Amos E. Northup 1889-1937
|One Of the definitive steps toward modern design came in 1932 when the
Graham Blue Streak adopted fender skirts. This simple step, so obvious to later generations, was one of the first
moves toward the integrated, streamlined shape and was widely copied the following year. Another step, also seen on
the Graham, was to give the radiator grille a Backward slope. Both were the work of Amos Northup, yet his name is
virtually unknown compared with those of Earl, Mitchell, Gregorie and Hershey.
Amos E. Northup was born in Bellevue, Ohio, in 1889. His first important design commission, for Wills Sainte Claire, was a relatively small high- quality car built by Henry Ford's former production manager and chief engineer, Childe Harold Wills. It lasted only from 1921 to 1927, and Northup left in 1924 to join the Murray Corporation of America. Formed in Detroit in 1912, Murray was a major supplier of bodies to medium-sired car makers who did not have large body facilities themselves. "These included Jewett, Hupmobile, Marmon, Reo and Willys-Knight, while, from 1930 Murray became increasingly involved with Ford, a connection which lasted until 1950. The company had a design studio as early as 1925, in which Northup looked after the production bodies and Ray Dietrich, lured away from LeBaron, designed the custom styles. The first body in which Northup had a definite influence was the 1928 Hupmobile Century Eight. Hupp had introduced its first eight in 1925, but like Pontiac in 1933 and Chrysler in the early '50s, it lacked a suitable body to adorn their new machinery. Such a body arrived with the 1928 models. The fresh styling began with a new radiator, higher than before and with a colorful new emblem consisting of an H with a dagger behind it, pointing down at a crenellated castle. This emblem was replicated in the center of the bumper, but only for 1928. The headlights were larger and bullet shaped, while the fenders were longer and slenderer. The closed cars had stylish visors above the windshield. A double-dropped frame allowed for lower bodies, which could be purchased with two-tone color schemes. Overnight Hupmobile's image changed from a fairly plain-Jane make to a style leader. This was continued in several subsequent models, though not under Northup's direction.
The REO Royale The next important design from Northup's pen, while he was still at Murray, was the 1931 Reo Royale Eight. Reo, always a middle-class car, moved up into the luxury market with the 125hp straight-eight Royale, though at $2,845 it was quite a bargain. While the lesser Reos retained conventional styling, the Royale saw several new concepts combined to make a truly innovative car, though perhaps not many people recognized it at the time. Northup worked mainly at night on the Royale, for he claimed that inspiration glowed best by candlelight.
The Royale had a vertical radiator but the grille was V-shaped with a thin chrome surrounding band. The fenders were droopily curved and extended farther over the front wheels than on previous cars. This had the practical effect of trapping less air beneath the fenders. Northup's assistant Julio Andrade, whom he had brought with him from Wills Sainte Claire, and who would go on to become an important stylist under Harley Earl, said that aircraft experts had pointed out that conventional fenders would produce lift at high speeds. Certainly the British owner of another Royale, the fabulous Bugatti, reported that at speeds in excess of 80mph, the front wheels actually left the ground, and on one occasion the fender was torn right off by wind pressure.
Northup was granted two patents for the Royale's front end, one for the ensemble, fenders, grille shell and hood, and one for the grille shell alone, but there was a lot more to the Royale than that. The windshield was slightly slanted, and above it there was a curve up to the roof, in place of the peak which had seemed modern on the Hupmobile only three years before. At the rear a double curvature panel swept down to conceal the fuel tank. The widest point of the body was at the front seat, which was half-an-inch wider than the rear, in contrast to most contemporaries, and which could seat three comfortably.
The Royale was well received. Automobile Industries described its styling as "the most radical de[arture in lines that has been made for some time," while the SAE journal of January 1,1931, called it the outstanding design of the year. IT won first prizes in Councours d'Elegance in Rome and Zagreb, Yugoslavia, of all places. Unfortunately, its appearance coincided with the second worst year of the Depression (1932 was the absolute bottom in terms of car sales). Sales from September 1930 to August 1931 were 2,736 cars, out of a total for Reo of 6,762. Breakdowns for individual models are not available after that, but as Reo's total dropped to 3,870 in 1932 and 3,623 in 1933, the last year for the big Royale Eight, total Royale sales are unlikely to have been more than 5,000.
