One of the most brilliant flashes of light to come out of the Depression-era American auto scene was the 1932-1935 Graham "Blue Streak" Eight, a car of such trend-setting appearance that it served as a blueprint for the future, sending rival automakers into overtime, scrambling to catch up. Here is an introduction to the 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935 Graham Blue Streak.
Depression America was a stark panorama of bankruptcies, bank failures, and bread lines as people, companies, and even the country itself struggled to survive. This was especially true in the once-prosperous automobile industry.
Yet the Depression's deepening adversity spurred American automakers to new heights of engineering and styling achievements. Or, to quote the eloquent John Bentley from The Old Car Book, written in 1953: "And now, each in turn burst across the automotive firmament with some heroic engineering achievement, and each in its final fall shed a brief but brilliant, triumphant flash of light on the fast darkening pages of the industry's story."
But in order to fully savor the 1932-1935 Graham Blue Streak, an under-appreciated automotive achievement, and its even more amazing sponsors, a bit of perspective is in order.
If the 1930s were a time of grim survival, by contrast the 1920s were a time of expectancy, fueled by Wall Street's Big Bull Market, which promised that everything was possible. As the decade opened, Ford dominated the market, General Motors clung to a mere 12-percent share, and Walter Chrysler was "unemployed."
By decade's end, Ford's domination of the market was forever broken via Alfred P. Sloan's policy of a General Motors car "for every purse and purpose," and Walter Chrysler was the head of a new automotive giant forged from an unlikely amalgamation of Maxwell, Chalmers, and Dodge.
In the meantime, daring entrepreneurs like William C. Durant and Errett Lobban Cord were fashioning their ephemeral empires. Concurrent with this frenetic activity, the automobile was itself transformed from a luxury to a necessity, closed cars triumphed over open cars in the public's fancy, and "planned obsolescence" had arrived to entice customers on an annual basis.
Into this melange strode the brothers Graham, fated to take their place among the ranks of famous automotive brother acts, among them the Appersons, Bradys, Briscoes, Dodges, Duesenbergs, Duryeas, Fishers, Gardners, Jewetts, Kissels, Macks, Packards, Stanleys, Studebakers, and Whites.
Continue to the next page to learn more about these brothers who created the Graham Blue Streak.
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The Brothers Behind the Graham Blue Streak
The Brothers behind the Graham Blue Streak -- the Grahams Joseph, Robert, and Ray -- came out of southwestern Indiana, where they had been born in 1882, 1885, and 1887, respectively.
In 1825, James Graham, the boys' father, had purchased 121 acres in Daviess County surrounding the small community of Washington, and had prospered. The farm could have provided the brothers a comfortable living, but the three siblings had dreams beyond the bucolic life.
During the first two decades of this century, these three live-wire Indiana farm boys established themselves as successful players in not one but two major industries: first in glass-making (1901 to 1916), followed by truck manufacturing in the early 1910s, when Ray Graham devised a special rear axle and spliced frame to convert Model T Fords into one-ton express and stake trucks.
In 1921, they were invited to Detroit by Frederick J. Haynes, president of Dodge Brothers, who was anxious to expand Dodge’s own limited truck business. The brothers agreed to build their trucks using Dodge engines and drivetrains exclusively, and sell them through the extensive Dodge Brothers retail network.
By 1926, not only were these Indiana sharpies the largest exclusive truck manufacturer in the world, they were running the giant Dodge organization, and had been closely following the 1925 sale by the Dodge heirs of their Dodge Brothers holdings to the investment firm of Dillon, Read and Company.
But in April 1926, the Grahams suddenly and unexpectedly resigned from Dodge, which promptly completed its acquisition of the brothers’ truck business.
Why the Grahams left so abruptly remains unknown, but their unforeseen departure had important, far-reaching consequences. Deprived of their astute management, the Dodge firm slid rapidly downhill, ultimately -- in 1928 -- into the waiting arms of Walter P. Chrysler. But Dodge was firmly in the truck business, and the Grahams were firmly out.
In 1927, the brothers organized the Graham Brothers Corporation to manage their financial interests, which included an $11 million-dollar share of the Libbey-Owens Sheet Glass Company in Toledo. Three years later, Ray Graham, as chairman of Libbey-Owens, brought about a merger with the Edward B. Ford Glass Company to form giant Libbey-Owens-Ford in 1930.
