Robert C. Hupp was an engineer who worked with Ransom Eli Olds and Henry Ford before setting up his own car company in November 1909. His first product, developed with help from several colleagues he hired away from Olds, was the Model 20, a little 16.9-horsepower four-cylinder job on an 86-inch wheelbase. Hupp priced it at a modest $750, a full $75 below Ford's recently introduced Model T. With features like high-tension magneto and two-speed sliding-gear transmission, this first Hupmobile garnered 1618 sales. By 1913, Hupp production was over 12,000.
Hupp left in a huff during 1911 (his next venture would be the unsuccessful RCH), but Hupp Motor Car Company prospered through the Teens and '20s. A straight-eight debuted in 1925, and six-cylinder models replaced fours in 1926. By that point the firm had inked a favorable contract with the Murray Body Corporation, and the considerable talents of its chief designer, Amos Northup, were evident by 1928 in Hupp's stylish new Century line of Sixes and Eights. Buyers responded, and registrations that year totaled some 55,500.
But that would be the peak, and Hupp never built more than 9500 cars a year after 1932. Though its post-1933 "Aerodynamic" cars were among the better examples of period streamlining, the public didn't go for them. As a result, Hupp closed down midway through 1936, reopened to produce a handful of 1937-38 cars, then struggled on without much success into 1939.
After a second straight year of healthy sales, Hupp volume plunged to 22,183 for 1930. That year's line began with the six-cylinder S, a six-model line with 111-inch wheelbase and a 70-bhp, 211.6-cubic-inch engine. Prices were $995-$1160, which made it a medium-priced car. Then came three straight-eight series designated C, H, and U, which were assembled in Detroit; the S was produced in Cleveland at the former Chandler plant that Hupp had acquired. The S and C were Hupp's bread-and-butter cars. The latter mounted a 121-inch chassis and carried a 268.6-cid engine with 100 bhp. H and U used a larger 365.6-cid eight with 133 bhp and included some luxurious limousines on a 137-inch wheelbase.
The next year brought more of the same, plus a new L-series Century Eight with a 90-bhp 240.2-cid engine. A two-door victoria, one of the most-handsome Hupps ever, arrived in the U-Series, and freewheeling was a sales point across the line. With the Depression exerting its death grip, Hupp flew buyers to Detroit and Cleveland to help stimulate orders, but sales remained sluggish at 17,456 for the model year.
For 1932, Hupp series codes indicated model year and wheelbase. That year's B-216 thus rode a 116-inch wheelbase; it also carried a new 75-bhp 228.1-cid engine. Hupp now secured the services of designer Raymond Loewy, who styled the eight-cylinder F-222 and I-226 with tire-hugging, cycle-type fenders; Vee'd radiators; sloped windshields; and chrome wheel discs. Fs had 250.7- or 261.5-cid engines with about 95 bhp. A 103-bhp, 279.9-cid unit powered the I-models. These graceful, handsome cars (issued after a brief run of "first-series" '31 carry-overs) won many awards for Loewy but few sales for Hupp, and production dropped again, this time to just under 10,500.
The 1933 Hupps were essentially '32 reruns, with a more-sloping grille the most obvious visual change. The 250 eight departed, while the 279 engine was bored out to 303.2 cid and 109 bhp for the I-326. Expanding the line were a cycle-fendered Six, the K-321, plus a cheaper K-321A with stationary hood louvers and single windshield wiper and taillight. But none of this helped, and Hupp's total volume dropped to just 7316.
For more on defunct American cars, see:
Hupmobile Executives Vie For Company Control
For 1934, Hupp hitched its falling star to the radical Loewy-designed J-421 Six and T-427 Eight. Advertised as the "Hupp Aerodynamic," these wore three-piece windshields with mild wraparound effect, headlights neatly faired-in between radiator and front fenders, and flush-mounted spare tire.
More-orthodox looks graced the W-417 Six, which had a good many body parts borrowed from Ford. Power came from a small 224-cid engine with just 80 bhp. J-models introduced a 245.3-cid engine with 93 bhp, while the T-Series offered 116 horses from an improved 303 eight.
This overall formula had evident appeal, for sales rose to 9420. It continued with little change for 1935. However, Hupp enhanced it by introducing the D-518 Aerodynamic Six with flat windshield and 101-bhp 245 engine, and the O-521 Eight with a 120-bhp 303. Production recovered to 1932 levels, nearing 10,800.
But the big news about Hupp in this period concerned a fight for company control. Archie Andrews, promoter of the unsuccessful front-drive 1930 Ruxton, gained control of Hupp in late 1934. He was forced out a year later, but not before the firm was in ruins. Hupp was thus obliged to close its doors in early 1936, keeping them shut for over 18 months. Hupp returned for 1938 with 245 and 303 engines in conventionally styled E-822 Six and H-825 Eight models -- just in time for a brief but sharp national recession. As a result, total model-year production came to just 2001 units.
Meanwhile, Norman De Vaux had become Hupp general manager, and had just purchased the body tooling from the late front-drive Cord 810/812. Offering a rear-drive version in fair numbers would revive Hupp -- or so he thought. And indeed, De Vaux reportedly took 6000 advance orders for what was announced in 1939 as the "Junior Six," later renamed Skylark. But with funds critically low, Hupp wasn't able to move the project beyond 30 odd prototypes (or pilot models), all hand-built before year's end. Included in the run was one Skylark Corsair convertible.
Undaunted, De Vaux approached Graham-Paige president Joseph Graham, who agreed to produce Skylark bodies if G-P could sell its own version of the car. This deal gave Hupp a ready supplier and Graham a new model to supplement its languishing "sharknose" line. Hupp president J.W. Drake said it did "not mean a merger of the two corporations. The Hupp-Graham contract is a most favorable one for both of us, as careful checking of all production costs demonstrated that great savings could be made." In reality, this was a partnership born of desperation.
Like Graham's Hollywood, the Hupp Skylark was identical to the defunct Cord from the cowl back, but wheelbase was trimmed 10 inches, to 115, via a new front end designed by John Tjaarda. Both versions wore a double grille and "bullet" headlamps nestled inboard of the front fenders, but the upper grille was painted on Skylarks, chromed on Hollywoods.
Each firm naturally used its own engines. For Skylark this meant the 101-bhp, 245 six from 1935. Hollywoods carried a 217.8-cid Graham six with 120 bhp supercharged or 95 unsupercharged. The Skylark was thus a bit livelier than an unblown Hollywood, but slower than the blown model. It was also a bit cheaper: $1145 to the Graham's initial $1250.
But the Skylark/Hollywood was delayed by the same tooling problems and cost overruns that had plagued the Cord. Worse, a full nine months were lost in transferring Skylark tools to the Graham assembly line in Dearborn, which had to be reconfigured for the "new" models, so production didn't begin in earnest until May 1940 -- by which time most of the advance orders had been canceled. Graham, which grabbed the publicity spotlight with its blown engine, ended up building six times as many of these cars. Hupp gave up at the end of July 1940, just three weeks after the start of '41-model production. Only some 300 Skylarks were built in all.
Hupp recovered somewhat with military contracts during World War II, but elected not to return to the auto manufacturing business when peace returned. Eventually, Hupp began making accessories for other auto companies as well as kitchen and electronics equipment.