Building the reproduction 1931 Cord L-29 LeGrande Speedster...
Often, we find ourselves bemoaning the "how comes" of restored cars. How come, we wonder, too little glory (often not even a casual mention) falls to the people who have spent precious blood, sweat and tears restoring a particular car. We can cite dozens of publications in support of our case. But, of course, we live on the restorer’s side of the tracks and the bitter taste of sour grapes lingers long in our craw.
A perfect candidate for our stump speeches is a reproduction 1931 Cord L-29 LeGrande Speedster that was reconstructed from scratch using original sketches and photos for inspiration and as many original components as possible.
Body sketches that stylist Phil Wright penned during the Great Depression with the intention of landing a job at the Auburn Automobile Co., Auburn, Indiana played a big roll in the fabrication of the original car as well as the reproduction.
Having been warned that his job at Walter J. Murphy, a Pasadena, California-based coachbuilder was in jeopardy due to the strangulation hold of the Great Depression, Wright packed his bags and left California and headed for Detroit in search of work. Stopping by the sleepy hamlet of Auburn, Indiana, Wright landed an interview with Auburn Automobile Co. President Roy Faulkner who found Wright’s sketches of a proposed Cord L-29 exciting --- but due to the economics at the time didn’t put Wright on the payroll.
Soon after, Faulkner authorized the building of a speedster based on Wright’s sketches. Cord’s stylist Al Leamy was called in to rework the designs to reflect E.L. Cord’s insistence that the front end not hide the front-wheel-drive setup. The look from the front is very similar to the production models.
There was only one 1931 Cord L-29 LeGrande Speedster ever built and its eventual fate remains a mystery.
A top attraction at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum is a reproduction of the original. Its strikingly garish red and yellow paint job and flowing lines have made it a favorite of visitors and members of the museum staff.
Writer Lee Beck’s recounting of the original car, Wright’s sketches and vintage photos of the finished LeGrande validate its existence. Beck’s story appeared in the June ’95 issue of Car Collector magazine. As Beck states, it was the only L-29 custom-built speedster by Cord and the name LeGrande was used only when a coachbuilt vehicle was built in-house. Stylists say Phil Wright’s sketches have a European look.
Other published articles about the reproduction L-29 Cord Speedster have appeared, yet little mention and yet few, if any, photos were shown to document the forming of the body skins. With your approval, we will attempt to begin filling the missing gaps. We should mention that several other copies of the original speedster have been built since the building of the one shown in this article.
In a phone conversation, Stan Gilliland, a noted ACD restorer and historian who was involved in the reproduction effort, fielded our questions with an enthusiasm for the project that hasn’t waned over the 20 years since it began.
The following quotes by Gilliland are from our April 2009 conversation.
“Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg members have always been interested in the original Cord L-29 LeGrande Speedster.”
“Only after Dr. Fay Culbreth, an orthodontist from Charlotte, NC, stepped forward with the financing did the reproduction project take off.”
“Looking back, I don’t know how we did it. There have been other attempts since, but ours was the best.”
“The “L” denotes the chassis while “29” denotes the year when the project was started. “Although the car carries the L-29, a prototype was built in 1927. The finished car was first shown in the New York Auto Show in 1931.”
“Years ago, I bought two small copies of Phil Wright’s sketches, a series of factory photos and some published works on the car.”
“Originally, my involvement with the project was only to produce drawings and station bucks using the sketches and photos as reference. Using known dimensions, ie. wheelbase, tire size, etc., I enlisted Richard Teneyck Design to produce working drawings for the bucks.”
“The original sketches are 11’’ x 42”.”
Regarding the flashy red and yellow colors used on the original ...
“Years ago, Auto Body (a magazine that catered to the automakers) mentioned the red and yellow colors. Once I started work on the repro car, word got out and Dave Holls, a GM employee, contacted me to tell me that GM used the same sketches for in-house training sessions and had color standards for all of those years.”
“Somehow, by using computer analysis at GM (with Chuck Jordan’s permission) they were able to weigh out the colors by scanning the black and white photos. They were even able to pull out some detail of the extra lumps under the fenders.”
“Later, I heard that Jordan felt too much time had been spent doing the analysis and had decided to justify the cost. Although I’ve never looked into it, I’ve heard that the colors were available on Chevy and GMC trucks in ’96 -’97.”