Concurrently, the Grahams were casting about for an automotive property. They found it in the Paige-Detroit Motor Car Company, assuming control on June 10, 1927, from Harry Jewett, who, with his brothers, had built Paige into a successful and well-known independent.
But competition was increasing, profits were slipping, and Jewett was eager to sell. Perhaps Paige’s most attractive asset was a modern new factory the company was completing on Warren Avenue in Dearborn, just beyond the Detroit border.
Joe Graham became president, Robert vice-president/sales, and Ray secretary-treasurer of the renamed Graham-Paige Motors Corporation. In January 1928, the brothers proudly presented their new line of Graham-Paige cars, four sixes and an eight priced from $860 to $2,485.
Find out how these new Graham cars were received on the next page.
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Early Success and the Arrival of the 1932 Graham Blue Streak
Early success and the arrival of the 1932 Graham Blue Streak should give encouragement to entrepreneurs everywhere. The Graham brothers' first automotive products were an instant success, as production of 73,195 cars in 1928 permitted the new Graham-Paige organization to set a sales record for a new make of automobile in its first year (a sign of good things to come for the 1932 Graham Blue Streak).
Output peaked at 77,007 units in 1929, making Graham-Paige the largest of the "minor" independents -- those producing fewer than 100,000 cars annually -- and comfortably ahead of rival Hupmobile.
By the end of 1929, the Grahams commanded plants encompassing 2,095,000 square feet of manufacturing space, including the new assembly plant in Dearborn; a body plant in nearby Wayne, Michigan; a body framing plant in Evansville, Indiana; a lumber mill in Perry, Florida, that supplied wood to the Graham body plants; and a factory in Walkerville, Ontario, to supply cars for the Canadian market.
With the introduction of the second series 1930 models, the name of the car was shortened to Graham, while the Paige name was reserved for a new line of light commercial vehicles (discontinued in 1932). Despite the introduction of the hopefully named Prosperity Six in the spring of 1931, the deepening Depression caused production of Graham cars to decline to 20,428 for 1931.
To beat the Depression, something special was needed. Enter the Graham Blue Streak, which debuted on December 8, 1931, to universal acclaim and admiration.
The 1932 Graham Blue Streak Eights -- available only in sedan, three-window coupe, and convertible coupe body styles -- possessed a truly arresting appearance. Mounted over a generous 123-inch wheelbase, the stunning new bodies were smooth and rounded, with unsightly chassis parts concealed, especially at the rear.
Windshields -- one-piece on the sedan and coupe, two-piece on the convertible -- were raked at a sharp angle, which was mimicked by the louvers on the hood side panels and by the smartly sloped vee'd radiator grille, whose vertical pattern of bright bars tapered toward the bottom.
The hood ran right up to the grille surround molding (there was no separate radiator shell at all), and the radiator filler cap, long an accustomed protuberance on all cars, was tucked out of sight under the hood. Some customers thought the effect a bit too pure, so a "flying goddess"-type hood ornament was later offered.
Continue to the next page for more details on the 1932 and 1933 Graham Blue Streak.
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1932 and 1933 Graham Blue Streak
Everything possible was done to make the new 1932 Graham Blue Streak look like a single unit instead of an assemblage of parts.
To this end, the low-set, tapered headlamp shells were lacquered to match the body color. On 1932 and 1933 Graham Blue Streak models, even the frames were painted to match the fenders, which in turn were often painted to match the body -- although black fenders (with black frames) remained standard, typical of the period.
A few selected two-tones were optional, with the top, fenders, sidemount covers, headlamps, and moldings rendered in a subtly darker variant of the overall body color.
And some of these paint jobs were spectacular because the company was among the first to experiment with "pearl essence finish." As a Graham Confidential Service Bulletin explained it, pearl essence was "a compound of crystalline gaunin properly suspended in a lacquer vehicle. Gaunin is a product of protein metabolis of animal bodies and is found in the skin of certain species of fish, small particles adhering to the scales when removed. The crystals are washed away from the scales and put through a special purifying process."
So, during 1932 and 1933, you could order your Graham Blue Streak painted in the byproduct of fish scales.
But handsome as the bodies and paints were, it was the fenders that put the Graham Blue Streak ahead of the pack. Just as the graceful "flying wing" fender was reaching its zenith, the Blue Streak suddenly -- like a bolt out of the blue -- illuminated the way ahead. Up front, this new Graham's fender surfaces were deeply drawn down to the bumper to conceal the frame and axle.
