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L29 Sport Cabriolet by Ruhrbeck
This was the first American front-wheel drive car to be offered to the public, beating the Ruxton automobile by several months, in 1929. The brainchild of former Miller engineer Carl Van Ranst, its drive system borrowed from the Indianapolis 500-dominating racers, using the same de Dion layout and inboard brakes. This allowed it to be much lower than competing cars. Both stock cars and special bodies built on the Cord chassis by American and European coachbuilders won prizes in contests worldwide. The L-29 came with full instrumentation, including a temp. gauge, oil pressure gauge, and speedometer on the left with a gas gauge, oil level gauge, and Ammeter on the right of the steering wheel.
It was powered by Auburn's 4,934 cc (301 cu in) 125 hp (93 kW) L-head Lycoming inline 8 from the Auburn 120, with the crankshaft pushed out through the front of the block and the flywheel mounted there, driving a three-speed transmission. Gearing in both transmission and front axle was inadequate, and the 4,700 lb (2,100 kg) car was underpowered, limited to a trifle over 80 mph (130 km/h), inadequate even at the time, and readily exceeded by the less expensive Auburn. Still, the styling was lovely, and despite the 137.5 in (3,490 mm) wheelbase and steering demanding fully four turns lock-to-lock, handling was reportedly superb. Priced around US$3000, it was competitive with Marmon, Lincoln, Packard, Franklin, and Stutz; the 1930 Chrysler copied several styling elements. It could not outrun the Great Depression, and by 1932, it was discontinued, with just 4,400 sold. Wheelbase was 137.5" and the height of the sedan was 61".
The L-29 was offered initially in Sedan, Brougham, Convertible Coupé and Phaeton versions, at prices ranging from $3,095 to $3,295. Unfortunately for Cord, just as his new baby was reaching dealers' showrooms the Wall Street Crash of October 1929 blew away a huge proportion of his intended clientele. Despite a program of price cuts, sales never took off and the world's first practical front-wheel-drive production car was discontinued in 1932. Including cars supplied in chassis form to independent coachbuilders, only 5,010 L-29s were built, of which it is thought that around 300 of all types exist today.
American and European custom coachbuilders naturally gravitated to the design possibilities offered by the low-slung L-29 chassis, and 43 custom-bodied L-29s were created.
Designed by Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky for Grand Rapids, Michigan’s Hayes Body Company, this “one-off” design statement was conceived and built specifically for international show competition, and today it remains one of the crowning achievements of the Classic Era. The Count, the son of an advisor to Czar Nicholas II, was an automotive enthusiast from his youth. Following the Russian Revolution, he made his way to Paris where he quickly developed an outstanding reputation for his natural design prowess.
Following training in engineering and art school, the young Count applied his talents to some of the world’s finest chassis of the 1920s, including Minerva, Packard and Rolls-Royce. His designs for Vanden Plas in Belgium earned four successive Grands Prix d’Honneur in Monte Carlo from 1926 through 1929. In 1928, Hayes Body Company of Michigan recruited and sponsored the young de Sakhnoffsky’s emigration to America, and Packard’s Alvan Macauley attempted to lure the Count away. Nonetheless, de Sakhnoffsky remained loyal to Hayes, and he quickly displayed remarkable versatility by designing the 1930 Marmon Model 78 line and the contrastingly tiny American Austin, which continued little changed through 1940 as the American Bantam.
Four surviving L-29 Town Cars known to have been built in this era by noted West Coast Coachbuilder, Murphy & Co. of Pasadena. Murphy & Co. were of course closely associated with Duesenberg, providing the lion's share of their coachwork in the late 1920s. The results were as fine a collaboration as there ever was between a manufacturer and a coachbuilder; the stylists at Murphy creating stunning Town Cars on the low slung front wheel drive chassis of the L29. Bold, rakish, menacing, refined, and svelte, all of these words spring to mind when one views these cars today. They truly encapsulate the Roaring Twenties and the Silver Screen. It is easy to imagine a star stepping gracefully from the rear compartment onto the red carpet, the celebrity seeming larger than life against the backdrop of the low profile of one of these Cords.
Helpfully, at least three of the four L29 Murphy Town Cars are distinguishable from each other by merit of the fact that three were constructed on 152 1/2 inch 'long' wheel base chassis, while the other one was built on 'short' standard 137 5/8 inch wheel base chassis – the differential being easily seen in photos. Added to this, one of the longer cars had side mounted spares, while another had rear mounted spares. The shorter wheelbase versions of Murphy's Town Cars were ultra-compact, yet beautifully proportioned and with incredible intricate detail to their waist moldings which appear to dip and roll into the chauffeur compartment. In keeping with its simplicity of form, roll up windows were omitted, maintaining the car's aesthetics. Without the side-mounted spares, the body line is unbroken and the design uncompromised. The overall height is a little over 5 feet from the ground, and the passenger compartment is delightfully small and discrete.
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