#0063 - Cord L-29 Brooks Stevens Speedster by Limousine Body Co., 1930
Photographed: Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, 2009. Owner: Ed & Judy Schoenthaler
For more information on the L-29 than you ever wanted to read, please see our piece on the standard Cord L-29 Cabriolet.
Brooks Stevens: "He is beyond any real question one of the supporting pillars of the automotive community, both of the manufacturers and of the vintage community." So wrote Special Interest Autos in a lengthy profile on Brooks "Kip" Stevens back in 1982. Within today's automotive community, the name is in some large sense lost owing to the fact that many of Stevens' employers are themselves lost. He spent much of his time in the automotive industry designing for, or on Kaiser platforms before moving ahead to advance the image of Studebaker in the sixties, a decade the marque would not survive. However, if any of his contributions could remain corporeal in the sense of our collective memory, then perhaps we'd need to mention, first, the post-War Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and second, the Jeep Wagoneer. Of course, we should also remember that Stevens chose to act more so as a company than as an individual talent. "Kip always referred to such efforts in the first person plural—'we' did this or that. This was only because he wanted to make it clear that Brooks Stevens Associates was not a one-man company."
Indeed, what Brooks Stevens was embodied the American industrial designer. After studying architecture at Cornell, the economic realities of the classic era and its lack of construction projects pushed him into the design field. He worked on projects ranging from farm tractors to marine engines to beer cans, and he performed work in about a half-dozen countries. His name is even linked with post-War Alfa Romeo and the 6C 2500, if you can believe that. So, although we make a big to-do about the people whose designs really excite us, we must acknowledge the breadth of influence Stevens had on the better part of twentieth century design.
Today, Brooks Stevens is still an active industrial design firm working out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Brooks founded the company in 1934. As the Brooks Stevens company website declares, "Brooks Stevens was responsible for the design of over 2,000 products for over 600 clients in a career that spanned 60 years. He was one of the ten original charter fellows of the Society of Industrial Designers in 1944, and the only one not from New York."
Oh yes, and the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile—that was Stevens, too.
The Car: This Cord L-29 could be considered an indelible mark of Brooks Stevens' life in design. With the help of his father, he acquired the car in the early thirties, slightly used, and soon enough decided to personalize it with his own design. Cord's Limousine Body Company carried out the plans, and Brooks kept the car for more than sixty years until his death in 1995.
The design itself isn't revolutionary, (Stevens would get on to that), but it's certainly a tastefully sleek car. As if America's most dashing classic needed further trimming, the cowl was lowered, the body narrowed, and a set of woodlights installed to complete the theme. Bonnet louvres were replaced by Duesenberg-style screens for added cooling, which wasn't such a shoddy idea considering this Lycoming 8-cylinder breathes through a twin-carb intake manifold with a custom exhaust. The final drive ratio was also altered, making the car apt for, of all things, hill climb competition. Stevens designed his own Art Deco mascot, replaced the dashboard, and had the running gear completely reworked. In the case of the latter, the front sections were skirted—note the closed-in eaves alongside each fender—the side-mount spares were discarded, and the coves where they normally sat were smoothed over. Finally, a trim tail fin was added to the rear deck; this did away with the rumble seat, of course, but for storage access the cabin seats were made to fold down.
I know I'm forgetting a few things on this list of changes—like swapping a split vee windshield for the original single plate piece—but I can comment that, in sum, the alterations comprise a design that demonstrates a complete understanding of automotive trends in the classic era, both what was on the leading edge and where it was all headed. Stevens made the L-29 do what he wanted aesthetically, equaling the grace of the era's best custom design work.
Special Interest Autos: SIA Profile, Brooks "Kip" Stevens, by Richard M. Langworth, October, 1982
How Stuff Works: with an article on the Brooks Stevens Cord L-29
Hemmings Motor News: online at blog.hemmings.com
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