The Graham Brothers and Their Car
Jeffery I. Godshall
This article originally appeared in Automobile Quarterly Volume 13 No.1
Graham-Paige, alive, in New York City? Yes friends, Graham-Paige, the company still lives. Of the many firms that have engaged in the manufacture of automobiles since the turn of the century, only a handful are present-day passenger car producers. A few others remain, busily engaged in activities little related to their automotive pasts, and one of these is Graham-Paige, now the Madison Square Garden Corporation, owner and operator of the multimillion dollar sports arena over the remains of Pennsylvania Station. But the firm has forgotten its automotive past; the New York skyline is far removed from a crumbling factory in Detroit where Graham automobiles were once produced. Still farther away are the small towns of southern Indiana, the area where three brothers who contributed to the shaping of the automobile industry grew up in the late eighteen-hundreds.
Joseph B., Robert C. and Ray A. Graham were born in 1882, 1885 and 1887 respectively, on their family's farm in Washington, Indiana, a small community in the south-western corner of the state. In 1825 James Graham had purchased 121 acres of land in Daviess County, and the farm had grown as succeeding generations added to their holdings. The brothers could have chosen to make comfortable lives for themselves there, overseeing the raising of cattle and the making of milk and cheese. But they were not content with the pastoral life.
In 1901, with the discovery of natural gas in nearby Loogootee, Joseph Graham and his father Ziba became stockholders in the Lythgoe Bottle Company, the first glass manufacturers in the area, using the new energy resource as fuel in their manufacturing. At the age of nineteen Joseph invented and patented a new process for blowing better bottles. Shoulders of early bottles were thin and broke easily. Joe devised blowing them upside down, causing the glass to flow toward the shoulders to reinforce the weak points. In 1905 the Grahams took over Lythgoe, renaming it the Southern Indiana Glass Company and, a year later, the Graham Glass Company. They absorbed the Loogootee Glass Sand Company to produce that necessary raw product, and obtained their natural gas from the rich local deposits. Business prospered, new factories were added in Indiana and Oklahoma, and by 1916 the Grahams received a merger bid front the Owens Bottle Company of Toledo, Ohio. Enter now the motor industry.
Ray who graduated in 1908 from the University of Illinois, had become interested in designing a lightweight motor truck while managing the family's farm properties. He invented a special rear axle combined with a spliced frame, whereby Ford cars could be converted into one-ton express or stake trucks at a cost of $350 per unit. The truck business looked promising. There was a plentiful of skilled labor for body building since wagon making was an important Indiana business and across the country more and more firms were discarding the horse and wagon in favor of the motor truck. Selling their interest in the glass business to Owens, Joseph and Robert joined Ray in establishing a factory in Evansville, Indiana, to build truck bodies for mounting on passenger car chassis. By 1920 an expanded line of Graham Brothers trucks and buses were being manufactured, using Continental, Weideley and Dodge engines. A customer, the Grahams felt, should not have to go elsewhere for his truck's body, so they built complete vehicles, offering a variety of bodies designed to meet the specialized needs of various industries.
The truck venture proved successful, and attracted the attention of Frederick J. Haynes, president of Dodge Brothers. Haynes saw in the Grahams a chance to get Dodge into the heavy truck business without disrupting passenger car production. The Grahams were receptive, and in April 1921 an agreement was signed whereby the Graham Firm would build trucks solely with Dodge engines and drive trains, selling same exclusively through the Dodge dealer network. The agreement was enormously beneficial to the Grahams, whose products now gained the backing of an established manufacturer with a solid reputation and a nationwide dealer network.
With the Dodge deal, the Grahams moved easily to Detroit, where a new factory on Meldrum Avenue was established to supplement Evansville output. A new company, Graham Brothers Inc. was created, with Joseph as president. It operated almost as a Dodge subsidiary. Soon other plants were opened in Stockton, California and Toronto, Canada. Demand was high, and the Grahams outgrew the Meldrum Avenue plant, building a replacement on Conant Avenue in 1922 and a third on Lynch Road in 1924. Production soared from 1086 trucks in 1921 to over 37,000 in 1926, making Graham Brothers the largest exclusive truck manufacturers in the world.
Still more success accrued. In 1925, the Dodge heirs sold the company to the investment firm of Dillon, Read. The following November Dodge management reorganized and the Grahams emerged on top: Ray was vice-president and general manager, Joseph vice-president for manufacturing, Robert vice president for sales. In addition, the brothers became Dodge directors, and Dodge exercised an option to acquire a fifty-one percent interest in Graham Brothers, paying the Grahams $3 million plus an equal amount in options on remaining Graham Brothers shares. Much of this money was reinvested in Dodge stock, and the Grahams wound up among the largest Dodge stockholders.
At this juncture the Grahams looked ensconced for life at Dodge. But their tenure lasted less than six months. In April 1926, the brothers suddenly, resigned, while Dodge acquired the remaining forty-nine percent of the truck business. Exactly what caused the upheaval is not known. The brothers may have had a disagreement with Dodge's bankers, or they could have felt uncomfortable in an organization which they did not completely control. They must also have realized that any hopes they may have had of bringing out a car under their own name were wasted at Dodge.
But the Grahams weren't exactly broke, and in 1927 they organized the New York based Graham Brothers Corporation as a holding company for their varied interests, including an $11 million share in Libbey-Owens Sheet Glass in Toledo. In fact, it was Ray Graham who, as chairman of Libbey-Owens, brought about the merger with the Edward Ford Plate Glass Company to form giant Libbey-Owens-Ford in 1930.
Apropos the motor industry, the Grahams obviously could not be content with a passive role. Their "re-entry vehicle" turned out to be the Paige-Detroit Motor Car Company, control of which they acquired on June 10th, 1927. Paige-Detroit was a minor independent, organized in 1909, that had passed into the hands of Harry Jewett and his brothers in 1911 and successfully engaged in the manufacture of Paige cars and trucks, and later the Jewett light six, with peak production of 43,500 vehicles in 1923. But in 1927 with sales declining and the company not as profitable as it once was, Jewett was anxious to sell. The Grahams were attracted, at least partly, because Paige was completing a new, modern factory on a forty-five acre site on Warren Avenue in Dearborn.
To acquire control, the Grahams put in $4 million and pledged $4 million more for improvements. The Jewetts resigned, Joseph became president of Paige, Robert vice-president, Ray secretary-treasurer. Along with their father, the brothers became Paige directors, and Joe announced that they were "in the automobile business as manufacturers to stay," Accordingly, the next stockholders meeting saw the corporate title changed to Graham-Paige Motors Corporation.
Each of the Graham brothers had distinctive abilities and temperaments which complemented the others' and enabled them to work effectively as a team. Joe was the manufacturer-pedantic, primarily interested in engineering and production. Since he was the eldest, family custom dictated that he head the company. Ray was the financier, looking after the Graham fortune, living for the most part in New York City. Robert was the salesman-outgoing and optimistic. David Graham, his son, recalls that "Dad's chief stock-in-trade was his ability to sell you an idea, make you think it was yours, and to subtly encourage you to develop it as fast as possible. No matter what the idea, Dad had the uncanny ability to make it seem important, and to make you feel important in doing it. During his business life his motto was 'To sell is to serve, based on the twofold philosophy that people have basic needs which should be made known and available to them. In addition, salesmen have a grave responsibility to their customers for complete satisfaction and product service. The brothers, David recalls, inspired loyalty in their employees and always maintained their interest in their Indiana home town. In their day, they easily ranked with the Fishers, the Dodges and the Studebakers as the leading automotive brother teams."