The Graham Blue Streak Northup's greatest contribution to the progress of styling was the Graham Blue Streak. This was also a Murray product, though there have been suggestions that Graham made its own bodies, certainly from 1933 onward. Probably the bodies were finished, assembled, painted and trimmed in the Graham shops at Wayne, Michigan, and Evansville, Indiana, but the stampings came from Murray. It is likely that Murray pressed ahead with a new design for Graham with the intention of selling it, just as they had done with the Reo Royale.
Graham was something of a phenomenon in the American auto industry. The three Graham brothers made trucks for Dodge in the '20s, bought the Paige car company in 1927, and the following year launched a four-car line which sold 73,195 cars in the first season, a record for a new make. The cars were not particularly exciting to look at; and by 1931 the Depression had brought sales down to 20,428.
The Blue Streak Eight, launched for the 1932 season, was a complete break, and set several trends for the industry.
Some of the Blue Streak's features, including the curved front fenders, which now reached almost down to the bumper, and the curved top, had already been tried by Northup on the Reo. The windshield also sloped a little, reflecting; the backward slope of the radiator grille. Below Be the grille, between it and the bumper, was a splashpan which concealed the frame cross-members and shock-absorber mounts visible in other cars. The feature for which the 1932 Graham is best remembered, though, is the fender skirt, creating a round space for the front wheel. The upper line of the fender was the same as before, but the lower was curved around the front wheel, the panel behind it being the skirt. 'This concealed the chassis with its inevitable accumulations of dirt, but also made the fender a more important statement in the car's appearance, leading to growing height and eventual integration into the hood and doors. The Graham had small skirts over the rear wheels as well.
For anyone accustomed to cars of the later 1930s, it is hard to understand the importance of the 1932 Graham. Suffice it to say that it could easily have passed for a 1935 car, in an age when design was changing very rapidly. In 1933 almost all American car makers adopted fender skirts and sloping grilles, with the exception of Chrysler, which waited until 1934. While it cannot be proved that the Graham influenced them all or that no other designer was thinking about fender skirts in 1931-32, it was Graham who put them into production.
As we might expect, the Blue Streak was received with delight by the automotive press. "Should the new Graham model be preeminently successful this year, we believe that the speed with which rear-engined and fully streamlined cars come onto the market will be accelerated by many months." (Automotive Industries, February 13, 1932) Despite its innovations, the Blue Streak did not sell very well; the Depression forced Graham sales down from over 20,000 in 1931 to 12,858 in 1932. 'Fhc design was barely changed for 1933, when advertising rightly proclaimed it "the most-imitated car on the road."
Other Northup Designs At least three other cars have been credited to Amos Northup, though for two of them the claims are uncertain. In 1929 Willys commissioned a few roadsters finished in plaid colors for show purposes. These were definitely Northup's work, but some sources say that he did another car for Willys, the budget-priced, four-cylinder Model 77 of 1933. It was by no means a thing of beauty, though one innovation was its headlights, which were partially faired into the fenders, anticipating 1937 Fords and 1938 Studebakers.
In 1938 the Graham company tried to boost its flagging fortunes with a striking new body style christened Spirit of Motion. Ruder critics dubbed it the Sharknose, by which name it has been known ever since. Instead of a rearward sloping grille, the 1938 Grahams leaned forward, like photos of early racing cars. It also had squared headlights fully faired into the fenders, and full skirts over the rear wheels. Amos Northup did most of the work on this Graham, aided by the company's own William Nealey. He never saw it in production, for in February 1937 he slipped on an icy sidewalk, cracked his skull and died of his injuries shortly afterwards.
Nick Georgano - the Art of the American Automobile
Amos Northup Unsung Hero of Automotive Design
By Hugo Pfau
Back in the twenties and before, it was simply not the practice to lavish publicity on the people responsible for the styling of our automobiles. They might be known in the trade, but their names rarely came before the general public.
Automobile manufacturers pushed the company or brand name. They even generally tried to hide from the public the fact that their styling ideas often came not from their own staffs, but from the sources of their bodies.
One very capable man in the styling field was Amos Northup. He spent some time as chief designer for Wills Ste. Claire and later for Willys-Knight and its associated Willys and Whippet cars. A large part of his career was spent with Murray in charge of the design of production bodies for various manufacturers.
