Gear Head Tuesday -1941 Graham Hollywood

Gear Head

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 1941 Graham Hollywood Supercharged – photos from Bring A Trailer

The 1941 Graham Hollywood Supercharged up for auction at Bring A Trailer sent me on another trip down Memory Lane to the Texas panhandle town of Tulia. The year was 1961. I was attending Tulia High School. The High School algebra teacher, Sam Appleton, retired from teaching and opened a Studebaker dealership on the west side of the town square across from the Swisher County court house. Bad timing, as it turned out.

“You titled this 1941 Graham Hollywood Supercharged and you start off by talking about Studebakers?!?!”

Hang on! I will get to the Graham! You will see the connection!

Studebaker, always one of my favorite car companies – I have a soft spot for the orphan makes – had managed to elude death’s grip by introducing the compact Lark for the 1959 model year. From the dismal and money-hemorrhaging 44,759 cars and trucks the company built in 1958, the Lark brought Studebaker volume up to a profitable 160,826 cars plus 10,909 trucks for 1959.

It wouldn’t last: in 1960 Detroit’s “Big Three” countered Studebaker’s Lark and American Motors’ successful Rambler with compact cars of their own:  Chevrolet’s Corvair and Ford’s Falcon were joined by Chrysler’s offering, the Valiant, which initially wasn’t branded as a Plymouth and was intended to be sold by dealers of all Chrysler makes. In spite of the new competition, South Bend rolled 133,984 vehicles off the assembly lines for the 1960 model year. For 1961, production fell to 92,434 units and Studebaker was in trouble again … So Mr. Appleton had opened the wrong dealership in the wrong town (only some 6,000 people) at the wrong time. What a way to lose your retirement!

'52 Studebaker Starliner

Aunt Susie had a ‘52 Studebaker Commander Starliner.

Because of my fondness for Studebakers, which began with the introduction of the 1953 Starliner/Starlight coupes and Aunt Susie’s nifty ‘52 Commander hardtop, I would visit Mr. Appleton in his lonely showroom and look at his ‘61 Studebakers. My favorite was a black Cruiser, new that year to the lineup and another example of Studebaker’s clever recycling of items in their parts bin. The Cruiser was built on a longer wheelbase chassis and the rear doors recycled the inner pieces and the window glass used in the ‘53-‘54 Land Cruisers and ‘55-‘58 Presidents.

Appleton Motors managed to hang on for a while supplying Studebaker parts to the garages in the area who might have a random Studebaker  for service. Elliff Body Shop in town specialized in Studebakers, so Mr. Appleton got some welcome parts business from Elliff – but Tulia wasn’t an area where Studebaker had any notable presence of loyal owners, not even for their trucks, given that Tulia was a farming community. Appleton also did general repairs which no doubt generated most of the income.

By 1963 when Warren Trewick arrived in town with his beautiful ‘57 Golden Hawk and asked if I knew how he could obtain a shop manual for his Studebaker, I couldn’t refer him to Appleton Motors but advised him to write the Studebaker Parts & Service Division at

635 South Main Street
South Bend, 27, Indiana.

 

He was astonished that I had Studebaker’s address memorized. All these years later, I still remember it!

'61 Studebaker-Lark-Cruiser

‘61 Studebaker Lark Cruiser

Aside from coming to Mr. Appleton’s lonely Studebaker dealership to see the same cars over and over again, I was drawn back by a treasure he had in the rear of the shop: a white 1941 Graham Hollywood Supercharged. Even as a high school kid, I knew this beautiful car was derived from Gordon Buerhig’s beautiful design for the 1937 Cord Westchester. I don’t know how Mr. Appleton came to have this rare car – only about 1,378 were built, 350 of those being 1941 models. How was it that this car was in the sleepy farm town of Tulia, Texas?  I don’t remember it having any body damage nor do I recall seeing any visible rust. Mr. Appleton told me that it ran, but I  never saw it anywhere but in his shop. I wonder if it is possible that this is the car now up for auction at Bring A Trailer. Wouldn’t that be something?

