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Salt Lake City L29 Cord Mystery

This attractive used L29 Cord Cabriolet designed by stylist Alan H. Leamey is equipped with a pair of very unusual fender lamps installed on the left-hand side front and rear fenders. Our first thought is that the lamps may have been signal lights that were invented or manufactured by someone in the Salt Lake City area. If the lamps were in fact used for signaling for a turn, how they operated is a mystery to us and hopefully, a reader may know more about them?

It is also possible that the lights are somehow connected to Ab Jenkins or the Wilkinson Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg dealership that Jenkins was involved with when he ran his Duesenberg’s in record attempts on the Bonneville Salt Flats and later on piloted Cord 810 and 812 models for the automaker.

Share with us what you find of interest in this photograph courtesy of the J. Willard Marriott Digital Library.

29 responses to “Salt Lake City L29 Cord Mystery

  1. Maybe no turn signals, per se, since they’re only on the left (whereas the right side would have been the driver’s biggest blind spot and so the most likely direction for a dangerous lane change). However, it occurs to me that maybe they’re some sort of “hey, I’m gonna pull out an pass” signal that cars both ahead and behind could see. Maybe. Whatever they are, they’re certainly attractively styled.

  2. Great car, I wish it was a color photograph.

    Since the fender lights seem to be something not seen before, I wonder if they have another application?
    Perhaps designed for a boat, truck, trailer, train or even aircraft? I have seen restored aircraft of the period with small pedestal -mounted wingtip lights, and while they were teardrop shaped for aerodynamics, they were broadly similar to the unit shown.

  3. I’m going to take a”SWAG” at those lights and say they’re used as markers when pulled over to the side of the road and possibly to alert overtaking vehicles.

    Note the chain and padlock mechanism for holding the spare tire rear view mirror

  4. In some cities you had to leave a light burn if you parked a car out on the street at night – that being said, the lights were usually much smaller.

    I am leaning more toward this car being used for some sort of signalling during speed records ?

  5. I can see the fender lamps having two arrows, lit by bulbs from behind, to signal the turn. In Buicks in the late thirties and into the forties, the rear turn signals were a pair of arrows grouped together in the middle of the trunk.

    The other light mounted in the rear of the Cord could be a brake light.

    It’s intriguing to see what they came up with before they settled on the standard of having turns signaled by flashing lights on all four corners.

  6. There appears to be a small dent on the left hand front fender near the spare tire. Looks like the lip of the fender was bent upward slightly. Still think it would look nice in my garage.

    The Goodyear tires have a unique thread pattern with two solid ribbons running around the circumference. The tread extends into the sidewall. Other than decoration, the tread on the sidewall may help in mud, snow, or sand.

  7. It looks to me to be a parking warning light, so when parked at a curb in the night or porley lit area, the left side would have a warning light to let the passing cars miss the left side of car and driver exiting or entering the vehicle. This would also save the battery since the main lights could be off.

  8. Since the lamp assemblies are only on the drivers side could it be some type of aftermarket ‘parking’ light the would highlight the side of the car when parked on a dark street? I looked at pictures I have from the ACD museum in Auburn Indiana and none of their L29 Cords have these lights.

  9. Back then they didn’t have speed limits out there did they? Could the lights be to let a driver know which side to pass when coming toward you?

    • Speed limits, especially in most cities over some small size have been around almost as long as automobiles. Even predating automobiles somewhat, some towns restricted horses to a walk within town limits. When automobiles first started becoming available, the majority of people feared the new technology. “Red Flag” laws, most famous in British England, required a person carrying a red flag to walk ahead of an approaching automobile to warn citizens and pedestrians of the approaching danger (effectively limiting speed to the three mile per hour speed of the average walker!) But England was not the only place such laws were enacted. Individual towns across the USA also passed such laws.
      Most “Red Flag” laws were eventually repealed. But they were soon replaced by speed limits. Most cities and towns in the USA had speed limits under fifteen miles per hour within town limits before 1915. In earlier days, speed limits were often an odd number below 10 mph. Six and one quarter mile per hour was a popular choice before 1910.
      Outside town limits, speed limits varied greatly from state to state. Some states actually did not have speed limits, however their towns sure did. Many states had speed limits STATE-WIDE of 25 or 30 mph up to and including the 1930s!
      One of my many early memories, was California raising the state-wide speed limit from 45 mph up to 55 mph. I can still remember the 45 mph signs all along the state’s highways. That was in the mid 1950s. One such highway we traveled once or twice a year to visit family. I got a kick out of checking the signs, knowing the law had been changed. It was more than a year before the state got around to changing signs on that highway.

      • I’m not sure about other states but in Missouri up until 1954 the speed limit on US highways was “reasonable and prudent. In 1954 it was posted at 70 mph day time and 65 at night. The signs were rather high tec for that time. In the daylight they showed 70 mph and at night when headlights shined on them showed 65 mph. I have heared that some western states had no speed limits until the 55 mph, 1970s law.

    • The length of this critter was in part the result of the engine configuration. Power came from about 300 cubic inches of Lycoming straight right used in Auburn products. EL Cord wanted front wheel drive on the car bearing his name,, and to trim costs used the existing Lycoming engine. Front to rear the L29 was differential, transmission and finally the long straight eight. The resulting long wheelbase contributed to handling issues, particularly while ascending steep wet roads. Apparently there was an inverse relationship between the slope of a hill and tire traction. The car was also severely underpowered as well, offering a max speed of about 80 mpg. Notwithstanding its technical shortcomings the L29 was a beauty to behold.