For a time the existing line of Paige cars was continued. Some improvements were made and prices reduced, but the Grahams were busy creating a new series of cars bearing their name. They moved quickly and just six months after they had arrived at Paige, the new line was ready.
At the New York Automobile Show in January 1928, the Graham brothers
proudly presented their new line of Graham-Paige cars, four sixes and an eight, priced from $860 to $2485. Smallest was the 610, on a 111 inch wheelbase, powered by a 52 bhp, 175-cubic-inch six. Next was the 614, a 114 inch wheelbase model with a 207-cubic-inch six and 71 bhp. The next two models-619 and 629 on 119- and 129-inch wheelbases shared the larger 97 bhp, 288-cubic-inch powerplant, while the lone eight, the 835, used a 135-inch wheelbase chassis and a 120 bhp, 322-cubic-inch straight eight.
Features common to all Graham engines included L-head design, aluminum pistons with lnvar struts, full-length cylinder water jackets, pressure forced lubrication to camshaft bearings, crankshaft, water pump shaft and valve lifters, air cleaner and mechanical fuel pump. The sixes had seven-bearing crankshafts, though the eight had only five, and the largest six and eight also featured Lanchester vibration dampers. Graham chassis included North East starting and lighting, two-plate clutches, semi-floating axles, and external or internal hydraulic brakes, depending on the model.
But the most outstanding mechanical feature was a carryover from the last Paige eight, a Warner Gear four-speed transmission, standard on all but the cheapest G-P six. Many advantages were claimed for the unit, which was heavily promoted. First was latched out and used as a reserve or emergency gear. Second was for normal starts, while third and fourth were in effect two high gears, third useful in traffic and for brisk acceleration and fourth being direct drive.
The British press was in those days the main source of road test commentary, and G-P Sales published a little booklet capsulating their reviews of the new cars. The London Evening Standard called them "the most interesting American car(s) of the year in that they have a four-speed gear-box or a 'twin top' gear." The Sunday Times reported that "the driving of the Graham-Paige is really fascinating ... Graham-Paige has earned [our] highest approval." The Sheffield Independent found "an altogether remarkable car, with road performance of unusually appealing qualities." And the prestigious Motor called the G-P "an exceptionally attractive proposition, being possessed of a fine performance and providing the comfort of many vehicles costing nearly double."
Styling of the Graham-Paige line was handsome and functional, but in no way radical. Design of the radiator, hood, fenders and five-passenger sedan body was the work of the LeBaron Studios of Briggs Manufacturing Company. Hugo Pfau limning the Graham's development, states that the inspiration for the front end came from Hispano-Suiza, with a different look being achieved by rounding off the face of the grille and shell. It was felt that a scale drawing would not be adequate to show the concept, so a three-dimensional clay model was made for Joe Graham. Pfau believes it was one of the first times a clay model was used to present a styling idea to management. LeBaron was also responsible for a custom-bodied dual cowl phaeton and town car on the 1928-629 chassis and would produce other G-P custom bodies through the Thirties (See "LeBaron," Volume XII, Number 3). Radiator shells of the new cars bore an emblem designed by sculptor Lortdo Taft: three stylized profiles in knight's helmets, representing the three Graham brothers, mounted on a shield bearing the name of the car. "The Grahams always fancied themselves as knights in shining armor," recalled Joseph W. Frazer, a later associate.
The new cars were launched with flair. During the New York show, a lavish luncheon was held at the Hotel Roosevelt. The dining hall was decorated in a medieval motif, and dealers ,and salesmen were enlisted in the Graham-Paige legion. Besides the three brothers, speakers included Knute Rockne and Gene Tunney. If the Grahams had any doubts about their new venture, it wasn't apparent that evening, and in any case they need not have worried. The Graham Paige was a huge success, as was everything else the brothers did in 1928.
Car production climbed from 21,881 in 1927 to 73,195 in '28. As a result, the Graham-Paige set a sales record for a new make of automobile in its first year, though DeSoto topped it a year later. More cars were needed to satisfy Sales and the firm hastily engineered physical plant improvements. The old Harroun Motor Car buildings in Wayne, Michigan were acquired for use as a body plant, while another Detroit factory was taken over by the export and shipping departments. A lumber mill in Perry, Florida was obtained to supply, the hardwood used in Graham bodies, and work was begun on a new engineering building complete with four dynamometer rooms, hot, cold and silent rooms, and one of the four strobe light installations in the country. But the biggest addition was a new body, plant in Evansville, where the local citizenry saluted the Grahams on its opening in November 1928. Graham-Paige Body Corporation, which ran all the body plants, now supplied ninety percent of body requirements. In little more than a year the brothers had nearly doubled Paige facilities; employment had risen from 2840 in 1927 to 7,200, plant capacity had increased from 300 to 700 cars a day. Worldwide distributors had risen from 832 to 2270 and, most important, the Grahams had turned a $4.6 million loss in 1927 to a $1.1 million profit in 1928. The brothers, apparently, had the golden touch. Their cars were not outstandingly different, but they did offer solid value and were backed by a respected name. The public responded.
The 1929 line actually consisted of two series of models. During the Twenties and Thirties it was common practice among manufacturers to have a "first" and "second" series for each model year, the latter being the genuinely new model. Graham-Paige followed this practice, the first series 1929 cars being little different from those of 1928. Engineering, however, ignored this Sales office practice, and to them a 610 sedan was a 1928 model no matter what the flacks called it. The "real" 1929's didn't appear until January of that year, and were considerably revised. All sixes, the 612, 615 and 621, appeared on larger (112,115,121-inch) wheelbases, with the two smaller sixes rebored to increase horsepower. Eights now came in two sizes, the 827 and 837, on 127 and 137-inch wheelbases, and all engines were rubber mounted. The largest six and the eights featured Bijur centralized chassis lubrication, while all engines offered DelcoRemy ignition, internal expanding hydraulic brakes and Johnson carburetors. Styling changes were slight and included a shorter grouping of finer hood louvers and revised windshield visors on the closed models. Open cars received more attention. The company added rumble seat roadsters and five passenger phaetons to most models, and dual cowl phaetons with hood and cowl side color sweep were available in 621 and 827 models. Swank LeBaron custom bodies, sedan limousine, limousine and town car, were offered in the 837 line, and at least one style of LeBaron body continued to be available through the first series 1931 cars. Three other custom Graham-Paiges, two 837 LeBaron dual cowl phaetons and an 837 Erdmann & Rossi convertible Victoria, are the only examples of the marque currently recognized as classics by the Classic Car Club of America. One LeBaron phaeton, built for the New York show and later used by the Graham family, sported an all aluminum hand formed body mounted over a specially prepared long wheelbase chassis. It was finished in natural aluminum accented with black fenders and red undercarriage, wheels and upholstery, and its cost was reportedly $20,000. In England, a Weymann type fabric body Mulliner Sportsman's Coupe was offered on the 615 chassis, together with a four-door Saloon.
