Uptown Automotive Hobby Shop
The Biggest Little New and Used Car Showroom in Central New York

Model Making History

Front Wheel Drive Cord Automobiles

Today there are several scale models of front wheel drive Cord automobiles in various scales and materials, by various manufacturers. This was not the case in the 1950s.

In the years immediately following WWII, classic cars were just old cars, and were a dime a dozen; meaning they could be purchased inexpensively as used cars.

At the same time, scale models of antique and classic cars were coming into their own, and by the early fifties plastic, such as it was at the time, was supplanting wood as the material of choice for all types of scale models.

In the year 1955, two Cords became available as plastic scale model assembly kits. Gowland & Gowland, by way of Revell, released a 1/32 scale 1936 Cord 810 convertible phaeton sedan, the model measured approximately 5 inches long. It represented a non supercharged car, thus lacking the external exhaust pipes we have become accustomed to seeing on many Cords of that era. [The external exhaust were on the supercharged cars, and that option arrived in 1937 on the Cord 812.] The raised convertible top was an integral part of the body so that was the model builders only option.

The other Cord model kit released in 1955 was the '37 812 convertible phaeton sedan, listed as 1/24 scale, by Pyro Plastics Corp., of New Jersey. This model measured approximately 8 inches when assembled, and represented an open car, with the top down, a supercharged engine with external exhaust pipes, and an opening hood.

Our focus here is the Pyro kit, and more specifically the intriguing box art of what is believed to be the first issue of the kit. First object of interest is the large illustration on the box top. It depicts an 812 convertible coupe; a car with no rear seat, a body style Cord called a Sportsman, yet the model contained within the box is is not a Sportsman, but the convertible with a rear seat, the Phaeton Sedan. Both ends of the box correctly depict the contained model, the Phaeton Sedan. Yet in an illustration on the side of the box, the Sportsman (convertible coupe) again erroneously appears.

In the years since 1955 we have come to know that the other models in the Pyro "1/24 scale" series are the '35 Auburn 851 Speedster, and the '48 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet. Both of them are correctly depicted o the box sides, and both - like the Cord - have been reissued several times. Then it gets interesting. In addition to the Cord Sportsman, the Auburn and the Continental, there also appear on the sides of the box, illustrations of two cars which presumably were under consideration for production, but to the best of my knowledge, were never made: a '33 Pierce Arrow Silver Arrow sedan, and a Duesenberg J roadster. Both of which, I'm confident, would have been welcomed by many modelers. We are left to wonder why they were not made.

Thus, the box art is actually more interesting in some ways, than the model it contained. The '37 Cord Convertible is the one Cord model most represented in both plastic kits, and assembled diecast metal models. Fortunately, other body styles and other years have since also become available in various scales and mediums, including resin conversion bodies, and fully assembled models. The Pyro kit from 1955, though not the best representation of the car, was indeed the first readily available scale model of the front wheel drive Cord, and with the box art of that first release, arguably also the most interesting.

Box art:

Plastic models: Lower: Revell 1/32 1936 Cord 810. Center: Pyro 1/24 1937 Cord 812. Top: Monogram 1/24 '37 Cord 812.

Plastic models: Left: Revell '36 810. Right: Pyro '37 812. Rear: Monogram '37 812.

Front: Three 1/43 scale 1929 -1931 Cord L29 models. Rear 1/18 scale '37  Cord 812 Sportsman model.

Leave it to Leonardo

The first scale model car may have preceeded actual automobiles by about one hundred years! Leonardo DaVinci, who was known to make scale models of his ideas and inventions, had proposed in the late 1700s a steam powered self propelled wagon.


Here's the "wheel deal" on 1/25 scale plastic "classic" car model kits: AMT is generally thought to be the pioneer of 1/25 scale "old cars", with their Trophy Series, which debuted in 1960. They were for a time the most prolific producers of prewar model cars in that scale, but they were not the first.

Who was first? Pyro Plastics of Union, N. J.

