The Gladiator’s Graham

Published by The Bee News

September 23, 2021

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The Hupmobile Skylark was the manifestation of an ill fated joint venture with Graham. Author’s collection

The radiator badge showing stylized portraits of the brothers Graham, Ray, Robert, and Joseph, as helmeted knights was rather fitting for these fearless visionaries. It was also fitting for the line of automobiles they introduced on January 7, 1928.

The brothers had a reputation as driven, focused businessmen of integrity. They were also men of vision that had a deep understanding of the market. The new 1928 Graham-Paige automobiles designed to offer  direct head to head challenge to Dodge, Buick, Chrysler, Studebaker, and Packard were manifestations of their personalities.

The brother’s rise was not quite meteoric. It was, however, steady. Only the economic maelstrom of the Great Depression proved insurmountable.

The foundation for their automotive empire was acquisition of large tracts of farmland. Here they built a factory for the manufacturing of glass. Sale of the business to Owens Glass Company funded their initial automotive endeavors.

First came a kit designed by Ray that converted the Model T Ford passenger car into a truck. The moderate success of this enterprise led Ray to design a complete truck. The initial Graham Brothers truck introduced in 1919, rated at one ton, proved to be woefully underpowered and as a result sold poorly.

The Graham Hollywood was the company’s swan song. Photo author’s collection.

Undaunted, the brothers entered into agreement with the Dodge brothers. And so in 1921 the sturdy Dodge sturdy chassis served as the foundation for a rugged truck that sold in record numbers. This proved to be a win-win situation for both parties. The Dodge brothers now had a truck to market without the outlay of precious financial resources. The Graham brothers acquired a well-established dealer network as well as service facilities for their trucks.

In 1925, when the New York banking house of Dillon, Read and Company purchased Dodge Brothers through reorganization, the Graham Brothers truck operations became a subsidiary. As per the agreement, the brothers Graham became vice presidents of Dodge. But it quickly became apparent that the new owners were woefully ignorant of the automobile manufacturing business. This as well as a desire to be independent manufacturers of an automobile of their design led the brothers to resign from their positions in the spring of 1926.

With stunning speed, they acquired the venerable auto manufacturer Paige-Detroit. They then reorganized the company as Graham-Paige. The next step was the design of a series of new vehicles from the ground up. Production commenced in January of 1928.

To introduce an entirely new line of automobiles, with an almost non-existent dealer network, was a bold move. The nations economy commenced a downward spiral shortly the company was established. But the brothers were undaunted.

Dealerships and companies began shuttering facilities. But the Graham brothers introduced a series of automobiles as direct competition to well established manufacturers. The entry level 610 was priced to directly challenge Dodge at $875. And the new car was also mechanically a worthy competitor. The 614 duplicated the price of the Buick Standard Six but with advanced features such as hydraulic brakes. Buyers toook notice as it offered better value for the dollar. The Chrysler 72 was the competitor challenged by the 619. However, the competition was only in price as the Graham 619 developed 29 percent more power. The 629 shared the 292 c.i.d., 97 horsepower engine with the 619 but as the targeted competitor was the Studebaker President Eight it was more luxurious in interior appointments. Its wheelbase was also ten inches longer.

The target market for the 835, the crown jewel of the introductory series of Graham-Paige, was the one dominated by the series 526 Packard. As with the rest of the line the primary competition was in regards to direct price comparison. The mechanical attributes of the Graham were far superior, 82 brake horsepower versus 123, 126-inch wheelbase versus 135, mechanical brakes versus hydraulic.

Engines, designed by in house engineers, with blocks from Continental, were highly advanced. The sixes featured seven main bearings, the eight had five, and all engines utilized rubber cushioned motor mounts, full pressure lubrication, and aluminum alloy pistons.

Not surprisingly, the company established a new record for the first year of a new manufacturer. Tragically, from a profit standpoint this was to be the companies’ high water mark. The demise of the Graham-Paige, Graham after 1930, was a slow one punctuated with a number of industry firsts and stunning styling triumphs. The company’s high point was the Blue Streak Eight of 1932 with styling by Amos Northup of Murray and detailing by Raymond Dietrich. Then, for 1934, super charging was introduced on the Custom Eight. The swan song was the stunning 1940 Hollywood that utilized the body dies for the Cord 810/812.

Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America 

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