A custom G-P even found its way into the Vatican. In 1928 the Grahams were honored by Pope Pius XI for their contributions to Church and humanity by induction into the Roman Catholic Order of St. Gregory the Great. Returning the tribute, the brothers presented the Pope with a handsome LeBaron town car, which is still displayed in the Vatican Carriage Museum. By October 15th, 1929, the entire 1928 production had been surpassed, and the year would see over 77,000 cars produced. But there was a $1.5 million loss on the books, in what must have been a frustrating year. Operations at the factory were profitable, but losses appeared at company owned retail stores located in at least fifteen states. Many of these dealerships stood in the heart of automobile row, saddled with expensive real estate taxes. As the coming Depression wore on, they would become great white elephants and ultimately be sold off at enormous loss. The Grahams, like other manufacturers, could not foresee their ultimate liability, of course. From their track record, they naturally expected only continued success.
Success was theirs on the race tracks, however. In England, well-known driver and manufacturer D.M.K. Marendaz assailed the International Class B (5000-8000 cc) record at Brooklands with an 835 sedan. The 5274 cc eight and four speed were ideally suited to high-speed driving, and Marendaz duly triumphed. It was "a particularly fine performance," said The Motor, as the Graham-Paige carried "the full equipment, including two spare wheels." The records were 200km in one hour thirty-six minutes for a 76.97 mph average, and 200 miles in two hours thirty-four minutes for 77.77 mph. "The car ran with unfailing regularity ... and the final circuit was covered at 80.33 mph. The previous records stood at 62.57 mph for the 200 kilometers And 58.08 mph for 200 miles."
The Class B 200 kilometer /mile records lasted for only a few days. being broken by a six-liter Delage averaging 93.06 and 88.87 mph respectively. Marendaz returned to Brooklands to take the record back, but found that while his 835 could achieve 98 mph, it could only lap at 90. He ultimately mounted a two-seat racing body to break the Delage record at 93.88 and 92.52 mph respectively. He also broke the Class C record for 3000-4000-5000 miles and 4000-5000 kilometers in an open six-cylinder Graham-Paige at Montlhery, the last 1000 kilometers being covered at nearly 75 mph. Marendaz continued to run through late 1929 and 1930. His last effort in a G-P was at Montlhery in December 1930 where dispite horrible weather he overtook the class B 200 mile record with an average speed of 101.848 miles per hour. A try was made for the 200 km title but the car crashed in fog and was badly damaged.
Rallying also seemed to be a Graham-Paige forte: a 1929 model 619 sedan fully equipped and driven by Dr. Van Eijk defeated 92 other cars in the 1929 Montecarlo rally by traveling 1851 miles in 74 hours 17 minutes through rain, snow, ice and fog. Such feats impressed the Europeans for whom performance was a cars true test.
The first series 1930 cars were the last to bear the Graham-Paige name. The 612 was given a 3 inch longer wheelbase and a larger 207 cubic inch 62 bhp six but otherwise the line was carried over. The second series 1930 cars bore only the name "Graham," for "Paige" was reserved for a new line of commercial vehicles. (No changes were made in the corporate title, and the public somehow never accepted the change, continuing to refer to the cars as "Graham-Paige" till the end).
That the eights outnumbered the sixes in the 1930 Graham-Paige line is probably due more to plans made in 1929 than the advent of what was not yet recognized as a disastrous economic collapse in the early months of 1930. New to the line were the Standard and Special Eights on 122 and 134-inch wheelbases and powered by 100 bhp, 298.6-cubic-inch straight eights: the Standard and Special Sixes on the 115 inch wheelbase and the Custom Eight 127's and 137's were basically similar to previous models. Mild alterations included more sharply vee-d radiators, a detail shared with headlight and parking light lenses, and a three-speed transmission was installed on the Standard models. Most notable was the optional availability of non-shattering safety plate glass on any model, an innovation developed in conjunction with Libbey-Owens-Ford, in which the Grahams retained substantial interest.
The new Paige commercial cars were mounted on the Special Six chassis but fitted with the three-speed transmission. Body types included various open and closed light delivery vehicles. This extension of the brothers' interests back into truck building came as an unpleasant surprise to Chrysler Corporation, who filed suit against G-P early in 1931, contending that the agreement between the Grahams and Dodge in 1926 prohibited the brothers from manufacturing trucks in competition with Dodge for the five following years. The Grahams denied the charge, claiming the document applied only to heavy duty trucks and buses, but the whole flap became rather academic as fiscal dog days caused the Paige trucks to sell poorly. The suit was ended by mutual consent in October 1931, the Paige commercial line ceased with the 1932 models.
Graham-Paige production for 1930 followed predictable patterns of the industry: output dropped drastically, to 33,560 for the year, less than half the 1929 high, and the company lost five million dollars.
In August 1930 production began on the first series 1931 models, continuations of the current line plus some leftover 621's. When the "real" 1931 models appeared in January, the line was sharply reduced: Standard and Special Sixes remained, but the top-line Custom 834 was merely a reworked 1930 Special Eight. New was the Special 820, with the smallest eight Graham had yet offered: 3 1/8 x 4-inch bore and stroke, 245.4 cubic inches, 85 bhp, an engine that would serve as the basic eight through 1935. Prices were reduced all round: the most expensive car was the Custom 834 limousine at $2095, versus $4055 for 1930's Custom Eight 137 Lebaron town car. A new synchro-silent four-speed transmission was offered, with helically geared third and silent engagement of third and fourth. Freewheeling, that automotive fad of the early Thirties, was available later in the year. Styling refinements included a vee'd vertical bar chrome grille and single bar bumpers. Word of the new series was sent over the air waves by the Columbia Broadcasting System every Sunday evening, when one could hear poet Edgar Guest and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on the Graham Radio Hour.
Like everyone else, the Grahams attempted at first to reply to the Depression with a less expensive car, introducing their new "Prosperity Six" in the spring of' 1931. Except for a two-inch shorter wheelbase and a smaller, 70 bhp six, the new car was identical to the Standard Six. But at $785 for the coupe, Prosperity Six was the cheapest car ever offered by Graham-Paige. It made little difference, production continued to fall, totaling only 20,428 for 1931. From August through December, output consisted of first series 1932 cars, similar to the 1931 models, and leftover Special 822's. Reduced output caused the Evansville body plant and the Florida lumber mill to be gradually phased out over the next few years, leased to outside interests.
