Grandson: E.L. Cord Would Haveloved Races On Airport Runway

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AUBURN — Runways invite speed.

William Cord Hummel is confident his grandfather E.L. Cord, a legend in automobile history, would have loved the idea of Duesenberg races on the runway of the Kendallville Municipal Airport.

Hummel of Boerne, Texas was in Auburn this past weekend for the meeting at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum that gave the OK for Duesenberg races at the Kendallville airport on Friday, Sept. 3. Hummel is finishing up his third year on the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club board of directors.

With a sweeping motion of his hand, Hummel said he wishes his grandfather could have seen the museum because he would have loved it and been “flattered that the cars are held in such high esteem.”

Cord started as a mechanic who liked getting performance out of cars. He didn’t have a lot of education, but he understood what people want. “A Duesenberg will go 90 in second gear. I had a Duesenberg behind me once. It’s scary!” Hummel recalls.

Speed and power. That’s what the Ab Jenkins Memorial Duesenberg Exhibition of Speed and Stinson Fly-in at the Kendallville Municipal Airport will be all about.

After a police escort from Auburn, engines that have powered Indianapolis race cars will roar along the 4,400-foot Kendallville airport runway. In each speed exhibition, two of the classic cars will run side-by-side. Organizers are hoping up to 50 Duesenbergs will have the chance to run wide open.

“Cord owners have the confidence of knowing that other drivers only pass with their permission,” proclaimed sales materials from the 1930s.

In the 1920s and 30s Cord gave his designers carte blanche to design the best luxury cars on the planet, Hummel recalls. Because fewer than 500 Duesenbergs were built, Duesenberg owners were part of a very exclusive club. Members’ egoes were exceeded only by the power of their cars’ engines.

Cord, who invented the idea of putting luxury cars on turnstiles so that they could revolve in the lobbies of elegant hotels, knew that people were buying an image as much as a car.

“What I want to bring to the party,” says Hummel, “is keeping the interest of young people in 1930’s cars. If they don’t know the famous people who drove them they will have no emotional connection. I want to do what I can to keep people’s interest up. I think it will attract a young audience.”

The typical owner of a Duesenberg was an industry head such as Bill Wrigley or a movie star such as Gary Cooper or Clark Gable. Duesenbergs were priced at six to eight times the price of a house, Hummel recalls, adding, “These guys knew they had the best engineering in the world and phenomenal styling.”

Cord was married twice. His first wife, Helen, was the mother of two sons, Charles and Billy. His second wife, Virginia, was the mother of three daughters including Sally, Hummel’s mother. Sally and her husband Peter Hummel named William Cord Hummel after his Uncle Billy.

Cord died at age 79 when Hummel was 21. Hummel worked for Cord’s radio and TV stations in Reno, Nev. One of Hummel’s favorite memories is when Cord showed up to observe what was going on at KCRL, the NBC television affiliate where Hummel was working at the time. Posted prominently were signs stating that no unauthorized personnel were allowed. A new employee spotted Cord, didn’t recognize him, and escorted him out of the building.

Hummel recalls it was “kind of fun” watching his grandfather get thrown out and then seeing the employee’s shocked expression when he found out what he had done. Cord later praised the employee for doing the right thing.

Cord warned Hummel not to get too friendly with employees because he might have to fire them someday. Undoubtedly Cord remembered the dark times when the Auburn Automobile Co. had to fire employees and then close its doors. Hummel says he didn’t take his grandfather’s advice. When Hummel was general manager of a KCRL radio station he had to let many people go during lean times. “It was rough… he had warned me.”

During dinner conversations Cord suggested to his 15 grandchildren from his second marriage that they have summer jobs in different parts of the country. Cord told them things are “very, very different” in different parts of the country and to be successful you have to learn the different ways people think and what motivates them.

Hummel, a computer consultant, has worked in Louisiana (in an oil field), Texas and Nevada (in radio and TV) and northern California (as a surveyor). He is now launching Web sites such as

The grandchildren called their grandparents “M’am” and “Sir,” never “Grandma” or “Grandpa.” Hummel says most of the time he saw his grandfather wearing a suit and tie.

“He never spoke a word to his kids about the cars,” Hummel recalls. “He was afraid there would be no emotional connection between a teenager and cars that had been out of production 30 years. He was afraid we wouldn’t be interested. They hadn’t gained their status yet. He was going on in aviation, politics and real estate.”

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