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1937 Cord Westchester owned by Bill McLaughlin.

Nigel Dickson

For the past four years, Bill McLaughlin and his son Kevin have fired up Bill's 1937 Cord and pointed its "coffin nose" towards its spiritual home of Auburn, Ind., for the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Festival - regularly running at 70-to-75 miles per hour on the interstate.

"Get it on the road and it just wants to go," says McLaughlin of his 73-year-old, 125-hp Lycoming V-8-powered classic, making the annual pilgrimage in about seven hours - considerably less time than his first trip home to Toronto required after purchasing the car in Auburn in 2001.

Along with counting unusual styling, including hide-away headlights, and front-wheel-drive among their innovations, McLaughlin says Cord automobiles featured a "wildly complicated" electro-vacuum-operated pre-selector gearbox.

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To change gears, you pre-select the one of your choice with a column-mounted lever, and when you want to use it, step on the clutch pedal and it engages it automatically - if the complex system of valves and solenoids decides to co-operate.

1937 Remembered

The first flying car - created by aero-inventor Waldo Waterman and called the Aerobile - takes to the air.

Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappear in the Pacific after taking off from New Guinea.

The first issue of Look magazine goes to press in the United States.

Howard Hughes sets a new flying speed record, making it from Los Angeles to New York in seven hours, 28 minutes and 25 seconds.

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"I didn't have fourth gear when I left (Auburn) and lost third after I pulled away from the border crossing in Windsor," recalls McLaughlin, leaving just first and second. "We left the border at midnight and made it back to Toronto at 8:30 in the morning." Once in Toronto, he parked the Cord - a car he'd vowed to own since he was a young teen - tucked away next to another old car to which he felt a familial fealty.

McLaughlin's interest in old cars was sparked in the mid-1960s by a Ford Model A owned by a now-ex brother-in-law. "I had a Chevelle Super Sport and we used to trade. I loved driving the Model A," he says.

But it wasn't until his return to Toronto (from Montreal where he grew up) in the mid-1970s, a move orchestrated by employer ad agency J. Walter Thompson that he "started to look for something old" to put in the spare bay of the double garage of his new home.

Preferably with a McLaughlin badge on its rad as his father was a cousin - "once or twice removed" - of Canadian auto pioneer Colonel Sam McLaughlin of Buick and later General Motors fame.

One soon came his way due to a chance meeting at a Montreal party. After explaining the family linkage, he mentioned he was looking for a McLaughlin Buick, to which the response was, "Isn't that interesting? I've got a 1929 six-wheel roadster in a barn and have to sell it."

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"I had no idea what a 'six-wheel roadster' was, I thought perhaps it had dual wheels on the back," says McLaughlin. When the dust sheets were pulled back, what was revealed was a 1929 McLaughlin Buick with six wheels all right, but two of them were "side-mount" spares. It had been parked in 1958 with a broken rocker arm, but was soon in McLaughlin's garage.

There it waited while he acquired the skills needed to fix it at a Centennial College night course; the Buick was back on road in 1977, running but not restored and still wearing its original paint.

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But the second bay in the garage was now proving a temptation. And after deciding his modern car could easily live on the street he went looking for a Cord like one he'd had a ride in as an impressionable 13-year-old.

He discovered a basic Cord - fitted with the sexier supercharged model's chrome exhaust pipes that protrude from the hood - was being auctioned at the ACD Festival in Auburn. And it was this car he drove slowly home, a 1937 Cord Westchester he believes may have been resurrected from a wreck in Arizona in the early 1950s.

The Cord was the namesake of E.L. Cord, who arrived at struggling Auburn Motors in the mid-1920s, and in return for a stake turned it around and purchased prestigious Duesenberg. Influenced by a front-drive Indy 500 racer, Cord purchased passenger car rights to the design, which resulted in the L-29 Cords of 1929, that drove straight into the recession and lasted only until 1931.

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The Cord was relaunched for 1936 and the Model 810 was a smash hit at its New York Auto Show introduction in 1935. Only 1,600 or so were produced, however, and slightly fewer of the 812 models of 1937, the last cars produced by what was by then the Cord Corp.

McLaughlin and his Cord are regulars at the ACD Festival in Auburn; he's now accompanied by son Kevin, who runs AutoShare in Toronto, a company that provides hourly rental cars to "downtown folks who don't want to own a car."

Kevin says his father's old cars have "been a big part of his life and a fun part of our relationship" - particularly at the ACD festival, where the not-quite-concours Cord still gets plenty of attention.

"With Dad, it's always been more about driving than showing the cars.

"And when you pull in next to a car somebody has spent $50,000-$100,000 restoring, they appreciate the fact you've driven yours 500 miles to get there. It may not look as beautiful as some, but it gets a lot of respect."

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