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 Northrup, 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 new car's frame was the creation of chief engineer Louis Thoms. the side rails had no kick-up at the front, and at the rear the axle passed through "banjo" or 0-shaped openings in the rails. This type construction was much stronger than conventional frames, whose flexing and deflection permitted the shifting rear axle to break loose on corduroy roads. In Thoms arrangement, the frame passed above and below the axle, dramatically increasing rigidity and control over axle movement. But the design required a lot of work to get the bugs out, according to former Graham research engineer George Delaney. "In testing we found the rear axle would hit the frame on hard bumps, so I designed huge rubber blocks laced with air holes to act as bumpers, sort of variable rate rubber springs. In order to obtain adequate axles-to-frame clearance, the front and rear springs were placed outboard of the frame, instead of underneath. This gave us plenty of room. At the front, for example, the savings in height was 2 1/2 inches, the thickness of the spring and its mountings." Part of this gain was used to eliminate the front kick-up, and the rest to lower the car. Flat side rails provided an excellent mounting for the body, whose sills and running boards were attached outside the frame.
The much stiffer frame, and a decision to mount the springs outboard of the side rails, plus a two-inch wider rear track, made the Blue Streak a car of great stability. This resulted from the combination of a low rear axle, relatively high spring location, and wider spring spacing, plus a change in the mounting of the steering gear housing which reduced a tendency to wander and kick back through the steering wheel. But Delaney recalls that early Blue Streaks placed in the hands of district sales managers often went sliding off the road-there was so little body roll compared to previous models that drivers had less warning when the back end began to lose traction.
The Blue Streak's 90bhp eight was similar to that used in the 1931 Special 820, with several important changes. An aluminum cylinder head was fitted, its configuration permitting a relatively high compression ratio with regular gasoline. There were new cam contours, dual valve springs, a resonant-type muffler for tuning out engine noise at all speeds, three-speed silent second transmission with freewheeling, adjustable (from the driver's seat) shock absorbers, and new combination pressed steel and cast iron brake drums. These "centrifuse" drums, with ring, backing plate and drum welded together, provided an aggregate length of 111 inches of braking surface. In the spring of the year, Graham, and DeSoto, became the first cars to offer low-pressure "jumbo" balloon tires as options-they were installed on about one-fifth of the eights and carried only 22 p.s.i. Blue Streak performance was demonstrated by Cannon Ball Baker, who drove a stripped convertible up Mount Washington, New Hampshire, in a record thirteen minutes, twenty-six seconds. A Graham powered racing car, mounted on the banjo frame, was entered in the 1932 Indianapolis 500 and qualified at 109 mph, but was forced to retire on the sixty first lap with a broken crankshaft. A similar Graham entered in the 1934 Indy had better luck, finishing tenth at an average speed of 95.9 mph.
On a 123-inch wheelbase, the Blue Streak Eight was available in standard and deluxe editions priced between $995 and $1170. The car received wide acclaim and carried the main hopes of the company (G-P also offered the Model 56 that year a small six with conventional styling). 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. In January the second series appeared, including a new Standard Six and Eight plus a l23-inch-wheelbase Custom Eight, all with streamlined bodies, recognizable from 1932 mainly through their two-piece sloping-V front bumpers. Improved manifolding and carburation gave the sixes and eights five more horsepower, and all engines had new four-point rubber mountings. But 1933, a year of bread lines and bank closings, was not a bright one for auto makers, and production dropped again, to 10,967, though a tiny $67,000 profit did result.
For the Grahams, if the Blue Streak couldn't itself lick the Depression woes, their company would simply have to keep pouring on more innovations, and for 1934 their answer was the supercharger. Standard on the second series Custom Eight, the Graham blower was the first on a moderately priced American production car, one could get it on the coupe for only $1245. Previously, only the likes of Stutz, Franklin and Duesenberg were associated with supercharged induction. Graham's unit was conceived by F. F. Kishline, assistant chief engineer, a close friend of Fred Schwitzer of Schwitzer-Cummins, from whom he obtained drawings of the Duesenberg blower, after which Graham's was frankly patterned. The centrifugal unit was placed between the carburetor and intake manifold, and driven through rubber bushed double universal couplings to a worm and wheel combination. The rotor shaft was mounted on plain bearings [Duesenberg used ball hearings] and lubricated by the engine pressure system. The blower was driven off the accessories shaft, and the blower wheel was a forging of special aluminum alloy.
At a running speed of' 23,000 rpm, or 5.75 times engine speed, the Graham supercharger was slow compared to the 50,000 rpm range of racing cars. But because of the speed at which it did rotate, the blower wheel acted as an atomizer, mixing and breaking up particles of fuel and distributing them homogeneously in the intake mixture. The end result was a boost in Graham horsepower from 95 to 135, and a twenty percent increase in torque, which peaked at 210 foot pounds, 2400 rpm and 45 mph, allowing excellent mid-range acceleration. Top speed exceeded 90 mph, and Britain's The Autocar reported achieving 60 mph from a standing start in just 15.8 seconds. Engine performance, said the magazine, "is extremely good, especially considering that the engine is not a monster unit. [The Graham] is not in the least noticeable as being a supercharged car in the sense to which we are accustomed on some machines. Anyone driving this Graham without knowledge of the design would find nothing in the car's behavior, no added noise, no fussiness of the engine-to denote any difference whatsoever from the general run of similar machines. Nor, as another practical point, does oil have to be added to the fuel."
Besides performance, the Graham now offered smoother engine operation at all speeds, better fuel economy and cold starting-the latter surprised Delaney, who had expected the opposite result on frosty mornings, the Custom Eight had 1/8-inch more bore ,and all eights had 1/8-inch larger valves, increasing breathing capacity to make the blower more effective, and on the supercharged cars a two stage throttle was employed to tell the driver when his engine was operating above normal output levels.
Like most new things, the blower had some bugs. Delaney remembers that pressure created by throttle opening on the early units tended to push gasoline into the crankcase and dilute the oil, while the vacuum created by closing the throttle would draw oil from the crank into the combustion chamber, but this defect was remedied before volume production began in, May of 1934. Great care was taken to assure economy and reliability, some Graham Growers went 100,000 miles without breakdown.
By midsummer, a lower-priced supercharged Special Eight was added, at $200 less than the Custom, to put the blower within the reach of more buyers. On all models of 1934, the banjo frame was stiffened via two new X members, styling remained basically the same (horizontal hood louvers were adopted on eights in mid-year) and no-draft ventilation was offered on closed cars. An add-on trunk was optional on the sedans. On balance the much improved performance added to the already excellent styling and a slight upsurge in the economy for production increase to 15,745 units. This was not enough, of course, and there was some talk of G-P taking over the tools and dies of the recently-defunct Continental Beacon, adding that four-cylinder car to the line.
Instead of the Beacon, however, the company decided to go ahead with the cheaper Standard Six which, at $595,was the price leader of the second series '35 line. The new car was powered by a smaller L-head six, 3 x 4 bore/stroke, 169.6 cubic inches and 60 bhp, and rode on a conventional frame, though outboard springs were retained. At the other end of the line, the Supercharged Eight adopted a cast aluminum manifold connecting each intake port directly with the blower outlet, adding five horsepower and better low-end performance. Other 1935 changes included a dual downdraft Stromberg carburetor, automatic electric choke, and cast iron brake drums. Unhappily, the '35 Grahams had the misfortune of being the ugliest cars to ever bear the name. Radiator grilles were higher and narrower, and on sedans the roof panel flowed in an awkward curve from the rear window down, an attempt to get away from the add-on trunk which resulted in a total lack of grace from any angle. It seemed incredible that a company could regress from the lovely Blue Streak to this monstrosity in only two years, but despite it all, the economy was up again in '35, and production rose to 18,466 for the model year. During that year, too, the decision was made to temporarily abandon all eight-cylinder car production.
