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This week, aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart’s 1937 812 Cord Phaeton landed on the National Historic Vehicle Register. The Phaeton so defines the era when Earhart dominated the news with her pursuits of aircraft flight records. It was all streamlined cars, aircraft, and buildings in the latter 1930s. But soon after her disappearance, the Cord, too, disappeared.

What happened to Amelia Earhart and her Cord?

1937 Cord
Amelia Earhart’s 1937 Cord Phaeton | National Historic Vehicle Register

It’s a strange journey for this significant vehicle. Actually, it didn’t travel at all. We’ll explain. As most know, Earhart’s attempt to trek the globe with her Lockheed Electra 10E aircraft wasn’t successful. It remains part of national lore. Amelia and the plane never emerged. Speculation has zeroed in on a particular island, but nothing conclusive has ever been verified.

Earhart ordered her Cord phaeton a year before her ill-fated trek. Cord automobiles were several steps ahead of conventional vehicles of the time. Hidden headlights, no running boards, a low profile, front-wheel drive, and supercharged V8s were way beyond anything happening in the 1930s. 

Why were so few Cord automobiles built?

1937 Cord Phaeton
Amelia Earhart’s 1937 Cord Phaeton | NHVR

The voluptuous styling and low profile defined the era but in extremes. And then there was the transmission. You could pre-select the next gear with vacuum controls, ready for the next gear. Then the driver only needed to push in the clutch, and the selected gear took over. 

Everything about the Cord is futuristic. But the problem is it leap into production without proper testing. Many glitches dogged the Cords, in an era where there weren’t many problems with what were simple Ford and Chevrolet vehicles. 

In all, only 3,000 1936 and 1937 Cords found buyers. For as beautiful and advanced as it was, its price, problems, and advances that were too far beyond car buyers’ ability to absorb, made it an unmitigated failure. But none of this was common knowledge when Earhart ordered her phaeton. Options that distinguished Amelia’s Cord included a suicide knob on the steering wheel and a compass. 

What happened after the car was sold?

1937 Cord Phaeton
Amelia Earhart’s 1937 Cord Phaeton | NHVR

What’s especially noteworthy about the Cord is that it didn’t pass along from buyer to buyer. Earhart’s husband sold the Cord when at some point afterward it was torn down and the pieces sold. That means the car’s components were scattered across the continent. It became a non-vehicle, with only pieces that existed. This was a typical fate for some rare cars that were more valuable by selling them off piece-by-piece than as a whole.

Collector Ray Foster decided to try and reunite the disparate pieces, eventually reuniting the body, frame, and engine. Years later, he sold the pieces to the JBS collection, which paid for a full restoration. By 2018 it was as you see it here, and as Earhart saw when she took possession of it. 

Coinciding with the National Historic Vehicle Register inclusion and Internal Women’s Day celebrations, a press release submits, “Highlighting the story of Amelia Earhart and her passion for the automobile is a unique glimpse into the varied and widespread love of cars. We are thrilled to honor this American hero and advocate for women’s rights during Women’s History Month. It is one more example of the way America’s automotive history is woven into the diverse past of our nation,” said Hagarty’s Casey Maxon .


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