To conceal the messy, usually mud-spattered undercarriage in side view, vertical valence panels or "skirts" were incorporated and, to enhance the effect of wholeness, the fender surfaces were kept one-piece and smooth, without distracting detail, while their edges were gently rolled inward. The skirted fenders caught other automakers unaware, causing most to work frantic overtime to incorporate the new-style fenders on their 1933 offerings.
None, however, had the panache of the Graham Blue Streaks, which when painted, say, a Golden Tan Pearl Essence, exhibited a truly striking appearance in traffic. They stood out vividly amid the gaggle of square, upright, usually black sedans and coupes, which were now rendered stylistically obsolete.
The new Grahams, unquestionably the style leaders of 1932 and 1933, were the work of Amos Northup, design director for the Murray Corporation of America, one of the leading independent body builders of the day and supplier of Graham body and fender stampings. Murray -- like Briggs, Budd, and Hayes -- offered a design service to clients like Graham who were too small to employ a full-time styling operation.
Perhaps surprisingly, considering their roots, the Grahams, who backed Northup's ideas, were quite style-minded, at least in their cars. For the design of the radiator, hood, fenders, and sedan body of their first car in 1928, the brothers had commissioned no less than the LeBaron Studios of the Briggs Manufacturing Company.
For the Blue Streak, they turned to Murray and Northup, whose previous credits included the 1928 Hupp Century, 1929 Willys-Knight Great Six (known for its "plaidside" roadster), and the magnificent 1931 Reo Royale.
Details on the Graham Blue Streak were allegedly handled by Ray Dietrich, inasmuch as Dietrich, Incorporated, was a Murray subsidiary. Also assisting was William H. Neely, Graham's chief body engineer, who worked closely with Northup.
Learn more about the Blue Streak's innovative interior design on the next page.
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Graham Blue Streak's Cutting-Edge Design
Amos Northup -- design director for the Murray Corporation of America and the force behind the Graham Blue Streak's cutting-edge design -- went on to design the 1933 Willys 77 and stillborn 99, the 1934 and 1935 Hupp 417/517 W, and the 1937 and 1938 Willys.
He was working on his final design surprise, the radical 1938 Graham "sharknose," when in 1936 he slipped and fell on the ice near his Ferndale, Michigan, home and later succumbed to head injury complications. He remains the industry's least known and least appreciated styling genius. The Graham Blue Streak was his finest achievement.
The newness of the Graham Blue Streak, known internally as the Model 57, was more than skin deep. This was thanks to the foresight of the Graham brothers, who in 1928 and 1929 had erected a new two-story engineering building adjacent to their Dearborn, Michigan, factory and connected it to the main offices by an overhead bridge.
The new laboratories were lavishly equipped with four dynamometer rooms; hot, cold, and silent rooms; and one of only four strobe-light installations then extant in the country.
Concealed underneath the Blue Streak's handsome exterior was the first fruit of the Grahams's research investment: a revolutionary new "banjo" frame -- the work of chief engineer Louis Thorns. Its primary innovation lay in the side rails, which had no kick-up at the front, while the rear axle passed through "Banjo" or race track-shaped openings in the rails.
With the frame passing over and under the rear axle, rigidity was increased, as was control over axle movement. This solved a problem common with conventional frames, whose flexing and deflection -- caused by the high kick-ups being weak in torsion (bending) -- allowed the shifting rear axle to break loose on gravel or undulating road surfaces.
In an interview granted to Jeffrey I. Godshall in the 1970s, former Graham research engineer George Delaney (later Pontiac's chief engineer, 1947-1956) recalled that the new design "required a lot of work to get the bugs out. In testing we found the rear axle would hit the frame on hard bumps, so I designed huge rubber blocks laced with air holes to act as bumpers, sort of variable-rate rubber springs."
"In order to obtain adequate axle-to-frame clearance, the springs were placed outboard of the frame instead of underneath," he continued. "This gave us plenty of room. At the front, for example, the savings in height was 2 1/2 inches -- the thickness of the spring and its mountings." Part of this gain was used to eliminate the front kick-up, and the rest to lower the car.
Compared with previous models, the novel outboard springs were eight inches farther apart in front and three inches farther apart at the rear, giving the Graham Blue Streak a tread of 61 inches rear, 60 5/8 inches front. Graham ads boasted, "The Car Is WIDER Than It Is High."
