It’s the car that saved a car company a half-century ago, and it may help keep it running today.
Glenn Pray, a high school shop teacher from Tulsa, Okla., got the wild idea in 1960 that he’d buy the remains of defunct automaker Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg.
To get enough money to pay for it, he had to sell his pride and joy: the 1937 Cord 812 Supercharged Convertible Phaeton that he’d restored and that was considered to be the best Cord in the world.
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He sold it to local TV station owner and car collector Jimmy Leake for $8,000, reportedly the highest price ever paid for the model at the time. But Leake didn’t hold on to it for very long; he sold it in 1962.
Pray, who was busy reviving his new company, lost track of it after that. He built around 350 modernized Cords, but he never forgot about the one that made it all happen.
In 1968, with the help of fellow Cord fanatics, he tried to track it down, but to no avail. For all anyone knew, it wasn’t even in the country anymore.
Flash forward to last year. Glenn died in 2011 and his son, Doug, is running the company, focusing on selling parts and restoring Cords — both originals and the ones his father built. It’s been featured on an episode of the popular TV program "American Pickers."
One day, Glenn gets a call from a man in Michigan who says he has a dusty old Cord that was picked up at an estate sale in 1965. It’s been sitting in a dirt-floor barn, untouched, for 45 years and he wants to know if Doug is interested, figuring the car will go to better use in his hands.
Pray says the more the man described it, the more it sounded like his dad’s lost car. After checking the records, it turned out that it was; so he hopped in his truck, drove to Michigan and paid six figures to buy it. The seller told him it was the biggest check he’d ever seen.
Now that it’s back in Tulsa, the Cord is running again, but the car Doug remembers having to take his shoes off before climbing inside when he was a child largely remains in the condition that it was found — another restoration deemed too expensive to undertake.
Doug says folks have been stopping by to see the "Lost Cord," but his family has made the tough decision to sell the car once again and to reinvest part of the proceeds back into the company. It’ll be offered at the Leake Collector Car Show & Auction, run by the descendants of Jimmy Leake, in Tulsa in June.
There’s no telling what this unique piece of history will go for, but similar cars often sell for over a quarter-million dollars. It could be worth even more than that to Pray, since he figures whoever buys it will likely hire him to oversee any restoration work.
And this time, he plans to keep track of it. In fact, he says, maybe one day he’ll buy it back again.