Northup first made an impression with his designs for Wills Ste. Claire, a company he joined soon after its inception. He had had some earlier experience, but the only reference to this I have been able to find is that he came to Wills from Buffalo - without mentioning the company he had been associated with there. I believe it may have been the American Body Company.
He was responsible for the design of the 1924 and later Wills Ste. Claires, and they were attractive cars. I thought them distinctly better looking than their predecessors, which had been designed by others.
At the beginning of 1925, the Murray Body Company was formed by a merger of several small and medium sized builders of production bodies. At this point, many automobile manufacturers relied on their sources of bodies for the styling of their cars. The Murray group were already negotiating with LeBaron at Edsel Ford's suggestion, even before their new company was established That led to the formation of Dietrich, Inc., in the spring of 1925.
However, since that arrangement took some time to complete, they also cast about elsewhere, and persuaded Northup to leave Wills, whose fortunes were declining, and set up a design studio for Murray.
Over the next few years Northup was responsible for the design of many of the production bodies built by Murray. There were of course a few which had started out as custom bodies by Dietrich, with their designs later adapted as production models.
One of the outstanding creations of this period that was done entirely by Amos Northup and his staff was the 1928 Hupmobile, a much smarter looking car than its predecessors. I felt he had done an excellent job in that design.
One reason I like it was that it turned out looking very much like the Graham-Paige which was introduced at the same time. The basic design of that had been developed by R.L. Stickney and myself in the New York office of LeBaron. We had no idea what Northup was doing for Hupmobile at Murray, and he was not aware of our work on the Graham-Paige. It seems we just were all thinking in the same general direction.
The similarity between the two cars was further complicated by their location at the New York Auto Show in January, 1928. Graham-Paige and Hupmobile occupied spaces on opposite sides of the same aisle. This was somewhat by chance. Space at the New York Show was assigned by the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce, predecessor of the Automobile Manufacturers Association, on the basis of- each make's dollar volume of sales during the previous year. Operating in the same general price bracket, Hupp and Graham wound up with very similar ranking and consequently practically adjacent locations.
There were some comments I overheard when visiting that show to the effect that everybody in the automobile industry was copying each other. The people who made those comments were, of course, unaware that the two designs had been developed by two different groups of people working quite independently.
Actually, although there was considerably similarity in the basic shape of the body and the contour of the hood and fenders, there were numerous differences in details of Northup's and our Graham-Paige. The radiator shells were quite different and there were other points as well.
It was some time before I had a chance to mention this to Amos Northup; in fact not until he came to New York to attend the Salon in the Fall of that year. We had a brief chat and agreed that design is essentially a process of evolution, and it was not surprising to have different stylists working independently come up with similar ideas.
There was another matter that had developed in the meantime which Northup seemed reluctant to discuss, except to say he had not been altogether happy with his relationship with Murray.
In the Spring of 1928, he had left Murray to accept the post of chief designer for the Willys organization. It was too late for him to have much influence on their 1929 models, introduced a few months later, but he did tell me he had been able to work out some minor improvement in those designs.
In the meantime, he came up with some completely new ideas for the 1930 Willys-Knights, including a radically new pair of sport models, a phaeton and a roadster. These had a raised panel running back through the center portion of the hood, and widening out just ahead of the windshield. At the base of the windshield, the panel split into two moldings, one running back along the tops of the doors and the other sweeping down in a graceful slope across the bottom front corner of the doors. There it joined the sill molding and where the rear fenders joined the body, the molding ran up again to the belt line. This created an interestingly shaped and pleasing panel on the side of the body.
I believe it was an option, but many of those roadsters and phaetons were painted with that panel in a sharply contrasting color, with a sort of checked effect produced by striping in still another color. Northup had worked out this idea, stating at the time that it was intended to minimize the vertical effect of the door edges. They were much less noticeable with the checked pattern. The striping was arranged so the blocks it formed were much longer than they were high, giving those prominent panels a longer and lower appearance.
The closed cars which accompanied those sport models had a similar raised panel on the hood and cowl, but on these the panel itself curved down just ahead of the windshield. It made possible some interesting two-tone color schemes, although less striking than the open cars.
Northup also restyled the lower priced Whippet and Willys lines although his new designs for these were somewhat more conservative. They were good enough, though, that they were continued - like the Willys-Knight designs - for several years even though Northup had left the company after creating them.