Despite the advantages of the outboard spring location, there was no rush to imitate. Chevy, for one, didn't use the idea until the first Corvette of 1953, but outboard springs were an integral part of its hot 1955 V-8.
Already the Graham Blue Streak was selling well, but how did it perform? Get details on the next page.
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Graham Blue Streak's Performance and Popularity
The Graham Blue Streak, with its stiffer frame, outboard springs, and wider track, was a car with exceptional stability, superior handling, and greatly increased road-holding characteristics. But as former Graham research engineer George Delaney confided, the Graham Blue Streak's performance and popularity proved to be a problem (at least for the sales force).
Early Blue Streaks, placed in the hands of overeager district sales managers, too often went sliding off the road. With body roll dramatically decreased compared with previous Grahams, the inexperienced drivers had less warning about when the back end was about to break loose, and tended to push the cars beyond their expanded -- but still finite -- limits.
Apparently Graham Blue Streak owners were more cautious, as there is no record of actual purchasers getting themselves into similar trouble.
Powering the Graham Blue Streak was a 90-horsepower, 245.4-cubic-inch straight eight, with 3 1/8 × 4-inch bore and stroke. Although similar to the engine used in Graham's 1931 Special 820, it boasted some important improvements, including new cam contours, dual valve springs, aluminum cylinder head, and resonant-type muffler.
Replacing the former widely advertised four-speed transmission was a Warner-Gear three-speed, silent-second unit with free-wheeling. The shock absorbers were adjustable from the driver's seat. Also new were "Centrifuse" brake drums in which molten cast iron was spun into the stamped-and-welded brake drum ring and backing plate, providing longer life with lighter weight.
Prices ranged from $1,095 to $1,145 for the standard models, and $1,170 to $1,270 for the deluxe series.
During the spring selling season, Graham joined DeSoto in offering low-pressure (22 psi) 7.50-15 "dirigible" balloon tires as an option. The Firestone or U.S. Royal tires were mounted on special small-diameter spokeless wheels, covered by large chromium discs. They were installed on about one-fifth of the Graham Blue Streak Eights.
The Grahams weren't shy about putting the performance of their new baby to the test. Driving literally and aptly "like a blue streak," the venerable Cannon Ball Baker roared up New Hampshire's formidable Mt. Washington in a record 13 minutes, 26 seconds at the wheel of a stripped Graham Blue Streak convertible.
And at the Indianapolis 500, a Graham-powered entry, mounted over a banjo frame, qualified at 109 miles per hour but was forced out of the actual race on the 61st lap with a broken crankshaft. Another Graham later entered the 1934 Indy 500 and finished tenth at an average speed of 95.9 mph.
The Graham Blue Streaks were sensations all around, so much so that 4.2 million in 21 different styles were eventually produced. Unfortunately for the company, those millions were model cars, patterned after the Graham Blue Streak and produced by Tootsietoy.
There was also a much larger sheetmetal model made by Kor-Kor, produced with and without headlights, which is much in demand at toy shows. In fact, a special display of Kor-Kor and Tootsietoy models was dispatched by Graham to dealerships across the country, the Kor-Kors being used to display the Blue Streak's multifarious colors.
With the Depression in full swing, the full-size Graham Blue Streak models were not as popular as the miniature Tootsietoys. Alhough the Blue Streak was widely admired by the public and competitors alike, Graham car production slid to just 12,967 in calendar-year 1932 -- mostly Blue Streak Eights, although there was also the Model 56 with conventional styling.
The company did, however, have the satisfaction of producing the only 1932 eight-cylinder car to show a sales gain over 1931; in fact, its 12-month sales of Blue Streak Eights doubled.
Against the styling and engineering triumphs of the Graham Blue Streak was set the overwhelming tragedy of the sudden death of Ray Graham at age 45. The successful triumvirate was forever broken, but the remaining two Graham brothers soldiered on.
Continue to the next page to learn more about the 1933 Graham Blue Streak.
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1933 Graham Blue Streak
With its skirted fenders widely copied, the 1933 Graham Blue Streak was honestly advertised as "the most imitated car on the road."
For the first-series 1933 line, which debuted in June 1932, the Model 57 was continued essentially unchanged (although no longer called the Blue Streak), as was the leftover conventional Six.
The Model 58, with a 224-cid, 80-bhp six on a 118-inch chassis, was new; its styling blatantly and successfully mimicked the Blue Streak. In addition to a new vacuum clutch, the Six featured a cylinder head composed of an aluminum combustion chamber section and a cast iron cover plate designed to give the best performance possible without requiring anti-knock gasoline.
