18 August 2008

1940 Graham Hollywood Convertible

For Graham, in 1940, the road to Hollywood was paved with good intentions. It began with the demise of Errett Loban Cord’s automotive empire, Auburn Automobile Co. In August of 1938, one year after Cord shut the doors of his Auburn, Ind., plant, entrepreneur Norman deVaux met with Victor Emmanuel, receiver for Auburn Automobile, and purchased the tools and dies for the acclaimed 1936-37 Cord, intending to start a new car company.

It was deVaux’s idea to install a conventional rear-drive axle, transmission and a smaller power plant, as opposed to the expensive and/or troublesome front-wheel drive system, pre-selector transmission and Lycoming V-8 power plant that were installed in the Cord. Of course, such an endeavor required a large amount of capital. Failing to find interest in starting a new company, he met with Graham-Paige President Joseph Graham (the oldest of three Graham brothers). Graham had just introduced a beautiful new Spirit of Motion “sharknosed” car and, being rather financially strapped himself, couldn’t consider another project. He did, however, steer deVaux to Hupmobile, where deVaux met with Vice President W.A. MacDonald and discussed the opportunity to capitalize on the good looks of the Cord combined with the reliability of Hupp underpinnings. MacDonald agreed, put deVaux on the payroll with a two-year contract as general manager, and told him to go forward with the idea.

Hupp’s 1939 models were introduced in October 1938, and a prototype of deVaux’s Cord-based sedan was unveiled as well. It was built on a 115-inch wheelbase (10 inches shorter than the Cord), powered with Hupp’s 101hp L-head Junior Six engine and was promised in three different body styles – four-door sedan, five-passenger convertible, and a two-passenger convertible. Its design, however, with the grille extending back to the cowl, was too much like the original Cord. Hupp engineer Waldo Gernandt worked with Briggs stylist John Tjaarda to design something new and distinctive, with the overall design impressing the American Federation of Art, which gave it an award in 1939 for being “…cleanly and unfalteringly designed.”

Because the Cord body dies were not well-suited for mass production, Hupp had a hard time getting the car into production. With more than 6,000 orders by the summer of 1939, there were still only 35 hand-built cars assembled. The top alone was an amalgamation of seven stampings, and the amount of work involved in welding and finishing was making the car’s $900 targeted price unobtainable.

Meanwhile, back at Graham’s Willow Run headquarters, it was clear that the company’s financial problems weren’t going to be solved by the Spirit of Motion cars, even though the car’s radical design was considered quite beautiful. Many say that the award-winning (four first-place or grand prize concours awards and accolades from MoTor magazine) and highly regarded car, nicknamed Sharknose sometime in the 1950s, was rejected by the public as being too radical or just plain ugly. However, the rejection probably had more to do with the recession, Graham’s lack of a strong dealer network and the fact that the six-cylinder car (the most powerful on the market) cost more than some eights. Graham may also have been perceived as just another collapsing independent, giving people a reason to stay away in droves and not wanting to buy something that might become an orphan.

Evidently Graham didn’t see that as the problem and gave deVaux a call to help Hupp build the Skylark in exchange for the rights to build a sister car with Graham’s name and a slightly different front-end design. Graham also intended to smooth out production problems by developing a single-stamp, one-piece top that would also reduce its cost. Hupp agreed, and Graham would soon be building the Hupp Skylark (with Hupp-supplied engines and trim) and the Graham Hollywood side by side. Each company, as expected, was to be responsible for its own sales, marketing, engineering and administration, and both companies would offer the cars for roughly $1,100.

The problems associated with moving tooling from the Hupp plant and getting it installed at the Graham factory pushed Graham’s regular car production to April 1940, and the Hollywood/Skylark didn’t start until May. In addition, development costs for producing dies for the one-piece top were too expensive to pursue. Adding to the complicated mess happening at the Graham plant, managers arranged for the conventional body-on-frame-constructed sharknosed cars to be built on the same line as the integral body/frame-constructed Hollywood/Skylark.

Once production got underway, the virtually hand-built Skylark/Hollywood bodies moved the lines along at a snail’s pace. While Hupp was in dire financial straits, Graham-Paige was literally on its way to the emergency room as well (Joe Graham poured hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money into the company to keep it alive). Due to poor sales and through no fault of its own, the Sharknose was called a dismal failure, and the company killed it after the 1940 production.