Base car for 1936 was, therefore, a revamped version of the Standard Six called the Crusader. Higher up, and new to the line, were two slightly larger sixes, the Cavalier and the Supercharger, both with 217.8 cubic inches and 85 bhp standard, 112 bhp supercharged. In March a variant was offered in the mid-year Cavalier 90-A, with smaller stroke for 199.1 cubic inches and five less horsepower. Traditional Graham engine features, high compression aluminum head, lnvar strut aluminum pistons, the supercharger, were retained, and at $865 for the business coupe, the supercharger series was priced $230 less than the comparable eight of 1935.
A word about the manufacture of Graham engines. While company literature advertised the powerplants as "Graham-built," many believed that the firm actually used Continental engines, especially since "Continental" was stamped obscurely on the blocks. Delaney explains that G-P bought the stripped engines from Continental, assembled up to the head, then added its own factory-built aluminum head, supercharger, carburetor, wiring and accessories. Graham itself tested and installed all engines, and whatever role Continental did play was exclusively to Graham specifications.
The 1936 Graham could not help but improve in styling, but it looked little different than most of the cars of the day, in a word, indistinguished. From a position of styling leadership in 1932, Graham had fallen to mediocrity. Coupes (with and without rumble seats) and two and four door sedans (with and without trunks) constituted the available body styles on the 115-inch wheelbase. A Supercharger custom sedan was the most expensive model at $1170.
There was, in fact, good reason why 1936 Grahams looked like other people's products; bodies were identical to the Reo Flying Cloud. This strange turn occurred as a result of merger negotiations that took place between Auburn, Pierce-Arrow, Reo, Hupp and Graham during 1934-35, during which Reo asked Hupp and Graham if either would be interested in supplying them motor parts in exchange for body designs and dies. Hupp wasn't, but Graham was and in fact, they wanted to go even further. On July 15th, 1935, Robert Graham proposed the creation of a new sales company to market Reo and Graham products, and the possible formation of a body company to build commercial units, apparently the Grahams saw in the Reo truck yet another chance to reenter that end of the industry. But the conservative Reo board was reluctant to give up that much independence, and all Graham could salvage from the talks was Reo's permission to use Flying Cloud bodies on Graham cars, for a royalty of $7.50 per unit. Certainly Graham-Paige seemed the most merger-minded of the potential partners, an indication of their doubts about survival as a lone independent.
The expensive to manufacture banjo frame was abandoned with the 1936 models although engineers retained outboard springs. With the Reo body, conventional frame and ordinary styling, the only remaining feature of distinction was the supercharger. And some skeptics were beginning to doubt the value of that. Still, The Motor found the blown Graham praiseworthy, timing their car at 90 mph through the quarter mile and leaping to 60 in sixteen seconds. The Autocar's example did 0-60 in only 14.5 seconds. Either way, it was a fine showing against the 20.6 seconds scored by the magazine's Auburn test car, or 20,1 seconds for a f.w.d. Cord. Even in its supercharged 1937 form, the Cord's 0-60 time was only a second lower than the Graham six. "In performance," said The Autocar, "this Graham provides a surprise. It does considerably more that is anticipated at the outset, being definitely above average in its size class, so that the supercharger seems to justify its presence very, thoroughly exceptional performance is apparent not only in the usual test figures but also in everyday driving of the car."
Graham was no slouch in economy either. A Supercharger with four passengers and their luggage was Sweepstakes Winner of the Gilmore-Yosemite Economy Run, predecessor to the Mobil event, with 26.67 miles per gallon, surpassing thirty rivals in seven classes. (Actually a Willys 77 scored better mileage, but Graham was the winner on a ton-miles basis.)
All this provided ammunition to dealers, who needed it to convince prospects that a blown six was worth the same money as an unblown eight from Pontiac, Olds, Buick, Hudson or Nash. To some extent it worked, and despite ho-hum styling, production increased to 19,205 for the year, the Supercharger accounting for nearly a third of total output, compared with only 6.5 percent during 1935.
European manufacturers continued to interest themselves in Grahams. In England, Lammas, Ltd. produced sports touring cars-sedan, roadster and convertible coupe, of traditional British lines on the Graham chassis, with offset cab and air cleaner to achieve a lower hood line, and increased piston stroke for 128 bhp at 4400 rpm. In France, Type C-30 Voisin cars of the late Thirties sported supercharged Graham engines.
To reduce overhead, the body plant in Wayne closed at the end of the 1936 model run and the Evansville body plant and Florida lumber mill were sold. Production was concentrated at the main factory in Dearborn. The '37 Grahams were little changed; frontal styling was reworked slightly, and a separate Custom Supercharger series was added at the top of the line. Wheelbases were increased slightly, the Custom Supercharger retained the 217.8 cubic-inch six, the standard Supercharger shifted to a 106 bhp blown version of the Cavalier 90-A engine. The latter was dropped after 1937, and the 217 served as basic powerplant through the end of production.
In the late spring of 1937, a convertible coupe on the smaller wheelbase was added to Graham's offerings. Available in all but the Crusader series, the rag top was several inches lower than the standard coupes and added a needed touch of sportiness to the plain design. Only a few were produced. They were the company's last production convertibles. The Supercharger again won the Gilmore Economy Run, besting twenty-three cars to retain the championship, and production rose to 21,318, nearly half of which were supercharged.
Fractional volume increases fell far short, of course, of profitable operations, and the Grahams explored several additional ways of making money. Deciding to cease production of the Crusader with the 1937 models, they sold its body dies and engine tooling to Nissan of Japan for $390,000. Nissan manufactured a Crusader-based car until the early Forties, and a truck with the Graham-based engines until the Fifties. The Grahams also began to design and test the Graham-Bradley, farm tractor to be distributed by Sears, Roebuck, and its production was expected to help profitably, utilize excess plant capacity. But only 243 units were assembled during 1937. Another sideline was the building of a marine version of the supercharged engine. This too was without visible reward.
Automobiles, beyond a doubt, were still the only way to make it for Graham-Paige. What was needed, directors felt, was a dramatically new-looking car that would reestablish Graham's styling leadership and complement their continued advantages in economy and performance. 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.
There was only one model available now, a six-passenger, four-door sedan mounted on a 120-inch wheelbase. A beautiful three-window coupe appeared in a catalog, but ,unfortunately never reached production. The sedan was offered in four series-Standard, Special, Supercharger and Custom Supercharger-priced from $1065 to $1380.
The frame was new, find even though the rear floor was two inches lower, the need for a tunnel was eliminated by the adoption of hypoid rear axle gearing. Smaller side frame rails aided in height reduction, and in additional cross beam running through the X-member was added to offset any loss in frame rigidity. The tunnel in the driver's compartment has kept at a minimum by turning the transmission on its side, and the Graham Gyrolator, a sway bar attached to the frame and front axle introduced in 1936, was continued. A new, triple venturi tube carburetor was designed to eliminate lag in acceleration on supercharged models, on which dual exhaust manifolds and pipes were fitted. The '38's also featured an improved cooling system supplying more water to the valve seats, a larger crankshaft and a larger clutch.