Priced at $825 to $895, the new Graham Six was a lot of car for the money, sharing as it did most of the styling and engineering features of the Eight.
In January, the second-series or "real" 1933s arrived. New were two downsized cars: the Model 65 and 64, designated respectively as the 113-inch-wheelbase Standard Six and 119-inch-wheelbase Standard Eight. The Model 57-A, continuing on the 123-inch chassis, was renamed the Custom Eight.
The new, smaller Six was 300 pounds lighter, thanks to the shorter frame and shorter sedan body, whose rear door measured 2 1/2 inches less in length (also true of the smaller Eight, which shared the smaller body). Both the six- and eight-cylinder carryover engines boasted five additional horses, thanks to improved manifolding and carburetion.
The banjo frame on Models 65 and 64 received a new K-member at the forward end, the legs of which carried the engine mountings. Styling changes included a clever new two-piece front bumper, vee'd in front view and which, due to its angled face plates, offered eight inches of vertical face to mate with other cars' bumpers.
The convertible coupe received a one-piece windshield. Although Graham cars were widely esteemed and imitated, production dropped yet again to 10,967, although Graham-Paige had the satisfaction of somehow contriving to eke out a tiny profit of $67,000.
Well, if stunning styling and advanced engineering weren't enough to lure a sufficient number of paying customers back into Graham showrooms, perhaps a bit of magic would -- the magic of supercharging.
Most car buffs today, when asked about prewar supercharged cars, conjure up Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg; only the truly knowledgeable will mention Graham. Fact is, between 1934 and 1941, Graham-Paige Motors Corporation built more supercharged cars than all other manufacturers combined.
See what 1934 had in store for the Graham Blue Streak on the next page.
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1934 Graham Blue Streak
Introduced on the second-series 1934 Graham Blue Streak Custom Eight (Model 69) and shown initially to the public at the New York Automobile Show on Saturday January 6, 1934, the blown Graham was the first popular-priced American car to offer a supercharger -- a feature formerly found only on exotic racing cars and seldom-seen Duesenbergs and air-cooled V-12 Franklins.
Now the curious could sample and purchase a supercharged car at more than 920 Graham dealers -- and for only $1,245 for a business coupe and $1,295 for a 2/4-passenger coupe.
The Graham's blower, unabashedly based on the Duesenberg unit, was designed by F.F. Kishline, the company's capable assistant chief engineer who would succeed Lou Thoms as chief engineer in August 1935.
Following Graham's exit from car making, Kishline went on to a successful career at Nash. He was a close friend of Fred Schwitzer of Schwitzer-Cummins, who purportedly obtained a set of drawings of the Duesey unit for Kishline's perusal.
The Graham unit was a centrifugal-type, mounted at the right side of the engine between the single-barrel down-draft Stromberg carburetor and the intake manifold, and driven through rubber-bushed double universal couplings to a Cone-type worm-and-wheel gearing. Both the rotor and worm-wheel shafts were mounted on plain bearings; excessively complicated bearing mountings and adjustments were deliberately avoided.
The 7 1/2-inch rotor, made of a special high-tensile aluminum alloy and spinning horizontally on its balanced shaft (tested to run smoothly at any engine velocity) revolved at 5.75 times engine speed, or 23,000 rpm at the horsepower-peak speed of 4,000 rpm.
The result was that power increased 42 percent -- from 95 to 135 horsepower -- although the engine size was increased but eight percent to 265.4 cubic inches, due to a 1/8-inch larger bore.
A similar amount was added to the valve diameters to increase the engine's breathing capacity, and a redesigned aluminum cylinder head boosted the compression ratio to 6.7:1. Graham claimed to have the highest compression ratio of any stock car using ordinary fuel.
Although the car's top speed was raised 10 mph, to 90-plus mph, the supercharger was designed to boost power and acceleration mainly in the mid-ranges, where torque peaked at 210 pounds/feet at 2,400 rpm at about 45 mph.
Faster acceleration was offered not for standing starts, but rather for use between 50 and 60 mph, when a driver faced the awkward and sometimes hazardous dilemma of overtaking other cars on two-lane roads in heavy traffic.
A "dual phase" throttle was employed to inform the driver when the engine was operating above normal output levels, although the supercharger was in operation at all engine speeds.
