Auto Makers: US Defunct (Part 4E)

The best way to tackle Car Manufacturers in the US is to break them up by category. We started with the big three, and now let’s get to three noteworthy US Auto Makers that have been phased out or gone out of business.

Hupp

Vital Stats: 1909-1939, Headquartered in Detroit, Michigan.

The short 20 year run of Hupp motors has some unexpected twists. It started with a design and prototype by Bobby Hupp, financed in large part by his first partner Charles Hastings ($8,500). Hupp would later become the VP and general manager of his own company and Hastings would sink to assistant general manager. How?

The prototype went to the1909 automobile show where it won a modest $25,000 ($753,981 today’s money) from investors like J. Walter Drake, Joseph Drake, John Baker, and Edwin Denby. Drake became President using his experience running Oldsmobile before it sold, and he brought from Oldsmobile Emil Nelson as chief engineer.

This total $33,000 startup gave Hupp the 8th position out of the eight big Detroit automakers. But thei Hupp Model 20 was a marvelous car, and that still matters for something in the car biz.

Well, it was under-powered and the gear ratio was whacky, but selling for $900 with a manufacturers guarantee to replace damaged material except for tires struck a chord with buyers. The car also featured an innovative oil system.

1909 Model Roundabout

In 1911 Hupp decided to be the first American Automaker to feature an all steel body (Only BSA in the Uk was doing it.)  Hale & Kilburn Company in Philadelphia had been replacing cast iron in train cars with a pressed metal which saved a ton of weight and therefore gas. The success of an all-steel body came as a result of the work of three men, Nelson (Chief Engineer of Hupp), Edward Budd and Joseph Ledwinka were General Manager and Budd Chief Engineer of Hale & Kilburn. They worked tirelessly to design and fabricate the system in a way that could be taken apart, shipped and then reassembled…but never thought to patent it. The Hupp 32 was born.

Bud and Ledwinka left to form their own company. Ledwinka later tried to patent the tech but a judge ruled against him by reason that it was now in the public domain.

Nelson resigned as Chief Engineer in 1912 ending the companies desire to be edgy and innovative. They returned to traditional body parts.

Noteworthy: Hupp innovated both the Freewheeling Transmission and a filtered air heater called  the Evanair-Conditioner.

Hupp had been fortifying his business by vertical integration–buying up parts manufacturers. In 1913 Hupp decided to leave Hupp Motors, and despite his promise to continue to supply parts, Hupp Motors decided to build a plant to make parts for themselves.

1933 Model K, Cycle Fenders
Noteworthy: Minnesota Car dealership owner, Carl Wickman, turned a 7 passenger Hupp mobile into the first Greyhound Passenger Bus.

Sales grew and peaked at  over 65,000 units by 1928 but began to slump even before the stock market crash and great depression. Why? Beginning in 1925 Hupp started courting a luxury market, something most car makers were attempting to do around that time. The difference is that larger companies could afford to continue producing their mid-priced cars while growing their new market. Hupp struggled to find a design that would take off with luxury buyers, and while they experimented they turned their back on their existing customer base. They also failed to stick with any one design long enough to achieve economy of scale. Add to that the fact that they were moving the wrong direction (toward more expensive cars) when the depression hit…by 1935 stockholders were angry and they company was nearly taken over.

1925 Model R Touring Car

During their rise, Hupp had acquired additional manufacturing facilities, which they began to sell off in 1936. They managed to develop a new line of six and eight cylinder cars but their number of dealerships had shrunk along with their manufacturing, they just couldn’t battle their way back, which lead them to the joint venture below.

The joint venture was the end of Hupp Motors. They fulfilled their orders and closed up for good.

Graham-Paige

Vital Stats: 1927-1962, Headquartered in Evansville, Indiana.

Three Graham brother founded the company, Joseph, Robert and Ray. Technically the 1962 end date above refers to the end of the corporate identity, the original company was bought out by Kaiser-Frazer in 1947.

The Graham Brothers got their start in glass then moved into modifying Model T’s into trucks. They sold off the glass company began branding their creations under their own name. Eventually Dodge became their engine of choice and their relationship with dodge grew such that dodge dealerships were selling their trucks and a dodge plant in Canada was making their trucks to supply the Canadian market.