Spirit of Motion interiors featured 57-inch-wide seats, facing a flush gauge and instrument dashboard with it special speedometer with a double hand, indicating both car speed and engine revolutions. A tricky option was the Evans Vacuumatic gearshift, also available that year on the Nash and Studebaker, in which vacuum power was used to assist the driver in changing gears and the lever itself was a short shaft extending mysteriously under the instrument panel. With a pistol grip parking brake, the front compartment was free of annoying levers.
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.
With the exception of 1933, Graham-Paige had been losing money since their second year of car production. The continuous flow of red ink had by now exhausted its cash reserves. Graham was almost broke. During the spring, company officials scrambled madly to scrape together enough money to carry on, production had been suspended for a time in February. Prices were reduced $40 to $90 in an attempt to stimulate business, which was practically nonexistent. The only bright spot was the good old Gilmore Economy run, where a Supercharger took first place for the third straight year. At the wheel was veteran driver Clay Moore, who had piloted the 1936 and 1937 winners. It was a lonely bright light in a dim season, and it was vigorously advertised by G-P. Too vigorously, as it turned out, for the Federal Trade Commission, which censured Graham for misleading advertising. The company agreed to cease its claim that the car would go faster than any car in America, and that because of the use of a Fram oil filter on supercharged models, oil needed to be changed only, twice a year. It also was obliged to stop representing the car as the "Official" U.S. economy champion, or otherwise implying that it had been so designated by any branch of the government. Graham-Paige was clearly guilty of stretching the facts. There were no authoritative tests comparing the top speeds of competitive cars and the economy run victories did not exactly make the Graham the "official" economy champ. And even the owner's manual recommended changing the oil every 2000 miles, hardly twice a year for most motorists.
Meanwhile business worsened. Tractor production saw only 1532 shipments for the year, and during the summer, officials headed by Joe Graham met with suppliers and creditors to arrange financing needed to carry the company into 1939. Joe Graham himself provided $560,000 from his personal fortune to keep the company going, and despite the poor reception given the sharknose design, his firm had little choice but to continue it. The '39's were thus practically identical to the '38's, except that running boards were optional and the tricky vacuum gearshift was replaced by an optional column mounted lever. Two new body types, a two-door sedan and "combination" (club) coupe were added, both featuring slim chrome upper door and window frames like Ford's new Mercury, Grahams were available as standard models with a supercharger group, custom equipment group or both, enabling dealers to sell a twelve car line using only three basic models. As a cost-cutting device, engines were fitted with cast iron cylinder heads.
Some interesting custom bodies were based on the sharknose styled Grahams, though the company had never nodded toward the carriage trade. In Europe a few convertible cabriolets and three-window coupes were made by the Belgian coachbuilder Vesters and Neirinck. Saoutchik of Paris built a striking convertible coupes for the Paris Salon; this car, once used by General Charles de Gaulle featured cut-down doors uniquely hinged to swing open parallel to the body side. In New York, a customer paid the Manhattan Graham agency $3200 for a supercharged town car-more than bizarre with its sharknose styling-built by Corbett & Company of Queens.
The new body styles and a healthier economy enabled production to rise to 6557 for the model year, plus 468 tractors, but this was hardly enough. The firm celebrated its tenth anniversary in 1939 by shutting down the plant at the end of July, having reached a complete standstill.
The crisis was now at hand. The dealer network had shrunk to only 460 shaky agencies, only 292 of which handled Grahams exclusively. Money was short and the company was stuck with a product whose styling had been firmly rejected by the public two Years running. Many in Detroit were betting the firm would never recover. But Joe Graham had one last trump. as replacement for the sharknose was clearly needed, and the possibility for one arose with Norman de Vaux, general manager of Moribund Hupp, whose plant had also closed that summer. De Vaux had persuaded Hupp to build a small car called the Skylark, based on old 1936-37 Cord body dies, but Hupp had been to get the new car into volume production despite over 6000 orders and 1939 assemblies had included only thirty-five handbuilt prototypes. Like Graham, Hupp lingered in a twilight world of suspended animation. De Vaux explained what happened in a 1963 letter to the writer.
"In 1937 I conceived the idea of bringing out a new De Vaux car by utilizing tools made by Cord and changing the car over from front wheel drive to rear, conventional rear drive. I finally bought the tools from the receiver of the Auburn Automobile Co. for $45,000.
"I first approached Joe Graham with the idea. He was sold on my plan but Graham had just spent quite a sum of money on new tools for their 1938 car, otherwise a deal could have been made.
"I then went to Hupp and interviewed W.A. MacDonald, vice-president of sales. He liked the idea and arranged a directors' meeting in Chicago. The
outcome was a deal in which I gave them the use of the tools and went in general manager of Hupp. The contract was for two years. My old engineer Waldo Gernandt, working with Briggs designer John Tjaarda, revamped the front end and installed a conventional rear axle.
"After Hupp started production in a limited way Joe Graham telephoned me on a Sunday morning asking Mrs. de Vaux and me out to dinner, he asked me if I still had ownership of the Cord tools, he wanted to build the car, changing the front end some and agreeing to make a new one piece top (never done). Cord used ,about seven dies in making their top,
"I made a deal with him for a block of Graham-Paige stock. The outcome was and that both the Hupp Skylark and the Graham Hollywood were built using the Cord tools owned by de Vaux".
At meetings between Hupp and Graham officials in late summer, 1939, details of the joint manufacturing plan were hammered out. Hupp needed relief from the companies crushing burden of producing cars by itself, and Graham badly needed a new car to supplement the poor-selling sharknose. An agreement was reached whereby Graham agreed to build the Skylark for Hupp on a contract basis, while receiving the rights to use the distinctive Cord-Skylark dies to produce a similar car of its own, to be called the Hollywood. Hupp would manufacture its own engine and chassis parts but the Skylark would be built alongside the Grahams in the Graham-Paige plant. Both companies retained their own separate organizations, including sales, engineering and administration. "The manufacturing contract with Graham," stated Hupp president J. Walter Drake, ". . . cuts manufacturing costs for both companies. It does not mean a merger of the two corporations. The Hupp-Graham contract is a most favorable one for both of us as careful checking all production costs demonstrated that great savings could be made by combining our manufacturing program.
Graham's decision to build the Hollywood was obviously one of desperation. The sharknose was dismal failure and a replacement had to be found. The company had neither time nor money to tool up a new car, so using the Skylark tooling was a convenient and necessary move. The Hollywood had definite sales possibilities that declining Hupp had been unable to realize, and would give Graham dealers something different to sell in 1940. Skylark production would help utilize the Dearborn factory capacity. It might seem strange that two different companies would elect to build virtually identical cars based on a defunct company's obsolete body dies, but Hupp and Graham were desperate and that makes for strange decisions. Getting ready to build the Hollywood was no easy task. Months of seeming inactivity passed as the cumbersome job of removing the dies from the Hupp plant and trucking them over to the Graham factory was completed and both companies arranged for financing, including R.F.C. loans. Once again Joe Graham put in more of his own funds. Top management was reorganized whereby vice-president Robert Graham retired to the Graham Farms and August Johnson, Pacific Coast distributor who retailed ten percent of 1939 production, was brought in to head sales. The new managers optimistically predicted 40,000 Grahams and 20,000 Hupps for 1940.