Starting while cold was facilitated by both the better mixture distribution and the more energetic agitation of the fuel mixture, which was warmed by circulating engine coolant through the upper supercharger housing.
Continue to the next page for more details about the supercharged Graham Blue Streak, as well as the public's reaction.
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Supercharged Graham Blue Streak
While former Graham research engineer George Delaney remembered some early bugs with the supercharged Graham Blue Streak involving gasoline being pushed into the crankcase and crankcase oil being drawn into the combustion chamber, these defects were remedied before volume production began.
The Grahams dispatched the 51-year-old Cannon Ball Baker to give the supercharger the severest test he could devise, a cross-country run of 53 hours, 30 minutes. The car passed. In fact, as of 1975, Cannon Ball Baker’s run in that supercharged Graham still stood as the official record for a one-man transcontinental crossing!
As it turned out, Graham blowers proved to be extremely reliable and trouble-free; some went 100,000 miles or more without breakdown. And the increased power and acceleration were not attained at the expense of fuel economy, which was upped 7 to 15 percent, depending on speed.
When supercharging principles were applied to Graham six-cylinder engines after 1935, the blown Grahams were the overall winners in the Gilmore-Yosemite Economy Run three years running: 1936, 1937, and 1938.
In the June 12,1934, issue of the British magazine Motor, the savvy testers across the pond were quite impressed with the new Graham, “a car which upsets many preconceived ideas and prejudices with regard to supercharging. Although it possesses a performance worthy of a costly sports model, it is extremely quiet, smooth and flexible, starts very readily from cold, and yet is not unduly heavy on petrol.”
The car accelerated from 0 to 50 mph in 13 seconds and achieved a timed speed of 93 mph at the Brooklands racetrack. “Despite the high speed,” Motor went on, “the supercharger is ordinarily inaudible and produces only a slight whine when the car is travelling fast.”
According to a justifiably proud Joe Graham, “The development of the Graham straight eight engine with supercharger represents the most important single advance in automotive engine progress in a decade.” (Take that, Ford V-8 fans!)
At a dealer meeting in Philadelphia on January on 16,1934, Graham announced that the supercharger would also be fitted to the company’s six-cylinder engine, raising horsepower from 85 to 125. This announcement was premature -- Graham’s first supercharged six didn’t arrive until 21 months later.
Instead, by May 1934, the lower-priced supercharged Special Eight was added, at about $200 less than the Custom, to place the benefits of supercharging within the reach of additional buyers.
Other usually overlooked Graham Blue Streak engineering changes included a stiffer frame, strengthened by the addition of an X-member underfloor and new 16-inch stamped steel artillery spoke wheels; no wires were offered.
With all this focus on the engine, the 1934 and 1935 Graham Blue Streaks received minimal styling changes. Find out what did evolve on the next page.
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1934 and 1935 Graham Blue Streak Body Styling
Body styling on the second-series 1934 Graham Blue Streak and first-series 1935 Graham Blue Streak was little changed. Hoods were lengthened by moving the rear edge closer to the windshield, and on most second-series 1934 eights and all first-series 1935 eights and sixes, the hood louvers were rearranged in a horizontal format and decorated by three full-length bright moldings.
Initially, the DeLuxe Six and Standard and Custom Eights featured a dramatic new instrument panel in which the instruments and controls were placed in front of the driver, instead of the usual location in the middle of the panel.
The extreme left side, center, and right side of the dashboard were decorated in a horizontal, satin-finish chrome appliqué concealing the smoking set, radio, and glove compartment. The steering wheel, gearshift knob, and pull knobs were made of an ivory-colored plastic.
But research by Graham Blue Streak specialist Bill McCall has revealed that only 970 cars were built using this advanced-looking panel before it was replaced (for reasons unknown) by a more conventional, 1933-type dash.
Another 1934 mystery is Graham’s elusive Model 71, a stillborn variant of the Custom Eight sporting a seven-passenger supercharged sedan body mounted over a stretched 138-inch wheel-base. No evidence of its existence, even as a prototype, has yet been found, although prices were published in some sources.
One unfortunate change to the Blue Streak was the addition of an optional $35 “built-in” (add-on, actually) trunk on the sedan bodies, which -- although utilitarian -- diminished the graceful lines. In the company’s defense, many other automakers were offering similar trunks of equal awkwardness, although Graham’s was further marred by truck-like taillights.