Graham was never a big player among the auto makers but typical of the car builders in the early days of the industry, they looked for ways to differentiate themselves from the others and were responsible for several automotive innovations. Among them:

* 1909 – Battery ignition
* 1920 – Separate radiator core, shell and grille
* 1925 – Full length cylinder water jackets
* 1928 – Internal hydraulic brakes
* 1929 – safety glass standard on all models
* 1934 – Supercharged engines in popular price cars
* 1936 – Instantaneous cylinder wall lubrication

Graham was founded by three brothers who initially were involved in engineering designs for trucks and soon began building their own trucks. The brothers moved into passenger car production in 1927 when they purchased Paige, forming Graham-Paige. Peak production was 73,000 units in 1929.

Graham-Paige, like most automakers not named General Motors, came through the Depression years badly battered. They didn’t help themselves any with their radical “shark nose” of 1938-1939.

39 Graham Sharknose

Car company casualties of the Depression included E.L. Cord’s Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg, and with A-C-D, the Gordon Buehrig-designed 1937 Cord 810/812 Westchester.

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By a circuitous route, the tooling for the Cord Westchester landed first at Hupp and then at Graham-Paige. Using the Westchester tooling, Hupp introduced their Skylark and Graham spun the Hollywood off the same tooling with Graham building the bodies for both makes.

Hupp closed in 1940. Graham ended auto production in 1941 ahead of the industry-wide shutdown of civilian auto production in February, 1942 due to World War II. Graham produced items for the war effort. As World War II ended, Graham built tractors and Rototillers.

Waiting in the wings was Joseph Frazer, itching to build his own car. Frazer had been at Maxwell-Chalmers when Walter Chrysler took over and formed Chrysler. It was Frazer who named Chrysler’s new low price car entry, Plymouth. Later, Frazer went to Willys-Overland. Eventually he tried to buy Willys but was rebuffed. In 1944 Frazer led a hostile take-over of Graham-Paige. Thanks to a meeting arranged by Bank of America founder A.P. Giannini, Frazer met Henry Kaiser and Kaiser-Frazer was born. Kaiser-Frazer used the former Graham-Paige plant for some of its production in addition to its famous Willow Run production plant. Frazer clashed with Henry Kaiser and his crew and Frazer was forced out of Kaiser-Frazer. The company promptly dropped both his name from its banner and his car from production. Ironically, after Frazer’s unhappy departure, Kaiser bought Willys.

The photos here of the’41 Graham are from Bring A Trailer and some of the text is sourced from the B-A-T post as well. Visit it for many more photos plus several short videos of the Graham.

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Above: Graham’s unique “pancake” supercharger, designed and built in-house. The engine blocks were cast for Graham by Continental but the engines were assembled by Graham.

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gear

A backroads gas station (Lake George, NY) found in the post on old gas stations at Curbside Classics.

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11 Comments

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  1. Eric Butler 25/06/2019 — 03:04

    HUGE THANK YOU for the excellent writing style, as well as the back stories and history. I love quick history.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gary Lindstrom 25/06/2019 — 08:14

    This brings back memories. In the 1950s, the Studebaker dealer in Wappingers Falls, NY was Knight’s Garage. About a block from Knight’s was a body shop. The body shop owner had four Hollywood Grahams (the way that I remember them referred to). One was his everyday car, one was a stock car and the other two were considered to be parts cars (probably would be restored today).

    As an aside, the 1952 pictured is a Starliner, not a “Starlight”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Re: Starliner vs. Starlight- noted and corrected in the text.
      Studebaker used “Starliner” for their hardtops beginning with their first hardtop which was introduced in 1952. “Starlight” was used on the ‘47-‘52 turret top coupes with the wrap around (but not one piece) rear windows and on the ‘53-‘54 pillared “C” body coupes.

