Friday, March 9, 2012

Jutting Ahead: 1938-39 Graham Cars

Although many makes of cars emerged in the United States since the mid-1890s, their mortality rate was high. By the start of the Great Depression of the 1930s there were only around 20 serious manufacturers remaining from hundreds that existed over the previous 35 years. By 1940 only 11 or so remained, three of which were on their last legs as car builders (war production kept some companies going in a different role).

One company on the way out was Graham. It nominally survived World War 2 to serve as the nucleus of the post-war Kaiser-Frazer organization, but the brand itself was dead by then.

Graham's next-to-last gasp (see the link above for more information about its final attempt to stay in the business) was the 1938-39 "Spirit of Motion" styled car, popularly known as the "shark-nosed Graham." It proved to be a sales flop, a few more than 8,000 being sold over the two-year run. Nevertheless, I've always rather liked the styling. It's outrageous rather than functional, which makes it lose points in a purist's reckoning. Me? I think the car is fun to look at, which is more than can be said for many cars having functionalist styling-snob approval.

The main designer of the Sharknose was the talented Amos Northrup who died from a fall on ice before the design entered production. For more information on Northrup, see here, here and, especially, here.


Graham sedan - 1939

Graham two-door - 1939

Graham advertisement - 1938
I include this because it shows the sedan in profile.

Murray Body patent drawings
These suggest the forthcoming Graham design but include more advanced features such as the blended front fenders, though the flat, one-piece windshield was retrograde. The source of the image, along with information about Murray, is here.

Willys advertisement - 1938
This design with a slightly less aggressive nose was introduced for 1937, beating Graham by one model year.

Pennsylvania Railroad T1 locomotive - 1942
Another example of forward lean expressing potential speed.

Barney Oldfield driving "Blitzen Benz" - 1910
Photos of speeding cars taken in the early 1900s often showed a distorted image; the vehicles appeared to be leaning forwards. The was because of the design of the shutter for newspaper-type cameras of the day; they operated like two window shades with a slit-like gap between them, the gap moving upwards when the shutter was triggered. If the subject were a fast car such a Oldfield's Benz, the lower part of the car was captured first and the upper part last. Since the car was moving while the shutter was moving, its upper part was captured after it had moved forward a short distance, hence the distortion. (Note that the stationary flagman appears normal.) One result of this was that a symbol of speed to folks in the early 20th century was a forward lean such as was expressed by Graham, Willys and the Pennsy T1.

1 comment:

Peter said...

If I am following Wikipedia's corporate history section correctly, the Internet service that I'm using to view this article is a descendant of Graham Motors.