Graham’s model lineup was reconfigured several times for 1934, finally consisting of the 85-bhp Standard and DeLuxe Six (Model 68) on a 116-inch wheelbase; the 95-bhp Special and Standard Eight (Model 67) riding the 123-inch wheelbase; and the 135-bhp supercharged Special and Custom Eight (Model 69). (The supercharged Special Eight isn’t generally listed for 1934, although research indicates that some were produced.)
The Model 68 sedan’s longer rear door was again shared with the Eights, while the length difference between the Sixes and Eights was accomplished via longer hoods and running boards. Despite the sedan body machinations, the coupe and convertible bodies remained the same from 1932 through 1935.
Calendar-year production of Graham Blue Streaks increased to 15,745 units, but the new blower didn’t supercharge sales, as production of eight-cylinder cars failed to equal previous years. And Graham looked briefly at small cars in 1934, examining and rejecting a plan to take over production of Continental’s diminutive four-cylinder Beacon.
Continue to the next page to learn what 1935 had in store for the Graham Blue Streak.
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1935 Graham Blue Streak
The Graham Blue Streak made a final curtain call in January 1935 when the second-series Special Six, Eight, and Supercharged Eight debuted (Models 73, 72, and 75).
Radiator grilles were higher and narrower, hood side louvers were again altered, and other minor exterior and interior changes were made. The truth was that Graham had clung to the Blue Streak body design one year too long; most other 1935 cars looked newer.
While the coupe and convertible 1935 Graham Blue Streak bodies were carryovers, the sedans received a new sloped roof and rear quarters with a true built-in trunk, access to which was provided by a hinged lid. Unfortunately, this early attempt at a concealed, in-the-body trunk was awkwardly handled, giving the sedans an uncomfortable, over-cabbed look.
In print, the 1935 Supercharged Eight was rated at 140 horsepower, five more than before. The increase allegedly came from the addition of a new dual-downdraft Stromberg carburetor in conjunction with a new four-arm aluminum intake manifold connecting each intake port directly to the blower outlet.
But again, according to Graham Blue Streak specialist Bill McCall, these changes never saw the assembly line, as existing Model 75s all have the single-barrel carb and cast-iron manifold in common with the Model 69.
Shortly after the model year began, a 1 1/2-foot “SUPER-CHARGED” nameplate was added to the sides of the hood to impress fellow travelers at traffic lights.
Biggest news for 1935 Graham Blue Streaks was the all-new Model 74 -- the Standard Six -- which at $595 was the new price-leader. It was powered by a much smaller 169.6-cid, 60-bhp L-head six engine tucked within a 111-inch chassis.
Although it looked like a Blue Streak, it really wasn’t. Underneath, there was no banjo frame, although outboard springs were featured.
Model-year production increased to approximately 18,466 cars, mostly Standard Sixes. The sales improvement, coupled with a severe decline in sales of Graham’s eight-cylinder models, put the company on a new course.
During 1934 and 1935, reports and rumors hinted at a potential merger between Auburn, Fierce-Arrow, Reo, Hupp, and Graham -- surely an unlikely, unwieldy, and unworkable coalition. At one point, Reo asked if either Hupp or Graham would be interested in furnishing engine parts in return for body designs and dies. Hupp demurred, but the Grahams evinced interest.
On July 15, 1935, Robert Graham traveled to Lansing, Michigan, to propose to the Reo board that Graham and Reo form a new joint sales company to market Reo and Graham products, even suggesting the organization of a new body company to build commercial vehicles.
Robert Graham’s vision of a Reo-Graham alliance could have been beneficial to both firms. Here would have been the chance for the Grahams to re-enter the truck business. But the wary Reo board, still scarred from a battle for control in 1933 and 1934, listened politely to Robert Graham’s ideas -- and said, “No thanks.”
Ultimately, Reo did agree to Graham’s use of the Hayes-built 1935 and 1936 Flying Cloud bodies for the 1936 and 1937 Graham Cavaliers and Superchargers, which then looked like everyone else’s cars.
Graham would return to high style with the “sharknose” cars of 1938 to 1940 and the Cord-bodied Hollywoods for 1940 and 1941. But it was the Graham Blue Streak and its later supercharger that really proved that the Graham brothers -- in cars as well as in trucks and glass-making -- could still run with the big boys. Give their beautiful, innovative 1932 through 1935 Graham Blue Streaks the Blue Ribbon!
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