      Like

  3. ROBERT BOWN 25/06/2019 — 08:24

    where in dallas is this graham located? i am in dallas also

    Like

  4. Interesting feature. As context, the 1961 Lark Cruiser was simply finally creating a private sale version of the 113 inch wheelbase Y-Body 1959-’60 Econ-o-miler taxi that had been in low-volume production since the advent of the Lark series. Only 1,125 1959’s and 1,311 1960’s, the majority six cylinders. Enter the 1961 Cruiser, selling 5,232, clearly Studebaker was missing the boat for two years by not fielding such a ‘luxury’ compact. They need only have noticed that AMC was moving solid number of Ambassadors, which were little more than a dolled-up, stretched-front clip Rambler Classic. Ironically, for 1962, the longer Y-Body was used for all four door sedans in tacit recognition that even compact buyer wanted more rear seat legroom which was woefully tight in the shorter W-Body, as it had been since the 1953 model introduction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent insight! I had forgotten that Studebaker had built a Lark version of the Econ-O-Miler.
      Their lack of vision in seeing the need for the longer wheelbase non-taxi version of the Lark ranks up there with the short-sightedness that led them to drop the hardtop version of the Hawk from ‘59-‘61 – right at the height of the hardtop craze. The Hawk May have been an aging body, but it was still a very handsome car in the hardtop version. I have always thought they should have kept the Supercharged 289 as the standard engine in the hardtop version of the Hawk and dropped the pillared coupe.

      Like

      • Steven Kelley 26/06/2019 — 14:48

        Both a lack of essential understanding of the appeal of the Hawk hardtop, the importance of performance as well as their extremely fragile financial status when basic decisions were made caused models to be deleted which could have produced greater sales volumes than what was even achieved. Those decision resulted in multiple missed opportunities at just the time they needed it most.

        A Golden Hawk hardtop was essential in generating showroom traffic for more affluent customers, even for those looking for more modest transportation. The 1959-’61 Hawk coupes smacked of the stop-gap they were, a minimal offering with little chance of attracting new customers.

        The lack of private-sale ‘luxury’ compact Y-Bodied 1959 Cruiser is inexplicable given the basic car being in production and the fact that Y-Bodied Land Cruiser/President State & Classic plus South Bend Packard had consistently accounted for a good ten percent of overall sales even as total annual volumes decreased..

        Of this last point, Robert R. Ebert in his must-read book “Champion Of The Lark, Harold Churchill and the Presidency of Studebaker-Packard 1956-1961” revealed that among the various initial plans for 1959, the Y-Body 120.5 inch wheelbase sedan was to continue with the Hawk in production along with the new 108.5 inch wheelbase compacts. Since the Hawks and President Y-Body sedans shared the same chassis, this didn’t require any new tooling cost.

        As the situation tightened, dealers learned only the new compact was to be built, no Hawks or Presidents and no Packards. Very quickly South Bend management was apprised by the dealer representatives that the dealers demanded something more than only the new compact, which was an unknown quantity at that point. Failures of the Henry J, Hudson Jet and Willys Aero just a few year prior certainly was reason to have misgivings about standing alone with a new compact. The Hawk was given a reprieve, though only the C-Body coupe.

        The Y-Body President was a casualty but it was an unfortunate decision. As noted, the longer wheelbase sedans had been a bright spot in a dimming picture. There was a solid base of loyal President customers for whom a full-sized Studebaker sedan was their first choice because of its interior spaciousness and generous trunk capacity plus overall upscale appearance. A car of which they could be proud. Then, the 1959 Lark arrives, but no more full-sized Studebaker sedans of any type.

        Where did the loyal President owner looking to trade for a new 1959 go if he didn’t want a compact or it didn’t meet his family needs? Or even his self image, remember the compact was still dismissed and looked down on by a high percentage of the public. He left for the Big Three or possibly the Rambler dealer to check out an Ambassador. AMC was smart enough to keep a ‘full-sized’ Ambassador available to keep the prior Nash and Hudson customers in the fold, people who didn’t want or couldn’t see themselves as compact car owners.

        While its true the 1958 Y-Body President was rather out-of-step with the modern sedan architecture, given a mild restyle plus mix and match parts from prior Packard and President models and a visual tie-in to the Lark and Hawk, it would have contributed to overall sales. Loading it with optional equipment at a standard price and promoting it as a value proposition could have held long-time loyal President owners and maybe even attracted new customers. Another missed opportunity.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Steven – you are a wealth of knowledge! I really appreciate the backstory chapters you’ve added here!
        This insight you’ve provided makes the story that Churchill was quite interesting in exploring the use of a modified Facel-Vega as the basis of a new Packard entry quite plausible. Poor old Studebaker suffered so many missteps!

        Like

  5. Gary Lindstrom 25/06/2019 — 17:59

    Studebaker called the five passenger coupe a Starlight for the 1949-1951 model years. Now we refer to all of the 1947-1952 five passenger coupes as Starlights.

    Liked by 1 person

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