It seems that Murray missed Northup, and his ability, and by the end of 1929 or early 1930 he was back with them again, presumably under much more satisfactory circumstances.
One of his earliest assignments when he got back to Murray was the design of a completely new model for Reo - which became the Royale. One reason for this may have been that Reo management had been realigned early in 1930, with William Robert Wilson as President. Wilson had previously been president of Murray for several years and was familiar with Northup's work.
Northup was given a free hand on the design of this new car, and I think he outdid himself on that Reo Royale. Its smooth flowing lines and graceful curves made it one of the outstanding production designs of 1931, and one still sought after by collectors. In fact, it's the only production Reo to have full classic status by the CCCA. It was a complete break with Reo's earlier, rather conservative designs.
Not only was it an attractive car, but its shape was such that it was aerodynamically an improvement over earlier designs. As had been widely reported, this was one of the first American production designs to be tested in a wind tunnel.
This was done not to check the relative efficiency of alternative designs, but to establish that the smooth lines did indeed succeed in reducing the drag of wind resistance, as their appearance indicated they would. In other words, comparison was made with earlier, more conventional designs, and a very noticeable improvement was indicated.
The Reo Royale naturally attracted quite a bit of attention. A. few of the comments in the trade journals of the time even identified Amos Northup as it designer. More frequently, however, it was merely stated that the car had been ‘designed by Murray.’ It did result in some new business for the Murray Corporation.
One new customer was Graham, for whom Amos Northup designed a whole new series known as the Blue Streak models, with bodies by Murray. Some of their lines were quite similar to those of the Reo Royale he had done the year before. For example, the back edge of the rear quarter windows sloped forward to complement the angle of the sloping windshield, just as they did on the Reo design.
During this period, Northup had a hand in the design of at least some of the Lincoln and Packard standard bodies, which were built by Murray. Even some bodies built in Lincoln's own plant showed traces of his influence.
Some of the last Dietrich bodies were actually designed by Northup, although for some time after Ray Dietrich left the company bearing his name in 1931, they continued to use designs he had developed before that break. Of course, there had been considerable interchange of ideas between the two men earlier, since Murray was part owner of Dietrich, Inc.
Northup also continued to design bodies for other Murray customers, including Graham. His work for that chassis culminated in what became known as the ‘Shark Nose’ Graham of 1938. That was another radically different design, but unfortunately Amos Northup did not live to see it reach the market.
That was the model with the forward-thrusting grille and the headlights mounted in the fenders, both innovations and both contributing to the illusion of speed - even standing still - which was the goal of most automotive designs. It was not copied exactly, but certainly influenced the designs of others for the next couple of years.
As I have mentioned, Amos Northup did not survive to see that last of his creations reach the marketplace. In the Spring of 1937 he suffered an unfortunate accident which cut short his career while it was still flowing.
Leaving his home one morning on what should have been a quick errand; he slipped on an icy sidewalk, struck his head on a hard surface and sustained a fractured skull which caused his death. It had been one of those days typical of weather in the Detroit area at that time of year. It had rained early in the night, then turned colder so that the wet pavement became a treacherous glazed surface.
I have always suspected that Northup's accident, and his severe injury, can be blamed to a considerable extent on his physical makeup. He suffered from acromegaly, which means that he had an exceptionally large head on a slight and undersized body. He was only a couple of inches over five feet tall as I recall him on the several occasions I stood chatting with him.
I feel sure that this abnormality not only made it more difficult for him to retain his balance once his feet slipped, but that it was a factor in producing the injury which caused his death.
Anyone glancing at the picture of Amos Northup accompanying this article might question my description of his physical abnormality. I can only answer that the photographer used every means at his disposal to hide it. Obviously the camera was much closer to the lower part of his body than to his head, minimizing the size of the latter. He also got Northup to pull his hat down almost to his eyes, hiding the very high forehead.
That is the only picture of Amos Northup I have been able to locate, and it came to me courtesy of his grand-nephew, John E. Northup, who is an active automotive engineer in Detroit. It was originally printed in The Overseas News, published by the John N. Willy Export Corp., on the occasion of the introduction of their 1930 models designed by Northup. In those days, designers were more highly thought of abroad than here at home.
