One man’s obsession with the third page.
The mention of page three to anyone under the age of thirty five probably elicits nothing more than a numerical continuation from the front page. For older folk amid these isles however, the phenomenon was frequently known to turn grown men into quivering heaps. In newspapers commonly known as rags, (tabloids to you and I) the oft-ignored headline (often dubious in nature) would be bypassed in haste in order to allow that day’s young lady briefly describe her tastes whilst baring her upper torso. Workshop banter would ensue.
There being little new under the sun, advertising has been a staple throughout the car industry’s history. And while some would pay happily for front page status, others towards the rear and the rest somewhere in between, one manufacturer chose one magazine and more to the point, one page in particular to showcase its wares.
Esquire, a magazine for gentleman was in fact an offshoot of a trade issue named Apparel Arts (itself leading to Gentleman’s Quarterly or GQ) quickly finding a lucrative niche in the cut throat world of the printed press. With a New York heart, its October 1933 launch saw it become a quarterly and nationwide success, leading to luminaries feeding the ever hungry readership; F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, but two to pen articles covering subjects as diverse as fashion, boxing and fishing.
EL Cord was a young and enthusiastic entrepreneur who liked gambling high stakes. Running his own successful Chicago-based car sales empire, he was offered $36,000 (in 1924) per year by Auburn to turn the struggling company’s fortunes around. Savvily demurring, he struck up a deal to generate for himself 20% profit and options to purchase stock. The gamble paid off, within a year he owned Auburn outright whilst also collecting Lycoming engines, Dusenberg, American Airlines and the New York Shipbuilding Company, amongst others.
Erret Lobban Cord’s Auburn, Indiana based eponymous company had itself become quite the automobile of choice, offering the first American built front wheel drive with their L-29. Priced around $3,000, the Cord was in direct competition with the big guns; Cadillac, Stutz, Packard and Lincoln. Initial sales of this luxurious experience went well, only for the Depression to hammer Cord’s finances.
With the November 1935 New York Auto show launch of the Coffin Nose 810, interest in Indiana become page three news. Striking a full page deal for every issue of the now monthly magazine, the 810s (in mildly different guises) adverts were pure and simple – the car, usually in three quarter front view with a bold and simple tag line, “Quality in Every Detail.” There was no mention of dealers or even a contact address. The very first ad had the rather presumptive “Your name and address will bring complete specifications,” which was then dropped.
Cord offered show customers their car delivered by Christmas 1935 (Santa delivering a marble plinth scale model instead). Over optimistic by most standards, February ‘36 was then the given date but the first Gordon M. Buehrig styled V8 arrived in April. Cord had bargained on a thousand sales per month and saw the opportunity to place their glamorous, futuristic car in a magazine to boost sales. Sadly, reliability issues tarnished that euphoric moment, leaving a stain upon the Burton’s Irish poplin shirt that proved difficult to remove. Dealers dropped the marque quickly; the first twelve months shifting 1,174 units in total.
Undeterred, Cord maintained their unchanged monthly page three slot à la Esquire until November 1936 when a minute picture was engulfed by testimonies of gushing proportions. Next month’s page three subject matter offering only words of wisdom and no picture at all: “The Cord is in contrast to the commonplace!”
January 1937. The Connersville factory was beginning to feel the pinch financially, one could read between the lines to see the cracks. Ab Jenkins, seasoned Utah Salt Flat campaigner and Cord employee extolled the cars’ virtues with its dollar for dollar value against the competition along with the 170 supercharged horses offering improved flexibility and all round performance from its Lycoming engine.
Only five more Cord ads would be placed on Esquire’s third page. March had a pencil sketch of a mature gentlemen who “obviously owns a Cord,” surrounded by other sketches of this chap’s trappings; hunting (with gun and on horseback) airplanes, a warship and high society with the car almost an afterthought. April sees the same chap congratulating his son’s choice of graduation gift, openly admitting “the car makes you drive like a gentleman. As others drivers race alongside those glistening exhaust pipes, they know they can pass only because you permit it.” Sock it to ‘em, champ.
The girls were allowed but one example of having good taste for May. She likes thoroughbreds, opera, excellent cuisine and sassily drives her supercharged Cord. She, coyly photographed yet most certainly fully clothed.
Whereas the final June iteration was a bare faced plea with the readership. “Esquire readers are the kind to go places, do things and can afford it. You’re different, exclusive, original and smart – just like a Cord! It’s not mass produced, it’s highly specialised – like you.” Very soon after, EL Cord sold the majority of his companies, pocketing some $4M as the automobile game no longer held interest. Sales and advertising took the predictable nose dive with factory closure arriving by year end.
Cord the manufacturer would later be resurrected for a time but those page three advertisements would adorn the magazine of choice no more. Esquire continues but I couldn’t possibly inform you as to what now resides on that (or any) page.