Paul Bryant and the E-1 Cord

Paul Bryant was 7 years old when he saw a newspaper photo of the 1936 Cord. It “just jumped off the page,” he said. As a youngster, he would ride his bike to Tadlock’s Garage near 43rd and Mission Road just to glimpse one. The Cord left an image on his soul that has blossomed into a lifelong obsession with this unique automobile.

Bryant, of Prairie Village, is a retired physics professor from the University of Missouri Kansas City, and his life has become intertwined with Cords in ways he would never have imagined when he saw his first picture.

He bought his first, a supercharged convertible coupe, more than 40 years ago, and he has also restored a 1936 prototype called the Coppertone Cord. But the Cord that resonates with him most of all is the E-1, a prototype that may be the rarest of all Cords. Bryant saw the body 26 years ago in a barn near Plato Center, Ill. It had no engine, no fenders, and no grille shell. Careful examination revealed that it was the prototype for a gigantic 1932 Cord limousine town car that was likely to be the personal car of E. L. Cord. With a wheelbase of 157.625 inches, it was 20 inches longer than the L-29 Cord and bigger than a Duesenberg. The engine was initially a V-16 engine of 200 horsepower, but it was reduced to 12 cylinders. The prototype was driven 779 miles, but the stock market crash killed plans for the big Cord and it was dismantled.

After finding the body, Bryant displayed the hulk at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Ind. Bryant then moved the car to Stan Gilliland’s Auburn/Cord Parts restoration shop in Wellington, Kan., where it sat for years. One by one, the missing parts were located. The grille shell was found in Ohio, the fenders in Arizona and the engine in a remote corner of the Auburn Automobile Company’s power plant.

Bryant’s dedication to restoring Cords is amazing. When he was working on his Coppertone Cord, he lived in Gilliland’s shop. For 10 months, he worked six days a week, sleeping in a sleeping bag on a pad behind the hulk of E-1. He would rise at 7 a.m. and work until 10 p.m. On Saturday afternoon he would drive back home to his wife Martha, and leave again on Sunday evening.

Last August, after 26 years, E-1 was completed just in time to be trucked to California for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. The E-1finally had an elegant coming-out party.
So what did Bryant do with E-1? He donated it to the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Ind., where it has a place of honor. Why give away a car of such incredible value?

“He’s a very giving person,” said his wife Martha, “that’s his nature.”

“It’s so much a part of the history of E.L. Cord,” Bryant said, “that it belongs in the museum.”

What he didn’t say was more obvious. The E-1 will always hold a special place in his heart no matter where it is parked.

Photographs courtesy of Derek Deines

Auto Gallery is a weekly feature about classic vehicles. To get in touch with Tom Strongman, send e-mail to [email protected]