Armored ’37 Cord couldn’t prevent assassination of U.S. senator
No, Al Capone did not own this 1937 Cord 812 Custom Beverly, nor did any other member of organized crime, although the car—with its coffin nose, mafioso profile, and armor-plated body—certainly fits the part.
Who, then, felt the need to commission an armored car from the Indiana luxury automaker? Clearly someone who felt the need to be protected. Was that person controversial Louisiana politician Huey Long? It makes for a good story, even if the dates seem a bit off.
Perhaps it was with some skepticism that Barrett-Jackson avoided giving specific details about the car’s history when it announced the Cord will cross the block at its 2020 Scottsdale Auction January 11–19. One thing is certain: the sedan is the only bulletproof Cord in existence.
Driving’s Alyn Edwards provided some answers in a March 2017 interview with the Cord’s Canadian owner, Gary Morgan. According to Edwards, in 1964 a New Brunswick car dealer accepted the Cord, which hadn’t run since 1943, in trade toward the purchase of a new Oldsmobile. Two decades later, after receiving a tip from a friend, Morgan made a deal to buy the Cord and four other cars, and he had them shipped more than 3000 miles to his home in Chilliwack, British Columbia, near Vancouver. After Morgan nearly injured himself trying to remove the car’s heavy doors for restoration, he knew this was no ordinary Cord. But who was its original owner? And why did he feel the need for extra protection?
Morgan had to wait more than 30 years to find out. By then, he had spent $15,000 in parts, as well as countless hours tinkering, before health problems and the loss of his workshop conspired to keep the Cord off the road. Morgan had a decision to make: sell the car or pay someone to finish the job. He chose the latter, hiring 360 Fabrication in nearby Abbotsford.
Cord’s low-slung 810/812 offered more than a dozen industry firsts—including front-wheel drive, independent front suspension, reverse-mounted 125-horsepower V-8, and electrically selected semi-automatic four-speed transmission. But Morgan’s Cord was special beyond those attributes and, of course, its unique armored plating. It had side-mounted spare wheels in the front fenders, an extra louvre in the grille (indicating the car was taller than production models), a unique bustle back trunk, and a 132-inch wheelbase instead of the usual 128-inch wheelbase. As 360 Fabrication’s Daryl Francoeur was quick to point out, Morgan’s Cord was unlike any other.
According to Edwards, extensive research revealed that the Cord Custom Beverly was originally delivered to the State of Louisiana, presumably on behalf of Long, an outspoken U.S. senator and the state’s former governor. Long’s push to centralize Louisiana’s executive power and raise taxes on the rich had resulted in death threats. Regardless, the Democrat—nicknamed “The Kingfish”—was planning to run for president in 1936, taking on Franklin Roosevelt in the process.
According to history.com, in 1935 Long claimed to have uncovered an assassination plot against him involving four congressmen, the mayor of New Orleans, and two former Louisiana governors. It makes sense that Long would want a special armored vehicle. However, if he had indeed ordered the custom Cord in 1935, surely it would not have taken two years to complete. Perhaps work was simply delayed while Louisiana officials determined if the car was still worth the trouble and expense, since—as Long had feared—the senator was shot by an assassin’s bullet on September 8, 1935. He died two days later at the age of 44.
Nevertheless, Morgan says, the bulletproof Cord was completed and delivered to Louisiana, and it eventually served the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II, transporting admirals and other top-ranking wartime dignitaries Stateside. It was later sold to a member of the USCG, who was killed overseas in 1943. His widow stored the Cord in a Connecticut garage for 20 years before trading it in for that ’64 Oldsmobile.
Fully restored and stunning in its original silver-gray paint, the one-of-a-kind 1937 Cord should receive plenty of attention in Scottsdale in January. Of course, that’s no surprise. Morgan realized as soon as the restoration was complete that he couldn’t hold onto the Cord much longer, since his health was declining and he couldn’t drive anyway. As he told Edwards two years ago, “It’s priceless and should go to someone who will preserve it.”
The only question is, was the Cord built for the Kingfish, or is its alleged background just a fish story?