His diminutive stature led no less a person than John N. Willys to introduce him at a dinner as ‘the biggest little man in this room.’ The occasion was a banquet of the European distributors of Willys-Knight held in connection with the Paris Salon in October, 1929, where the new models designed by Northup were unveiled.
Frank Canady, who handled Willys advertising and described that incident, went on to say about Northup: ‘If he did not know he had done an extra fine job of designing the new Willys-Knight and Whippet cars before the banquet, he was certainly made aware of it there. If he needed further evidence, he must have found it in his daily visit to the Salon where continuous crowds around the Willys-Knight and Whippet exhibits, and the many interested and detailed inquiries showed that his designs were attracting extraordinary attention.’
Attention is precisely what much of Northup's work received, although the general public was not always aware of the man who should get the credit. The sincerest flattery came from fellow designers who studied his work and adapted many of his innovations into their own later designs.
Amos Northup was only 49 years old when he died. His career in automotive styling had spanned barely two decades, and I am sure that had he survived it would have led to many more innovative ideas that would influence the trend of styling for some time.
During that brief period, Northup designed hundreds of different body styles for various manufacturers. In several instances he was responsible for the restyling of an entire line of cars. This was true not only with Wills Ste. Claire and Willys, where he worked directly for the car manufacturer, but with many customers of Murray, such as Hupmobile, Graham and Reo whom I have mentioned.
Although these firms bought only their bodies from Murray, they were happy to have Northup style the entire car. That produced a unified design in which the hood, grille and fenders were all blended into total concept to give a smooth flowing effect.
Actually, Northup was equally adept at making minor changes to improve the appearance of the bodies he worked on. Model enthusiasts are aware that the Town Sedans of the early 1931 models had vertical windshields as on the other styles, while later ones had a slightly sloping windshield that was more attractive. That was a Northup touch, since he suggested this modification.
By the time this Willys-Knight Coupe was built in 1931, Northup was back with Murray, but it is the same design he had created for their 1930 models.
Perhaps the best tribute to Northup's ability was the fact that many of his designs continued in production for several years with only minor changes. This at a period of great flux in automobile design, when new models were sometimes replaced even before the model year was over.
The Hupmobiles of 1931 were very similar to the 1928 models that Amos Northup had developed back in 1927. His styling for Willys and Willys-Knight was retained for several years, even after he left that company to return to Murray. The Reo Royale, introduced for 1931, went on practically unchanged right up into 1934.111 fact, its design was adapted for the smaller Flying Cloud models during this period, although bodies for the latter came from Hayes, who had been Reo's principal source for some years.
That in itself is an indication of Amos Northup's ability as a designer. Not only were the cars he designed attractive, but often they were far enough ahead of others that they could go on for several years before his competitors caught up with him.
Although he worked almost entirely on the design of production models, I would rank Amos Northup along with some of our best designers of custom bodies. Like them, he did not follow trends, but' initiated them.
His sense of proportion was superb, and his feeling for the flow of complex curved surfaces was unsurpassed. He was truly a sculptor in sheet metal.
He had a big head, but that head produced some big ideas. Although he was aware of the way one design might evolve from others preceding it, as he told me, he often took several jumps at a time in that process of evolution.
Unfortunately he lived at a time when the people responsible for the appearance of our automobiles were not known to the general public, or even to those in other branches of the industry. After one reference to Amos Northup in an article several years ago, I received a letter from his great-nephew, John E. Northup, who mentioned that in sixteen years with the engineering-departments of all of the Big 3, he had met only one man who knew his great-uncle, and that man had since died.
So I am writing this tribute to the memory of a great designer who deserves immortality. Of course, the finest tribute to Amos Northup lies in those of the cars which he designed that still survive. They are true evidence of his accomplishments.
Cars & Parts January 1978 issue
1931 REO ROYALE COUPE Advanced features of Amos Northup's second important design included the V-shaped grille and the curved front to the roof. The Royale had a 125hp, 354-cubic-inch straight-eight engine and a 135-inch wheelbase. PHOTO: BUD JUNEAU/IMAGE PORT
