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