Some vehicles gain notoriety for their engine innovation, some for their revolutionary design. Others still become famous, or infamous as the case may be, because of their dubious owners.
In those cases the car can become almost as legendary as the owner themselves, which is the situation with a one-of-a-kind car that played a part of the political history of the American deep south, vanished into thin air and is about to reappear 80 years later in Canada, thanks to an Abbotsford custom car shop.
To understand the importance of the story the mystery car has to tell, one first needs to understand the history of the man, and manufacturer, who created it.
In 1924, when he was just 30 years of age, Cord took over the day-to-day operations of the Auburn Auto brand. Rather than focus on the conservative design of the day, Cord focused on cosmetics, and Auburns almost overnight were transformed into some of the best-looking cars on the road. They were both technical and styling master pieces.
By 1929 Cord was looking to expand the company to include his own name on the roster, and thus the brand regarded by many auto experts as the coolest and most revolutionary vehicle nobody’s ever heard of, the Cord Automobile Corporation was born.
At the same time as Cord’s star was rising in the automotive world, 800 miles to the south in Louisiana one of the most outspoken and colourful politicians in U.S. history was also climbing through the ranks of the American politician system. Huey Long, self-nicknamed “The Kingfish,” was elected as a U.S. Senator in 1932 after serving five years as governor of Louisiana. A vocal Democrat and supporter of Franklin D.Roosevelt, Long’s agenda was received with well publicized outrage by the Ku KluxKlan, who publicly denounced him as having “un-American views on authority.”
By early 1935 the two men’s lives were about to intersect. Under growing threats by his enemies towards Long, the State of Louisiana commissioned a custom-made vehicle for Senator Long. The vehicle was a one of a kind Cord, a vehicle that featured an astounding 18 automotive firsts, the highest ever from any manufacturer. This particular Cord was especially important, as it had been commissioned to be bullet proof. Construction began on the hand-built vehicle but fate intervened once again when on Sept. 8, 1935 a single assailant shot Senator Long. He died two day later.
Meanwhile, construction on his vehicle continued, and, upon its completion two years later in April 1937, the Cord Automotive Company delivered the vehicle to the State of Louisiana. With no clear mandate for its use, the Cord was turned over to the U.S.Coast Guard, whose leadership used the vehicle until selling it in 1944 to one of its officers. The apparent curse of the Cord continued when the naval officer was deployed and killed in the Second World War, having barely had a chance to drive the luxurious automobile.
The widow placed the Cord in storage, where it remained, until 1963 when she opted to trade the Cord in on a brand new Oldsmobile. The owner of the New Brunswick dealership did not recognize the significance of the Cord, and kept the vehicle in private storage, never driven, until 1984 when the aging owner decided to down size his inventory. Enter Chilliwack businessman Gary Morgan, who heard of the collection, and in particular the rumours of a historic, and possibly cursed, 1937 Cord.
With little patience for superstition Morgan purchased the Cord as a restoration project, and returned to Chilliwack where the Cord spent 30-plus years in storage slowly restoring on way to its original grandeur.
“I bought the car as a project in ’84 and I’ve been working on it ever since,” Morgans aid.
Aside from its illustrious pedigree the 1937 Cord is one of the most important automotive accomplishments in history. The car boasts a total of 18 automotive “firsts” including hidden antennae, a unibody design, hidden headlights, a concealed gas cap, electric shift, no running boards, front opening hood (which led to the nickname “coffin-nosed Cord”), first North American production front-wheel drive,first detachable powertrain and the first vehicle with no visible hinges on the outside– instead, they were built into the doors of the car. All of these significant milestones make the Cord a “rocket ship of the 1930s” with a number of groundbreaking design and technological elements that weren’t achieved by its competitors until the 1960s.
Morgan had a series of strokes and in late 2016 the car was shipped to famed Abbotsford auto restoration and custom car shop 360 Fabrication where the job of recreating the Cord fell to expert fabricator and one half of the 360 ownership team Daryl Franceour.
“We looked everywhere to find pictures of this car to use as templates in the restoration but there simply isn’t any,” Franceour said. “It’s been in storage essentially since 1941, and although there are other 1937 Cords, this one is 100 percent unique. It truly is a one-of-one car and the restoration has involved hand rebuilding the car –it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle without a picture reference.”
The illusive Huey Long Cord will make its very first public appearance on March 28 a tthe Vancouver International Auto Show as one of the featured specialty vehicles on display. The auto show runs until April 2 at the Convention Centre.
Morgan is upbeat about the big unveil.
“The car is an important and significant part of history, and I’m excited it’s about to finally be done,” he said. “The team at 360 have performed wonderfully and the workmanship is remarkable.”