1931 GRAHAM 822 CONVERTIBLE SEDAN An example of Graham styling on the eve of the mold- breaking 1932 Blue Streak.
D 1934 GRAHAM BLUE STREAK This design was a mold-breaker with its skirted front and rear fenders, sloping grille and windshield. This 1934 model is hardly changed from the first in 1932. PHOTO: CHAN BUSH/IMAGE PORT
D 1936 HUPMOBILE 618G SEDAN Hupp brought out a brand new line for 1934, styled by Raymond Loewy, aided by Amos Northup. For 1936 a waterfall grille was introduced. Six- and eight-cylinder engines were offered in '36; this 618G has a 101 hp six, while the 621 had a 120hp straight eight. PHOTO: NATIONAL MOTOR MUSEUM, BEAULIEU
Amos Northup - 1932 Graham Blue Streak & 1938 Graham Spirit of Motion (aka Sharknose) (Northup died in 1938)
Murray Corporation in Detroit was one of the first body builders to set up a design studio, under the direction of Northup. Soon afterwards, they lured Ray Dietrich to Detroit to serve as a consultant. Northup had previously worked for Wills Ste.Claire, and brought with him a young assistant, Julio Andrade, who later became known for his design of the 1934 LaSalle as a member of Harley Earl's General Motors staff.
The new Graham-Paige had first-year production of 73,195 cars in 1926, topping the first-year record which had been set just the year before in 1926 by Pontiac. (The record was topped again in 1928 by Chrysler Corp.'s new DeSoto.)
Paige was dropped from the car's name in 1930 and became the name of a new line of trucks. The Paige trucks did not sell well and Chrysler Corp. reminded the brothers that they had agreed to stay out of the truck business for five years after they sold out of Dodge. So the Grahams discontinued the Paige truck line and just built the Graham car.
The Graham was an excellent car and its 1932 Model 57 Blue Streak, with body styling by Amos Northup of Murray and detailing by Raymond Dietrich, was exceptionally handsome. But the Depression was taking its toll on the auto industry and sales continued a steep downward trend. Ray Graham committed suicide in 1932.
The Graham Blue Streak models of 1932 with their flowing elegant lines and pointed radiator grilles set the car styling fashion for the following decade.
The remaining brothers introduced a Supercharged line in 1934, enhancing its already excellent reputation as a high-performance car, but having only a minor positive effect on sales.
The handsome styling introduced in 1936 did not help much and the company introduced a new body design it called "Spirit of Motion" in 1938. Because of its unusual front end and radiator grille design, it became known as the "sharknose" and fared poorly on the market. It was widely regarded as too radical, even ugly. "Sharknoses" are now favored by collectors and are worth a couple thousand more than the more conventional '36 and '37 models.
Desperate, Graham purchased the Cord 810/812 dies from Hupp, which was also on its way out of business. The very handsome Hollywood models made with those dies in 1940 and 1941 fetch $4,000 to $6,000 more at auction than the '36.
The 1931 Reo Royale and 1932 Graham Blue Streak by Amos Northup generally are credited with establishing the aerodynamic function in automotive body design, on the heels of necessarily aerodynamic airplanes and Art Deco architecture and furnishings.
Design elements included slanting windshields and radiators away from airstream-impeding vertical positioning, blending fenders into bodies and headlamps into fenders. Northup and his colleagues actually tested early designs in wind tunnels.
The pioneering slipstream cars were followed by the more "mainstream" 1934 Chrysler and DeSoto Airflows, 1936 Cord and Lincoln-Zephyr and — for the masses — 1937 Ford.
Another early LeBaron design for Briggs was the Graham Paige. When Dillon-Read bought out Dodge in 1926, a substantial part of the multi-million dollar purchase price went to Joseph W. Graham, who with his brother had been building trucks out of Dodge components and a few years earlier had merged their company into Dodge. Graham immediately invested the proceeds in the then-slipping Paige-Detroit Motor Company and approached Briggs to style hime an entirely new car to be called the Graham-Paige. Since the Detroit studio had not yet been fully staffed, Roberts assigned Roland Stickney and Hugo Pfau who were still in New York. They created the original design including the now famous curved-front radiator shell. The design was then sent to the LeBaron office in Detroit which expanded the basic design to cover the various chassis sizes and body styles.
The new design was accredited to Amos Northup and the thrust forward nose of the new car, together with the faired in headlamps certainly caused much discussion. The nickname 'Sharknose' was quickly adopted by the motoring press and the car became saddled with this label for its two year run. Due to a lack of funds the car was offered in one body style only, a four door sedan. A very attractive convertible with bodywork by Vestors and Neirinck was displayed at the Brussells Salon of 1938 but unfortunately never made production. The Combination Coupe was introduced in 1939 but it failed to arrest the company's decline. The general public were not attracted to the car's looks and with several independent manufacturers ceasing to exist at that time it is likely that most people preferred to invest their dollars in 'safe' products from the major players. The last 'Sharknose' models were built in 1940.