The Hollywood and Skylark were built on the same assembly line for three months. During the last week of July when 1940 production stopped, only 291 Hupps had gone down the assembly line. A few more were built for the 1941 model year for a total of 354 (including the hand-built cars of 1939). Hupmobile filed for bankruptcy in October, while Graham continued building its Hollywood through September with its 1941 models. But, like Hupp, Graham called it quits for automobile production, instead focusing its efforts on defense contracts and the opportunity to make a profit for the first time since 1933.

Just 1,860 Hollywoods were built during that five-month production run. It had been predicted – hoped – that production figures for the Graham Hollywood would reach 40,000 units, with half as many Skylarks to be built. The total number of “mass-produced” Skylark/Hollywoods built – 2,214 – didn’t even equal the number of hand-made 810/812 Cords, which was fewer than 3,000 albeit during a two-year time span compared to Graham’s frustrating five months.

During planning stages of producing a car, full-size prototypes are built, and both Hupp and Graham did just that with their convertible ideas. Luckily, both cars survive. The 1939 Hupp Skylark convertible was recently restored and is owned by Thomas Hincz, Kenosha, Wis. Our feature car, the 1940 Graham Hollywood convertible, has also been restored. Its first owner was Joe Graham’s son, Charles, a recent college graduate working at Graham-Paige when the car was built. When the plant closed down in 1940, he bought it for $750. His father used the car during the war when Charles was sent overseas with the U.S. Army. However, upon his return after three years, “it was all fixed up and looked like new again.” Charles moved to Florida and the car followed him there.

In 1955, after losing a place to store the car, Charles gave the Hollywood convertible to a former Graham-Paige mechanic. Although Charles had requested first right of refusal should the mechanic ever decide to part with it, the mechanic never followed through and Charles lost touch with the car after it was sold in 1968.

This was probably just as well, as the Hollywood was a real mess by that time, according to Dave Parr of Terre Haute, Ind. Parr purchased the car sight unseen and said that in addition to the rust, it had been in a front-end collision and was now missing its top irons. Disappointed, he immediately sold the car to Clyde Rollins, who had it restored.

Current owner, Ken Dunsire of Fort Wayne, Ind., had the car in his crosshairs when it first became available in 1968. His interest in Graham automobiles started during WWII. His grandparents owned a 1936 Graham Supercharged sedan. The Graham became the Dunsire family car – in addition to a 1935 Graham that his father purchased after the war. Ken purchased a 1939 Graham Supercharger sedan in 1951 but longed for a Hollywood.

In 1983, Dunsire’s dream to own such a car was realized when he purchased the Hollywood Supercharged at that year’s Harrah’s auction. It needed a total restoration, so he purchased a second Hollywood that year, one that could be driven, from collector/historian Karl Zahm. Several other Grahams were purchased during the next few years, and he’s also built up a serious collection of Graham memorabilia.

In the mid-1970s the Hollywood convertible was again offered with a price in the mid-$20,000 range, which was more than he was willing to pay. It was offered two or three more times in the 1980s at ever-increasing prices by the same owner. Gary Casterline bought the car in 1989, and with the help of his father, restored it. Casterline offered it to Dunsire in 1997 and again in 2002 at prices still deemed to be too much. However, considering the hours and expense Casterline put into his restoration, it was understandable. Dunsire realized that after 35 years, if he was ever going to own the car, he’d better act. And act he did. Upon taking delivery, he immediately had the car completely dismantled in Canada by Graham expert Doug Greer to correct problems with the body and to make some mechanical repairs. Twenty-one months later, it won a First Junior at the AACA Fall Meet in Jeffersonville, Ind., which is where we got the photos.


2 Reader Comments

  • 1
    scot carr United States March 3, 2014 at 01:38
    ~ great article, very informative.
  • 2
    David Newton Syracuse, Utah April 21, 2014 at 12:12
    My father, Howard, bought a basket case 1941 Conv. in 1963 in Concord, CA. He restored the car as best he could with no information available at the time. I was 16 when he began the project and I drove it far more than he did. He sold the car to someone in Pennsylvania in the very early 1970s. As I remember the lower part of the grill was covered and it had a 2 brl. carb on the supercharger. The transmission had a parking brake on the back and an overdrive. As near as we could figure the rear-end ration was about 4:56. I wonder what ever happened to it. We were never sure if it was a factory car or a custom.

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