So, as with so many car companies these were successful business men who moved into car building a step at a time, and as with so many car makers they were swallowed up by a larger company–in this case Dodge in 1925. All three Graham brothers accepted leadership positions with Dodge as part of the deal.

Then in 1928, Chrysler bought Dodge and the Graham brother brand was dead a year later. The brothers saw these challenges coming, so a year earlier, in 1927 they bought the  Paige-Detroit Motor Company, for $3.5 million. They also bought the Wayne Body Company which resolved the main reason Paige had struggled to become profitable–they couldn’t get bodies. Graham-Paige sourced engines from Continental part of the time, and parts to their specs for their own engines most of the time. The result was a successful line of cars with six and eight cylinder engines, which didn’t technically compete with Dodge, which would have violated their sale. Paige already made a line of trucks which the brothers got around to closing down when Dodge complained.

Graham-Paige succeeded as a car company even despite the great depression which wiped out so many car makers. Their secret was a winning design from Amos Northup. This 1932 model featured an 8-cylinder engine dubbed the “Blue Streak” and the car would become the most influential design in automotive history. Innovations included moving the radiator cap inside the hood and changes to the grill and bumper in a way that prevented mud and road debris from collecting in the engine. They also moved the drive train and mounted the rear springs outside the chassis, lowering and widening the car. In 1934 they added a crankshaft driven supercharger and went on to make more supercharged cars than anyone until Buick in the 1990’s.

Graham-Paige built a solid reputation for making reliable automobiles but by 1938 the brothers were desperate for a second hit design. They rehired Northrup but he died part way into the design. They managed to finish the redesign and include a few more innovations that won them races in France, but ruined the look and killing off sales.

This lead to a desperate joint venture with Hupp, to be detailed below. Post WWII, Graham-Paige brought out a new model under their new president, Joseph Frazer. Financing came from none other than shipbuilder and industrialist Henry J. Kaiser. Graham-Paige tried to rally their success into a new line under their name, but stock holders intervened placing the companies assets at the disposal of Frazer and Kaiser, who diversified to make all sorts of things including farm equipment.

Ultimately, Graham-Paige dropped motors from their name and went into commercial real estate, acquiring Madison-Square Gardens which was later acquired twice more.

Cord

Vital Stats: 1929 to 1932 and again in 1936 and 1937, Headquartered in Connersville, Indiana. Founded by E. L. Cord.

Cord is interesting for several reasons but the first is that it existed for two short 3-year spurts. Cord is a luxury brand name for a line of cars manufactured by Auburn Automobile Company. The brainchild of E.L. Cord who was also the force behind Auburn Auto, Cord is most famed for its innovations and streamlined design.

L-29

The Cord L-29 for instance was the first car offered to the public with front wheel drive. To be fair Ruxton was only months behind. The L-29 was also the first production car to use CV-joints. By not having a rear drive train the L-29 was lower to the ground than other cars of the era, giving it a sleek look. It also came with full instrumentation: temperature gauge, oil pressure and oil level gauge, speedometer, gas gauge, and Ammeter.

Cord also pioneered hidden headlamps 4 decades before they would return on other luxury models. Their second model the 810 featured independent suspension. Cord could have been iconic but they were plagued with reliability issues (common among the first years of automobile startups), and there was pretty stiff competition. Dealerships abandoned Cord for more lucrative models and soon investors started suing, alleging fraud .E.L. Cord abandoned the company and moved to Arizona where he made his next fortune in real estate.

812 Phaeton

In 1940 Hupmobile saw an opportunity to develop a cheap car using an existing body and frame design but couldn’t really afford to produce them. Graham-Paige offered to help and the Hupmobile Skylark and Graham Hollywood were born. Naturally Hupmobile wasn’t interested in creating a luxury car, so the hidden lights and front wheel drive were scrapped in favor of cheaper, standard options. The total number of cars made by this collaboration is believed to be 1850 units, mostly Graham Hollywoods. By 1941 the deal fell apart.

Noteworthy: Cord’s have been drafted no less than 6 times by Hollywood, notably for the movie “Live and Let Die,” (to be driven by a bad guy) and for basis of the original Batmobile as creator Bob Cane felt it had the right look for a millionaire vigilante. Also, Puzzle maker “bePUZZLED” turned a creme colored 1936 810 Cord into a feature of their murder mystery. PlayStation has tapped a Cord twice for their video games. Jay Leno owns a Cord 812 making it a car worth taking not of.

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