T 87 restoration video: http://www.sardi.com.hr/tatra87_video.html
As much as we venerate men like Harley Earl, Bill Mitchell, Virgil Exner, and Dick Teague as characters who shaped what an American car meant during America’s automobile-centric century, Raymond Loewy and Brooks Stevens—industrial designers who dabbled in automobiles—defined the midcentury American aesthetic. The French-born Loewy drew inspiration from transport, and, of course, his Studebaker Avanti resembled a late-1970s automobile, despite first reaching the world in 1962. But Loewy, born in 1893, was first romanced by trains. His younger peer Brooks Stevens grew up with the car, and this particular 1930 Cord can be seen as the industrial design titan’s first automotive project—albeit one he modified for himself.
Stevens acquired the car during his stint as a design student at Cornell and set about repurposing it as a proper sportsman’s automobile. The L29 features a golf-clubs compartment, no top, and no wipers. Stevens was apparently a fair-weather sportsman. The Cord’s small gauges were replaced with a custom gauge cluster featuring units with larger, easier-to-read faces. The at-a-glance legibility proved handy during the hill-climbs the young designer enjoyed competing in. The standard L29’s clamshell fenders gave way to skirted units, and Stevens deleted the running boards for a more wasp-waisted look. Woodlite headlamps, common on Ruxtons of the era, replaced the stock units, and Stevens swapped the basic Cord radiator cap for a winged ornament of his own design.
The rear dorsal fin is roughly contemporaneous with the similarly equipped Tatra 77, though its smooth profile is more reminiscent of the unit on the later, more organic T87. Though the body is fundamentally prewar American, Stevens’s special suggests both postwar hot rods and customs, and it offers little hints of what was to come from the American auto industry two decades later. Stevens owned the car until his death in 1995. Two years later, Ed and Judy Schoenthaler purchased the car from the designer’s estate, with the promise that it’d be restored just as Stevens had designed it.
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Fresh off the resto, it bowed at Pebble Beach in 2000. This year, it took home Best of Show at the 20th annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Cords are utterly fascinating automobiles in their own right, but given the machine’s provenance and its place in the history of American industrial design, it could be argued that Stevens’s Cord was the most important car on the lawn yesterday. It’s fitting that it rolled off with the most important trophy. Not convinced? Think of it this way—this car ultimately led to the Willys Jeepster, the Wienermobile, today’s full-dress Harley-Davidsons, and Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green’s beloved Miller High Life guitar. If that’s not cultural relevance, what is?
After having concentrated mainly on Citroens for his series of flying cars, Swedish artist Jacob Munkkammar went Czech.
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