By Rod Ward
Errett Lobban Cord, born in 1894 in Missouri, was a super-salesman brought in to rescue the ailing Auburn car company. He soon took control of the firm, then he acquired Duesenberg, the top US luxury car maker of the period. He also took over Lycoming, who made the engines, plus coachbuilders and makers of other car components from axles to springs. EL Cord seems to have been very personable; not only did potential buyers find his approach irresistible, his employees were loyal, though he paid poor wages. He recognised his own lack of specialist expertise, always choosing to employ the best person for the job: managers, designers or engineers. This publication moves from one personality to another, among the many gifted people to whom Cord chose to give his support. He launched a car marque under his own Cord name, took over the firm which made and operated Checker cabs, and diversified into aircraft manufacture with Stinson, Vultee and Avco, then into airlines when he created American Airlines. Not satisfied with cars and aviation, EL Cord also acquired a major shipbuilding firm and became a principal shareholder in a railway company. At one time or another, Cord was said to have controlled over 150 companies, but we don’t go into detail about them all here, only those of most interest to Auto Review readers. When his original empire collapsed in the late 1930s, EL Cord went on to own radio and television stations, and to invest in property, coal mines and even livestock. Opinion was divided as to Cord’s character; a visionary, a charlatan, a financial genius, a stock manipulator? During the Great Depression Cord lost interest in his transport-related empire, which was subject to restrictions by the US authorities, so it was dismantled in 1937. He never believed in looking back, always forward, and he went on to build another fortune and to become a respected legislator as a State Senator in Nevada. EL’s principal legacies in the 21st century are the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Automobile Museum, located in his old art deco headquarters in Auburn, Indiana, and the hundreds of Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg cars lovingly preserved around the world.