  10. With such an elegant design and attention to detail, it’s a little surprising that the engineers and designers didn’t either make the bodywork cover the rear spring shackles or make the rear leaf springs shorter. “Excuse me, Miss, your shackles are showing.”

  11. David – I shook the bushes pretty hard and could not find anything concrete about this Cord or any connection to Ab Jenkins. His presence in SLC during 1931 seemed scarce. Just passing through on his way to someplace else. Also found little on the Wilkinson agency mentioned. This may be a later association. In 1930, a year before this photo was taken, the Auburn and Cord agency in Salt Lake was Hyland Motor Co. While wearing a 1931 plate, the photo might have been taken later.
    I did turn up an interesting 1930 promotion and contest that occurred in Salt Lake when the new L29 Cord was first introduced to the car-buying public. An endurance run, by a new L29 Cabriolet, tied to the premier of a movie called “Burning Up”, starring Richard Arlen, which was opening at Salt Lake’s Capitol Theater, was staged. But oddly, the Cord would not actually be going anywhere. The car was placed on rollers, in the front showroom window of the Highland Motor Co. for all the public to view. The contest was for people to guess how many miles the Cord would travel in 7 days. Remaining stationary, It would be started up at 9 a.m. and run all day until 6 p.m. at varying speeds between 5 and 20 mph. Firestone tires co-sponsored the contest. The person who submitted the closest mileage guess after 7 days would win a brand new Model 92 Majestic Home Radio, noted for its ability to pull in signals from far away locations. Second place winner would walk away with 1 new Firestone tire. And the runner-ups got tickets to the movie.
    As far as those cool lights on this Cord goes, my gut says they were upscale aftermarket accessories, used as running lights while on the road at night to warn cars passing and being passed. As suggested they could also be used for safer street parking. Hopefully, someone out there will recognize what the are for sure and who made them. I also wish this photo were in color. I’m sure this car was a stunner.

  12. Since left turns are more problematic than rights (the former requiring crossing the path of oncoming traffic and sometimes necessitating a full stop), maybe the device was intended simply to signal left turns — while right turns were perhaps not considered to be of sufficient consequence to be similarly announced.

  13. From the angle of the photographs it’s possible that the indicators are also on the right side of the car. You clearly can’t see the back right fender as the trunk is in the way, and from the look of the position of the turn signal on the left fender, it’s possible that it’s not visible behind the right side headlight. Too bad there isn’t a full front view. It would seem to me that it would more likely have turn signals for both right and left turns. Still a stunning example of a great car!

  14. That is one well dressed Cord and certainly presented with pride. The image is of the quality of a family photo.

    As for the mystery lights, if I had a couple leftover port lights from a Chris Craft I sold, I’d maybe bolt them on the fenders.

  15. —thought: what if the owner was a pilot, and rather than “I’d rather be flying” bumperstickers, he (or she) just attached aircraft lights as a way of showing off?

    —Second thought: what if the own was a boat captain, and rather than “I’d rather be boating” bumperstickers he (or she) installed boat lights with different colored lenses in imitation of ship egulation running lights?

  16. Good catches and points above, and Robert Kremer well sums the L-29s, but even 80 mph is stretching it by a few miles an hour, their final drive 4.7:1, same as the later 1936-37 “junior” Cords/”baby Duesenbergs'” third gear, their fourth being an internal overdrive of 2.75, or 2.95 in the blown models, superchargers liking higher rpm.
    A friend drove a well-tended L-29 on sleeping Oakland, CA streets after the war and remarked how it cornered as if on rails, a cliche that in this case held water.
    L-29s and 1931-33 Chrysler Imperials were among the cars whose styling was inspired by Miller front-drive Indy racers, and even Packard’s ’32 Twelve was originally intended as a front-drive upper echelon Buick beater, but Cad’s V-16 suggested more is better to the public and a hollow laugh to Packard’s execs, since after years of crowing about their V-8s, Cadillac unveiled what was essentially a straight eight with the firing impulses halved for less crankpin loading, necessary to haul around custom bodies with an all up weight of three tons.

  17. Hello David Greenlees
    I haven’t written to you in many years… I was a young man then and told you of my meeting Harley Earl when I was 15 years old and he gave me a ride in his Y Job. Harley had some samples of directional signals and spoke of this particular one shown on the L29 Cord. I wish I had more information as Harley only showed me the few samples he had. I enlarged your photo 300 times and could see the distinct pattern of an oval glass with spear shaped glass emanating from the center of that glass. There is another triangular piece of glass that appears to be slightly curved and under magnification, appears some parts of large numbers that I took to be the reflection of the back side of the rear license plate. I can’t add anything more except to say I wish I had listened more carefully to Mr. Earl when he showed me these unusual items. Harley, as he requested me to call him when in private stayed a good friend and helped me get a college education and to work at Buick Motor Division designing their automobiles. He would often stop by my drafting table and ask about me and what I was designing. I would talk further but this space belongs to your readers… myself included over the years… Me, a young kid of 15 had the opportunity of a lifetime by simply meeting Mr. Earl by chance one day. This coming Holiday season, I will be 82 years old. My designing days are over but other ventures lie ahead! Yours truly, Harold E. Youmans… now living in Sunny California… not too far from where Harley started designing auto bodies for the elite of California Automotive buyers!

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