AUBURN — This year’s Best of Show winner at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival might have won a year ago, if not for an unfortunate mishap.
“I brought it to Auburn, and I broke it in the parking lot of Auburn Gear” after unloading it from its trailer, said owner Mark Clayton of Castle Rock, Colorado.
Clayton said he had “machined everything too tightly” in restoring his 1937 Cord 812 Westchester “and put too heavy of oil in it, because I wanted it to be quiet.”
That caused a problem with a gear, and the car could not be driven, as required in judging by the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club.
“I ended up just winching it in the trailer, taking it home,” Clayton said. “When I got home, I pulled the transmission out, fixed it, I had it back together in three days, and just waited for this year. Coming this year was really easy. I wiped it off, loaded it in the trailer and brought it.
“It was virtually flawless,” Clayton said about his car. Judges agreed when they finally got a chance to see the maroon-colored beauty with its tan interior, and Sunday they awarded Clayton the coveted Harold T. Ames Best of Show trophy.
Clayton spent six months on the restoration last year, he said.
“That’s all I did — 10 to 16 hours on this car, every day for 181 days,” he said. That added up to 2,600 hours of total time — 1,800 by him and 800 by his staff at his RestoreCars restoration shop.
Clayton bought the car three years ago from a man who had owned it since 1948.
As a young man, that owner was “a little rough” on the Cord. “Then he took the engine out in 1953 and never got it back together again,” he said. The car had 82,000 miles on the odometer and was in “not horrible” shape.
Clayton has restored two dozen Cords in his career, he said. He chose this Cord to be the subject of video about its restoration and the history of its namesake, E.L. Cord, its designer, Gordon Buehrig, and its builder, the Auburn Automobile Co.
“That’s why I picked this car. This is kind of the most common, lowest-priced Cord that they made. But this is the design that Gordon Buehrig did. This is what the first Cord really was,” Clayton said. “It just represented what the Auburn Automobile Co. was trying to do at that period of time.”
In restoring an auto, Clayton said, “You want your car to look like it rolled off the assembly line. You don’t want it to look restored, so we don’t over-restore anything. If a part was a semi-gloss, we semi-gloss it. … If it wasn’t sanded and polished, we didn’t sand and polish it. We did it exactly the way that Auburn built the car.”
He added, “Every car has 5,500 parts in it, so every part that you pick up — all 5,500 parts — you make sure it’s original, it’s correct, and it’s really right for that car before you put it on the car. That’s what separates out the great cars from the good cars.”
Clayton’s efforts earned him a pat on the back from Barbara Orlando, Buehrig’s daughter, who presented him with the award for Best 810-812 Cord. He accepted the trophy for best of show from Harold Ames, grandson of the man for whom the trophy is named, the former president of the Auburn Automobile Co.
Clayton’s shop restores Auburns, Cords, Duesenbergs, Packards, Pierce-Arrows, Lincolns, and Stutz —mostly cars from the 1930s and earlier.
Along the way, he said, “I just got known as a Cord shop. All of a sudden, now we have five Cords in there at once.” This weekend’s success could only add to that reputation.
Cars restored by Clayton’s shop have won awards for their class in prestigious shows at Pebble Beach, Amelia Island and Auburn.
“We’ve won so many first-in-class over the years, I don’t even know how many, but this is my first best of show … of client cars or my cars,” he said. “It’s special because it was my car, and my family was here to enjoy it, so it really is icing on the cake.”