The Grahams did better than most of the independents, though. Their celebrated "Blue Streak" models of 1932 were very influential on design trends in the industry. Handsome they certainly were, as a result of the work of designer Amos Northup, but sales continued on a downward spiral, regardless. By the middle of the decade, the Grahams were desperate (one of the brothers actually committed suicide) and decided to stake everything on a dramatic new line. Amos Northup was once more retained to do the styling and the result could have been a triumph. But, bad luck intervened yet again. This time it was the sudden death of Northup in a freak winter accident. With the master designer gone, the 1938 Graham line was completed by stylists of far lesser talent. The Graham company called the 1938 line the "Spirit of Motion" and, indeed, there was a pronounced forward thrust to the body when seen in profile. It soon came to be known derisively, however — and remains so today among old car enthusiasts — as the "sharknose." The styling was actually fairly conventional except for the dramatic front end, but that proved to be too much for potential car buyers. Way too much. The 1938 model year was a terrible one for the industry, in general, due to a sharp, unexpected recession, but it was nearly fatal for the Graham-Paige Motors Corporation. From the pre-depression peak noted above, the company still managed to sell 16,400 cars in 1936. That was pretty dreadful, but it was still better than several other surviving independents (Hupp, Reo and Willys spring to mind). The Sharknose and the recession pushed that figure down to a catastrophic 4,139 units in 1938. By that point, the dealers were fleeing in droves and the brand was probably beyond resuscitation. If a design could ever have been said to have killed a brand, the 1938 Sharknose was it.
With the economy failing, Graham-Paige could have chosen to stand pat and make no new expenditures. But the brothers characteristically chose to fight. They did so with a car destined to become the most famous of all Grahams. It was all new, and for 1932 it was a bold gamble that caused quite a stir. Any lingering ties with the Paige past were erased as the new car established for Graham a reputation for engineering and styling leadership. They called it the "Blue Streak Eight."
The car certainly had the look of a leader. All bodies-sedan, coupe and convertible had graceful, flowing lines and were more than two inches lower than previous models. Blue Streak styling was the work of talented Amos Northup, design director of the Murray Corporation of America, whose credits included the Hupp Century, the plaid-side Willys-Knight roadster, and the splendid Reo Royale. Details were handled by, Ray Dietrich, in as much as Dietrich Inc. had become a Murray subsidiary. The front end was especially successful, with the sharp, rearward slope of the radiator grille repeated in the slant of the hood louvers and one-piece windshield. There was no separate radiator shell-the hood ran right up to the grille molding. The vee'd grille used vertical chrome strips tapered toward the bottom, but chrome in general was kept to a minimum and even the headlight shells were lacquered to match the body. The radiator filler cap was concealed beneath the hood to eliminate damage to car finish from antifreeze solutions and to improve appearance. Fenders were deep and fully skirted with unsightly, mud-spattered undersides concealed from view-the most predictive feature of the Blue Streak, and copied by all just a year later.
The Tootsietoy Company was rather impressed, and Introduced a line of model cars patterned after the Blue Streak which proved so popular that 4.2 million in twenty-one different styles were eventually produced.
Unfortunately, the cars did not prove as popular in full size versions. In normal times they would have sold in droves, but even the Blue Streak was no match for the Depression. Production declined to only 12,967 for 1932, a year rendered doubly difficult by a family tragedy. In August, Ray Graham, sick and despondent over declining fortunes, suffered a nervous breakdown. He was being taken to the East Coast for a complete rest, but en route he broke away from an accompanying priest and threw himself into a creek. His untimely death at forty-five is as keenly felt by the Graham family, but his brothers carried on.