In 1955 Pyro offered three kits (though five were listed, apparently two were never produced) in approximately 1/25 scale. While they were advertised as 1/24 scale, they were actually closer to 1/25; at the time this was unusual because most other model car kits were either 1/32 or 1/24 actual size. The subjects modeled were the '35 Auburn 851 speedster, '37 Cord 812 convertible phaeton sedan, and the '48 Lincoln Continental cabriolet.

In 1955 they were great kits...with limitations of course. They lacked chrome plated parts (In fairness it must be pointed out that chrome plated plastic was in its infancy in that era of the model industry), had multi piece bodies, and plastic tires. The tires were cast in two halves with the wheel and hub cap integrated into them. Those of the '35 Auburn were perhaps the worst of the three models; the wheels had no depth, and the tires no tread. Despite the minor flaws, they were the only 1/25 scale old car models being made at the time, so on that basis alone they were quite good...for 1955.

AMT, once known as "The official model makers to the (automobile) industry", had been producing painted and assembled scale models of the new cars as promotional items for automobile dealers each year since 1948. In 1958 they began producing unassembled plastic kits of the new cars, and continued to do so in succeeding years. These were called annual kits because they were released along with the actual new vehicles they represented when the new cars used to enjoy annual changes. In 1960 AMT began to offer some models of old (prewar) cars in their previously mentioned "Trophy Series". Initially, Ford was the only manufacturer represented in this series, and while all of these kits replicated interesting subject matter, many of the kits shared the same inaccuracy: Tires. The AMT models of the '32, '34, '36, and '40 Fords all had the same size tires in the kits. In reality, the actual vehicles used various widths and diameters through the years.

In 1961, Monogram, in 1/24 scale, began making a series which eventually included (among others) '34, '36, and '40 Fords. The monogram kits had tires which were more appropriately scaled for each of the kits. Their '36 Ford tires appear too wide, but in the mid thirties Ford and other manufacturers offered optional oversize "balloon" tires, so these may in fact be accurate representations of an optional tire.

Aurora (approximately 1963) offered a couple old Fords in 1/25 scale, including a '34 5 window coupe. The tires in this kit were neat in that they had separate inserts which could be painted and popped into the tires to simulate "wide whites"; unfortunately, they were incorrect in size, being similar to the AMT tires.

MPC, the new kid on the block in 1964, soon joined the oldies parade and released in 1/25 scale a few (again for the era) exceptionally well detailed kits of prewar vehicles. Among these was the '32 Chevrolet in a couple different body styles. This kit had correct width and diameter tires.

In the eighties, ERTL purchased both AMT and MPC, and things got a bit confusing. They released a new model kit of of a car which had not previously been available in their, or anyone else's, line. The kit of the '34 Ford Tudor was a very good model, but...they put the tires from the MPC '32 Chevy in the kit. In 1934, Fords had 5.50x17" tires. The '32 Chevy used 5.25x18" tires - as did the '32 Ford! Thus, the tires which ERTL included in the '34 Ford tudor (and later released '34 5 window coupe) were inaccurate for '34 Fords, but would be quite appropriate for the AMT and ERTL '32 Ford kits.

To further confuse the issue, one release of the AMT/ERTL '32 Ford roadster (kit #8351) shows in the box art photo, the correct tires on the stock (despite the Model "A" bumpers) version of the '32 roadster. Unfortunately, however, upon opening the box, oner finds the older AMT issue generic, "one size fits all" tires inside.

Backtracking a bit, in 1976 Pyro, then in 2000 Lindberg, reissued the former Pyro kits again. They were somewhat improved over the originals in that they now included plated parts and rubber tires. However, once again, the tires were a disappointment. This time they used a 1/32 scale tire from a larger car (Packard or such) so that while they were rubber, they were still too narrow and thus inaccurate.

WE NOW OFFER IN RESIN what we feel to be more accurate wheel/tire combinations for replica stock builders of '32 and '34 Fords, '35 Auburns, and early postwar Jeeps. (Our Jeep tires were featured in Terry Jessee's Light Commercial column, in the August 2000 issue of Scale Auto Enthusiast Magazine. See them and others on our resin cast products page.)

Jim Amado: The plastic surgeon, builder, collector, writer.
page updated 9/6/2020