In that year Graham would market two distinct lines of cars, the Sharknose (renamed the Senior, again in standard and supercharged versions with a less radical grille angle) and the Hollywood. Early literature displayed a racy Senior convertible, but it never reached production. The Hollywood, of course, made most of the news; it was identical to the Skylark except for minor details and its blown engine developed 120 hp. The air cleaner and carburetor were offset due of to height restrictions under its low hood, and the unit body was built from the old Cord dies from the cowl rearward. Fenders, hood and front end sheet metal were new, and the wheelbase was 115 inches, ten inches shorter than the Cord. The frame was shortened from the cowl forward, giving the front fenders a bobtailed appearance, and today the Cord is rightly recognized as the classic. But a respected art magazine of the day was impressed with the new cars, even going so far as saying they looked better than the original. Though the design was not a new one, the Hollywood attracted a lot of attention-while driving a prototype back from a trip to Indiana, Joe Graham was stopped by police in Michigan. No ticket, the cops just wanted a look it the racy new car.
The lone Hollywood body style was the four-door sedan, priced at $1250, though one or two convertible prototypes were built.
It was not until April, 1940, that the Graham plant reopened, building Seniors at first, turning to Skylark-Hollywood models in late May at the rate of about thirty a day. "Because of new manufacturing processes in building the radically styled Hollywood, the difficulty, of gearing up the plant was more acute than in building a conventional car" announced R.E. Stone, vice-president for manufacturing. "Since both Graham Senior and Hollywood cars can come down the same assembly lines, many new plant arrangement had to be made. The Hollywood, with its frame and body integral, cuts into the main assembly line well beyond the starting point from an overhead suspended sub-assembly line".
But it was the makeshift qualities of the old Cord dies that held car production at a disappointingly low level. In mid-July, the plant swung into the 1941 lines, and the sharknose was dropped. Hollywood horsepower was upped to 125 on the supercharged model, and its price was reduced to $1045. Minor trim changes occurred, and a lower-priced Hollywood Custom (originally to be called the Clipper) was added to the line at only $895, equipped with a 93 bhp unsupercharged six.
Alas, the 1941 Skylark was in production only a few weeks before an exhausted Hupp called it quits and withdrew from the joint operation after only 319 units, most of which were eventually sold off as 1941 models. Hupp was in such straits that they underwent receivership beginning in October 1940, before emerging was a solvent concern. Graham was in better condition, but just barely. Hollywood production continued through early September, when the plant was closed "temporarily". It never reopened to build automobiles. After much soul searching it was announced in November that Graham-Paige had suspended automobile production because it was said, of the national defense emergency. President Graham was hopeful of resuming Hollywood production when parts and materials were again easily obtainable from suppliers, but for the moment the company, was going to concentrate on defense contracts. More plainly, Graham had abandoned cars in order to go after government defense business, where officials saw the chance of making the first profit in many long years.
Of the 2859 Grahams built that, final year, 1000 were 1940 Seniors, the remainder '40 and '41 Hollywoods. Indeed, the entire Skylark-Hollywood project was pretty much a failure. The total number of cars built was less than the number of 810/812 Cords. There just wasn't enough money available to adequately finance production, and the old Cord dies were pitifully unsuited to mass production techniques. Tops, for example, had to be pieced together from seven different stampings, welded, leaded over and filed smooth. The cars themselves were somewhat cheaply made and the Hollywood, despite its Cord heritage, is not generally considered a true example of Graham quality. Toward the end of the year the Graham parts business was sold to Dallas Winslow and moved to Auburn, Indiana. Winslow had also bought the Hupp parts operation earlier that year.
Strangely, the Skylark-Hollywood cars might also have been the basis for a new Franklin. A few years after Franklin entered receivership in 1934, their former chief engineer Edward S. Marks and former research engineer Carl T. Doman acquired the use of the Franklin name and patents, and designed a new air-cooled eight to revive the marque. "But there was never enough financial interest to undertake a full new car program," says David Doman, Carl's son. "The engine was an F-head, 322 cid, eight-cylinder with in-block design-very modern for its year. However, financial problems only allowed the building of one engine. This engine was originally tested in a 1934 Graham car. I understand it was run 50,000 miles,
The company was building truck engines at the time and had hopes of building the engines for installation in vehicles of other manufacturers-in Graham, Reo, Hupp, Auburn, etc. Since they owned the Franklin name, the car would be known as the Franklin Olympic.
"During 1938-39 Franklin became involved with the White House truck and aircraft engine manufacturing programs as well as some military work. My father never gave up the idea that a new Franklin car could be created. I recall being in Detroit with him some time in early, 1940 while he was visiting Stinson Aircraft in Wayne. During that visit he spent some time at Graham discussing the possible plan for a new Franklin based on the Skylark-Hollywood car. Franklin had planned to build a prototype vehicle with the 8B-322 engine and eventually a small new engine. I'm not sure if the [prototype] was ever completed in Syracuse before the termination of Graham car production. We had a Graham Hollywood at the plant during the war and l am sure it was the car that was bought for the engine installation. But I don't remember if the 8B-322 was ever installed. The only thing I do recall about the Graham was that the visibility was very poor and the company nurse was always damaging the fenders". Dave still has the experimental engine, and is currently involved in putting it into a Hollywood which he has acquired. So we could have had a Franklin as well as a Hupp and a Graham off the Cord dies. My how they got around.
Exactly what happened to those dies is a question that has fascinated enthusiasts everywhere. There are recurring rumors they were sold to Japan (like the Crusader tooling), but efforts to trace them have proved futile. Most likely Graham got rid of them after ending car production, but it is unclear who actually owned the dies-Graham, Hupp, or de Vaux. With a war on, no one had any use for them, and odds are theyre gone, casualties of some scrap drive. But there is, the barest chance they may be lurking somewhere, awaiting discovery as the find of the decade for Graham enthusiasts.
By the spring of 1941, Graham-Paige officials were able to report considerable progress toward profits. Nearly $20 million in orders for aircraft and marine engine parts and naval ordnance were on hand. Half the main plant was leased to Chrysler for its defense business while part of the administration building was rented to the Automotive Committee for Air Defense and the Tucker Aircraft Corporation. In his annual report, president Graham commented, "Operations for the year 1940 have shown a loss of $1,484,149. Principally, this loss was a result of a lack of sufficient working capital to finance material releases far enough in advance to operate continuously and profitably, and to adequately advertise our product. In September we gave up motor car production in favor of a more profitable program of armament production which has been steadily expanding and progressing. Your directors have given careful thought to plans for the future and have decided that the capital requirements of an automobile factory are so enormous that we should permanently retire from manufacturing complete automobiles." That statement was the obituary of the Graham car, and logically this should be the end of the story. It isn't.