By 1933 the skirted fender was widely copied, and Graham was justly advertised as "the most imitated car on the road." After such an heroic effort a year earlier, the 1933 line was little changed. Blue Streak engineering and styling were featured on a new, 118-inch wheelbase Graham Six introduced in June 1932, which along with the Eight and a conventional six constituted the first series 1933 cars
For 1938, this solution appeared, in what the company called the "Spirit of Motion" series. Body styling for these cars was completely new, not a single die from past production was needed and though a cliché, "moving while standing still" is an altogether appropriate description of the radical shapes that evolved. The front fenders and radiator grille were sharply undercut, with forward portions leaning into the wind, in a pose of arrested motion that was completely unique. Later this profile would earn the sobriquet "sharknose." The lunging fenders featured square headlights set flush with the leading edges. Horizontal grille louvers trailed rearward into the hood to join the belt molding, giving a clean accent front to rear, and door handles were made to appear as an integral part of the molding. Door hinges were concealed, rear fenders carried skirts, and at the back the body flowed smoothly into an integral trunk. Taillights were set flush with the body high over the trunk for maximum visibility.
With sharp new styling, Graham should have sold well in 1938, but ironically the sharknose was a complete flop. It was the year in which the economy so slowly revived since the crash of 1929 took a short, sharp downturn, a recession that killed an attempted comeback by Hupp, and finished off Pierce-Arrow. But a real problem was the car itself. Though the wild styling won the Grand Prize at the Paris Concours d'Elegance, the typical car-buying American wasn't impressed by it. Many thought the styling was too radical, especially at the front end. Admittedly the forms and highlights of the front fenders were somewhat awkwardly handled, which didn't help matters. Well, Graham had had their bad years before. But this time, for the first time, the company was in serious trouble.
BREMAC - Sidney, Ohio - (1932) - The name Bremac was coined from the first syllable of the names of Procter Brevard and William R. McCulla. McCulla was a noted designer of engines; Brevard, though not so well known, was the former sales engineer for Zenith-Detroit Corporation and had been assistant to Colonel Jesse G. Vincent when the latter was chief engineer for Hudson prior to joining the Packard Motor Car Company. Hudson also boasted McCulla as an alumnus, the engineer having served there as well as Belden and Thomas. Also involved in the new Bremac Motor Car Corporation were Amos Northup, chief designer of Murray Corporation, and Fred D. Clark of Sidney, who was backing the project financially. The project was a radical new idea in automobile construction. The Bremac had no chassis frame, no propeller shaft, no universal joint. As described by the company, it most closely resembled "an airplane monocoque fuselage, to which have been flexibly attached at the front end a front axle and steering unit, and at the rear a powerplant, transmission, clutch and axle unit." The powerplant was an 80 hp eight designed by Brevard, the prototype's wheelbase was 146 inches, and the coachwork was courtesy of Amos Northup who evolved "a new form of streamlining" for the Bremac that was designated the Teardrop. (Seating in the five-passenger sedan was the reverse of the usual, three passengers in front, two in the rear.) Production on a strictly custom basis was planned, with wheelbase varying "in proportion to body design for streamlining." In mid-October of 1932, Bremac announced that its first prototype was under construction in Sidney - and that the company expected to complete three cars of different body model design for exhibition at the New York Automobile Show the following month. The Bremac never made it to the show.
The Graham-Paige Motor Corporation developed a new body style for 1938. Graham-Paige was always ahead in styling, which was evident in 1932 with the introduction of the Blue Streak. Other car manufacturers would follow suit in 1933. They called on Amos Northup for the 1938 model styling. His design was to combine the aerodynamic look along with the Graham Knight, and was labeled "THE SPIRIT OF MOTION." The forward design of the grill and fenders gave it the feeling of motion. The Graham Knight was incorporated with the headlights reflecting the knights helmet. This was also used for the hood emblem, the door handles, the ashtray on the dash. Also the fenders have a similar design and a side view of the car, the grill and the lovers down the side of the hood have the same look. It was hard for the American public to accept a different and radical design. However in Europe it won many awards at the Salons d'Elegance in Paris, Lyons, Bordeaux, and Marseilles. A recession in early 1938 also hampered sales with only approximately 5020 cars being sold. In 1938 only a four door model was sold, in 1939 there were some changes made including a two door model that was called a combination coupe. Sales for 1939 improved to about 5400 cars. In 1940 the grill was redesigned along with many other changes. The 1940 model, now called the Senior car, was produced in the first part of 1940. Production stopped with around 1000 cars being produced. Production then turned to the Graham Hollywood.
For more information please read:
Michael E. Keller - The Graham Legacy
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