“Is it real?” David Paynter heard the question often enough when showing off the custom front-wheel-drive sports car known as the Cord Comet, and he was never quite sure how to answer it. “Compared to what?” he’d usually respond.
So much of the story of the Comet does seem unreal, from its origins to the minimal attention it’s received since the one time it appeared on the cover of a magazine 70 years ago. In fact, it takes on the elements of a fever dream with colorful characters, implausible situations, and the element of fire. But it is indeed real, as current and past owners can attest.
According to its serial number, 310046S, the Cord came from the factory as a 1937 812 long-wheelbase Custom Beverly sedan. According to the February 1951 issue of Motorsport, it eventually wound up in the hands of Martin De Alzaga Unzue, who believed that by slicing off the Beverly’s back half – chassis and all – then combining it with the front half from another Cord chassis mounted in the rear, he’d not only have a vehicle with front and rear independent suspensions, he’d also be able to make a sports car out of the supercharged Cord. He only got as far as stitching the chassis together before selling the project to Long Island advertising manager Stanley Kramer. Kramer, in turn, had a custom roadster body built for the chassis and completed it sometime before its feature in the magazine, then turned right around and listed it for sale later that year.
The Comet next turned up in an Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg publication in June 1959, looking much like it did in 1951, though with a soft top. ACD Club founder Harry Denhard supplied the picture, noting that it belonged to a neighbor of his in upstate Greenville, New York, and that “it is in excellent condition.” Denhard wrote that the “paint is fair, but chrome is starting to go. The present owner plans to fix it up and install doors and side curtains, etc.” As we see in later photos below, doors did make it on to the car, though it’s uncertain whether the side curtains did as well.
According to Paynter, by the spring of 1978 the Comet had traveled much farther north, to Canton, New York, where a Cord collector and dealer had listed it in Hemmings Motor News. “He told me the story that it had been built for racing, but abandoned in 1949 when the Jag 120 came out,” Paynter said, noting that it had a 1949 New York tax sticker still on the windscreen. “It then went to rod and Cord people. The dealer had two other Cords for sale, but the supercharged convert was the one for me.”
Paynter, a California-based lawyer, was then on sabbatical from his law firm and living on a farm in northern Vermont, so he bought it and towed it there as his sabbatical project. “Cleaned up, it got to the point of cranking, catching, and going silent. I then discovered that the distributor was not wired to the supercharged configuration and once done she fired on the second crank,” he wrote. “The transmission took another month and then we were on the road, sorta.
“While he tried to register the Cord in Vermont, he said the state’s DMV refused to accept the bill of sale “because no one can buy a supercharged 812 for that amount of money,” Paynter recalled. So he waited until he returned to California, the Comet in tow “in various house furniture moving vans,” rebuilt the car, and continued working on it, to some degree of success.
The car’s springs had been lowered by removing leaves, and she was always too close to the ground. I tried to fit a factory spring in the back, but couldn’t attach it. It was too scary to try and fit it in front. Accordingly she nose dived and then lifted when she hit a bump. It was a blast!
I always loved the line and style as did anyone who saw it. The Comet was a sleek, unique auto of rare Art Deco styling sort of as if Cord had hired Darrin for a showcar.Read on