The first obligation of any company, of course, is to make money, and in 1941 Graham-Paige made its first profit since 1933. Having seen through the conversion from cars to armaments, Joe Graham retired as president in January 1942, succeeded by R.J. Hodgson, former manager of the Detroit office of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. For the first time no one in the Graham family was directly involved in management.
After Pearl Harbor, the entire automobile industry swung over to war work, and Graham-Paige's most remembered defense product was the amphibious tractor (LVT), nicknamed the "Alligator." The huge LVT's terrified Japanese during Marine landings at Guadalcanal: the Orientals called them "sea demons that walk on land." Other war products included precision components for aircraft engines, PT boat engines and naval torpedoes. For its defense effort the company was awarded the Army-Navy "E" pennant.
But the future was abruptly altered in August 1944, when Joseph Washington Frazer, former president of Willys-Overland, and his associates assumed control of Graham-Paige by purchasing 530,000 shares of company stock from founder ,Joe Graham, with options on an additional 300,000. Frazer was elected chairman of the Graham-Paige board and, reversing all expectations of the past several years, announced that the company would resume automobile manufacture after the war with a completely new car.
The full story of Graham-Paige's last car, the Frazer, and its relationship with Kaiser-Frazer Corporation, is told in the new Automobile Quarterly Library Series book. Last Assault on Detroit, and was recounted in some detail in AUTOMOBILE Quarterly, Volume IX, Number 3. A brief synopsis will suffice here.
The new car was called "Frazer" rather than "Graham" as Sales doubted the appeal of a name already defunct. Frazer quickly had Graham humming with activity. A new engineering staff was hired and Howard Darrin came in as stylist for the postwar car. Recruiting began on a planned 4000-outlet dealer organization, and an ambitious advertising campaign was launched to inform the public of developments. A farm equipment line was planned, including the famous Rototiller. While looking for financial backing, Frazer met Henry J. Kaiser who also had plans for a postwar automobile. The two agreed to work together and in August 1945 formed the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation to build a new Kaiser car. A complex joint operating agreement between Kaiser-Frazer and Graham-Paige was worked out for the use of Willow Run, the huge ex-bomber factory leased by the companies for manufacturing. Two Kaisers were to be built for every Frazer, the latter remaining a Graham-Paige product, and G-P was thus required to finance one-third of Willow Run operations. Joe Frazer became president of both companies and Henry Kaiser chairman of Kaiser-Frazer.
Very soon, however, Graham began to lose its corporate identity. Trading largely on Henry Kaiser's vast reputation as an industrial miracle man, K-F generated and received most of the publicity and the public soon forgot about Graham-Paige. Many believed Kaiser-Frazer would build both cars, especially when the Willow Run acquisition was announced.
But while K-F was making the headlines, Graham's design team was hurriedly finishing the new automobile. First displayed at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York in January 1946, the new Frazer and similar looking Kaiser (Henry had laid aside his own car plans momentarily for the advantage of quick production using Graham's design) were revolutionary in styling with their long, flowing continuous-form fenders and minimal brightwork. Public reception was fantastic, stock of both companies soared, and the first production Frazer, powered by a 226.2-cubic-inch 100 bhp Continental engine, rolled off the line in June. Volume production was achieved by December.
With dealers and the public clamoring for cars, it looked as if Graham-Paige, through its K-F connection, was on the verge of a comeback, but the enormous costs associated with designing and manufacturing a brand-new car rapidly ate away at Graham's assets. Unlike K-F, who had Henry Kaiser's magic name and almost unlimited credit, Graham-Paige was unable to raise much additional capital. When it became apparent that Graham would he unable to finance its one-third share of Willow Run expenses, the company decided once again to quit the car business. On February 5th, 1947, G-P's stockholders approved the transfer of all their automotive assets to Kaiser-Frazer in return for 750,000 shares of K-F stock and other considerations. During 1946, G-P had lost nearly $7 million on car production.
Ironically, when Graham finally quit auto making for good there were over 275,000 orders on hand valued at over $420 million, nearly four times the peak production of 1929. Many postwar car orders proved to be spurious, of course, and others were dropped as the big companies got back into high volume output.
Kaiser-Frazer themselves had over a million orders by 1947, yet had produced less than three-quarters of that amount over a decade of operation when they expired in the mid-Fifties. Only 6476 Frazer cars were built by Graham-Paige from June 1946 through K-F's takeover (plus 2464 with Graham-Paige labels, released after-the-fact) and on the same day of their sale of assets to Kaiser-Frazer, Graham-Paige withdrew from the Automobile Manufacturers Association. Still, when assessing the company's postwar automotive effort it must be remembered that the Frazer design was entirely a Graham-Paige undertaking, and thus it was that Graham-Paige put Henry Kaiser in the automobile business.
Soon after ending car production, Graham moved out of Willow Run to a plant in York, Pennsylvania, and continued to make farm machinery for a while through its subsidiary, the Frazer Farm Equipment Corporation. In 1949 the farm division was sold, and by 1952 the company had disposed of its K-F stock and transformed itself into a closed investment corporation, dropping the word "Motors" from the corporate title. Headquarters were moved to New York and Frazer retired in 1954. Finally in 1962, Graham-Paige Corporation changed its name to that of its recently-acquired operating subsidiary, the Madison Square Garden Corporation. A new Garden was completed in the Sixties, and circuses and sporting events are now the chief concern of the officers and directors of the former automobile firm. The company owns the New York Rangers Hockey Club, the New York Knickerbockers Basketball Club, and the New York Soccer Club as well.
Today little remains of the Graham brothers' automotive efforts. The main factory in Dearborn was used by Chrysler for the manufacture of DeSotos and Imperials until 1961, when it was sold. A large part of the plant still stands, although half the main office has been torn down. A tile company now occupies the old engineering building and a discount store rents space where Blue Streaks and Sharknoses once rolled down the line.
The brothers, too, are gone. After leaving the automobile business Robert developed the community of BalHarbour Village north of Miami Beach, dividing his time between Indiana and Florida until his death in 1967. Joseph engaged in oil and gas drilling ventures after his retirement to Washington, Indiana in 1942, dying in 1970 at the age of eighty-seven. For the Graham family, life has returned to what it was at the turn of the century, at Graham Farms, Inc., where a new generation of Graham brothers raises cattle, hogs, sheep and poultry and grows a variety of grains. There is also a prosperous feed business and a cheese plant at Elnora, Indiana. Thus continues a 150-year tradition of agricultural achievement.
To be successful in one career is often enough for any man, but each of the Graham brothers was prominent in a variety of undertakings large and small. Their cars enjoyed an all too brief popularity, then met the same inexorable fate as every other small producer. One could make the point that it was the Sharknose that really crippled the company, but in a larger sense the Graham was a victim of the increasing centralization of the industry, and the company's abortive attempt to reenter the field with the Frazer proved just how closed the industry had become. So it is that the contributions of the Grahams survive in the Dodge truck and the ubiquitous glass bottle, rather than with the automobile, with which might be said they came, they saw, and they were conquered.