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Cowboy film star's death car restored in Arizona

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Tom Mix restored Cord

The famed Cord convertible that cowboy film star Tom Mix was driving at the time of his death has been restored in Arizona to its showroom glory.

Cowboy film star Tom Mix spent his last night at a Tucson ranch with then-Pima County Sheriff Ed Echols and famed western writer Walt Coburn.

The trio gathered at Coburn’s Catalina Foothills ranch, eating mesquite-grilled steaks and drinking Mexican beer on the veranda while enjoying a blazing sunset across the Tucson sky.

Later that evening, Mix went to the old Santa Rita Hotel in downtown Tucson, where he reserved a room and met with owner Nick Hall. Months earlier, Mix had ridden his famed horse Tony into the hotel lobby and notably chipped a piece of marble out of the grand staircase.

But on Oct. 11, 1940, they shared several drinks with band musicians into the early-morning hours.

Around noon the next day, Mix spoke with Tucson motorcycle policeman Richard Lease on his way north out of town. The officer was driving a new Harley-Davidson, the first radio-equipped motorcycle in the city. Hours after, Mix lay dead under his famed Cord convertible at a washed-out bridge along Highway 79 on the way to Florence. He was 60 years old.

Coburn, in later years, wrote, “Tom lived his own legend in real life and on the silver screen, and that legend is destined to live on forevermore.”

Cowboy star Tom Mix spent his last night alive at a Tucson ranch.

I recently visited the Auburn Automobile Company headquarters and original showrooms in Auburn, Indiana. The site is now a museum without comparison. The Tom Mix 1937 Super-Charged V8 Cord 812 Phaeton Convertible was designed there and manufactured in Indiana. Museum Curator Sam Grate reflected, “Like in his film career, Tom Mix had style and flair, which was evident with his Cord 812. With its custom features and stately appearance, Mix and his Cord complemented one another like a cowboy with his steed.”

Mix purchased his Cord, manufacturer’s color code Cigarette Cream, off the showroom floor at the Fuller Cord distributorship on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. The total price with all the personalized accessories he wanted was $3,060.

Bob White of Scottsdale owns the famous Tom Mix Cord today. He rescued it 12 years ago after nine previous owners tried their hand at “customizing” the vehicle. One nearly destroyed the automobile, leaving the ailing Cord outside in a field up on blocks. It took White almost three years to tear the automobile down to the frame and build it back to its original showroom glory. His book, “The Tom Mix Cord,” is the most definitive research history of Mix and his vehicle ownership today.

I met with White and sat in the perfectly restored Cord as he provided details about the Halliburton suitcases and the money Mix was said to be carrying at the time of his death. Folklore in Tucson claims that the aluminum suitcases were filled with heavy silver coins and struck the cowboy actor in the back of the head at the crash. According to White, the cases did not contain coins. In Mix’s possessions at the time of the crash were $6,000 in cash and $1,500 in travelers’ checks.

The car that Tom Mix died in south of Florence is towed away from the crash site in 1940.

According to White, the money was recovered and not stolen at the accident scene. White noted that the two Halliburton suitcases are displayed at the Tom Mix Museum in Dewey, Oklahoma. He observed that one has a sizable dent on a corner, causing speculation that it produced the broken neck Tom sustained.

Novelist Coburn wrote of their legendary last night together in Tucson, “Tom Mix had seen his last sunset in the welcomed companionship of his old friend Ed Echols. A crimson sunset in a spectacular sky, with a panoramic view of the desert and mountain ranges. He had heard the sound of the quail and mourning doves blending into the hushed twilight of the last sunset.”

Jerry Wilkerson, who lives in SaddleBrooke, is a former press secretary for two U.S. Congressmen and a prior Chicago CBS radio and Chicago Daily News correspondent. Email:

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