shell and grille was a bit closer, in Ohio. The final puzzle was when the backup generator’s engine in the Auburn factory was identified as the long “lost” experimental V12. The restoration was begun.
Bryant’s dedication to Cords is such that for 10 months he moved into Gilliland’s shop, assisting with the restoration, seeing his wife only on weekends. Finally, the restored Cord E-1 got its first showing at the Pebble Beach concours. Then, in an act that might surprise you and me but not anyone that knows him, Paul Bryant donated the almost priceless E-1 to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum, so the world could enjoy it.
Bryant explained the gift’s motivation. “It’s so much a part of the history of E.L. Cord, that it belongs in the museum.”