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Gold Bars, Refused Registrations, Unfounded Rumors, and a Devastating Fire: The Curious Case of the

Updated: Jun 3, 2022

Shared by Vas Comblas

"Is it real?" David Paynter heard the question often enough when showing off the custom front-wheel-drive sports car known as the Cord Comet, and he was never quite sure how to answer it. "Compared to what?" he'd usually respond.

So much of the story of the Comet does seem unreal, from its origins to the minimal attention it's received since the one time it appeared on the cover of a magazine 70 years ago. In fact, it takes on the elements of a fever dream with colorful characters, implausible situations, and the element of fire. But it is indeed real, as current and past owners can attest.

According to its serial number, 310046S, the Cord came from the factory as a 1937 812 long-wheelbase Custom Beverly sedan. According to the February 1951 issue of Motorsport, it eventually wound up in the hands of Martin De Alzaga Unzue, who believed that by slicing off the Beverly's back half - chassis and all - then combining it with the front half from another Cord chassis mounted in the rear, he'd not only have a vehicle with front and rear independent suspensions, he'd also be able to make a sports car out of the supercharged Cord. He only got as far as stitching the chassis together before selling the project to Long Island advertising manager Stanley Kramer. Kramer, in turn, had a custom roadster body built for the chassis and completed it sometime before its feature in the magazine, then turned right around and listed it for sale later that year.

The Comet next turned up in an Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg publication in June 1959, looking much like it did in 1951, though with a soft top. ACD Club founder Harry Denhard supplied the picture, noting that it belonged to a neighbor of his in upstate Greenville, New York, and that "it is in excellent condition." Denhard wrote that the "paint is fair, but chrome is starting to go. The present owner plans to fix it up and install doors and side curtains, etc." As we see in later photos below, doors did make it on to the car, though it's uncertain whether the side curtains did as well.

According to Paynter, by the spring of 1978 the Comet had traveled much farther north, to Canton, New York, where a Cord collector and dealer had listed it in Hemmings Motor News. "He told me the story that it had been built for racing, but abandoned in 1949 when the Jag 120 came out," Paynter said, noting that it had a 1949 New York tax sticker still on the windscreen. "It then went to rod and Cord people. The dealer had two other Cords for sale, but the supercharged convert was the one for me."

Paynter, a California-based lawyer, was then on sabbatical from his law firm and living on a farm in northern Vermont, so he bought it and towed it there as his sabbatical project. "Cleaned up, it got to the point of cranking, catching, and going silent. I then discovered that the distributor was not wired to the supercharged configuration and once done she fired on the second crank," he wrote. "The transmission took another month and then we were on the road, sorta."

While he tried to register the Cord in Vermont, he said the state's DMV refused to accept the bill of sale "because no one can buy a supercharged 812 for that amount of money," Paynter recalled. So he waited until he returned to California, the Comet in tow "in various house furniture moving vans," rebuilt the car, and continued working on it, to some degree of success.

The car's springs had been lowered by removing leaves, and she was always too close to the ground. I tried to fit a factory spring in the back, but couldn't attach it. It was too scary to try and fit it in front. Accordingly she nose dived and then lifted when she hit a bump. It was a blast! I always loved the line and style as did anyone who saw it. The Comet was a sleek, unique auto of rare Art Deco styling sort of as if Cord had hired Darrin for a showcar. By the spring of 1982, Paynter was ready to sell the Comet, so he took out an ad in Hemmings and entertained a number of queries about it. One potential buyer offered to trade a 289-powered Cobra for it but backed out when Paynter described all the Comet's modifications. Another didn't fit in it. Then on his doorstep appeared a man from Portland, Oregon, who said he'd pay Paynter's price and offered "an attache case full of rolls of gold coins." When Paynter said he couldn't accept gold coins, the buyer returned the next day with cash. "I did a road test with him, but watched out carefully," Paynter said. A trailer arrived the next day and Paynter hasn't seen it since

By the 1990s, the Comet had made its way to Couer d'Alene, Idaho, where Steve Wolf owned it. "He said he found it on a farm, though I never got the straight scoop," said Ralph McCarty of Everett, Washington. A mutual friend had put Wolf and McCarty in touch because the latter was "up to my armpits in Cords, and I was kind of intrigued." McCarty bought it sight unseen but never got around to restoring it before he realized he needed more room in his garage, so in July of 1997 he started to discuss selling it to Ken Keivit Sr., based in Clifton, New Jersey. "Dad liked to buy things that were different or one of a kind," his son said, and so he offered McCarty $19,000 for the car.

The elder Keivit began his research on the car before he even took delivery of it, apparently believing that the Comet may have been built as a prototype in 1937. Soon after, he heard from 810/812 historian Ronald Irwin, who provided a breakdown of its serial and engine numbers and who was familiar enough with the car's appearance in Motorsport and its chassis configuration. "The article mentions who built up the car and you will note that it was NOT the Auburn Automobile Co.," Irwin wrote. "I hope this answers your questions about the car." According to Ken Keivit Jr., his father had sent the Comet to a restoration shop sometime before 2012. The shell of the car had been finished and the dashboard nearly completed when a fire broke out in the shop, burning the Comet and leaving just the body shell, chassis, engine, and transmission. At roughly the same time, Ken Keivit Sr. died, and aside from taking the remains of the Comet back to his house, the younger Keivit hasn't done anything with it since. "I have no plans to restore it," he said. "I may just sell it, if there's anybody out there who wants it." Could the Comet make a comeback? Could it literally rise from the ashes and realize the visions of Unzue, Kramer, Paynter, Keivit, and the many others whose hands it passed through? Given the rich history behind the car, and given that it's survived the decades without being broken up for parts, without being returned to its stock Beverly configuration, and without getting scrapped, it's perhaps inevitable that somebody out there will make that a reality.

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