MotorCities National Heritage Area

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of Robert Tate's Collection
Posted: 07.11.2017

file 20170711144639 1938 Graham1938 Graham with new 'shark nose' design

In 1927, three brothers from Indiana decided to buy the failing Paige-Detroit Motor Car Co., and make their own vehicles, and a line of farm equipment, under the new moniker – Graham-Paige.

Brothers Joseph, Robert and Ray founded the company that would go on to manufacture some of the more stylish automobiles from the early 1930s. This story is about the innovative and daring 1938 Graham models.

Graham Motor Car Company advertising described the models as “Daring new designs” and encompassing the “Spirit of Motion.” The new models offered dynamic sweep design fenders and new headlights that were built flush into the fenders. Some consumers admired the aerodynamic, stylish new look, however, others did not.

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The models were produced as solid steel bodies along with their tops. The models were also manufactured with hydraulic brakes and safety glass windows for the consumer market.

The 1938 Graham models received first-place wins during the Gilmore-Yosemite Economy Run. Mr. B. Gilmore, president of Gilmore Oil Company, held the economy race along with H. Clay Moore of Ralph Hamlin. The Graham Supercharged models were conceded to be one of the world's most effective gas-savers on the consumer market.

Not all of the motoring public, however, accepted the new age design of the Graham automobiles. Some consumers felt that the styling was just a little too radical for the buying public when it came time to purchasing a new automobile.

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For 1938, the company had gone a step further in its innovative design bringing about probably the most well-known exterior feature of the Graham – the shark-nose front-end radiator. These models were labeled as part of the “Spirit of Motion” lineup. It was the late Amos Northup (Oct. 23, 1889-Feb.8, 1937) who created the shark nose and unfortunately this would be his last automotive design contribution before his death in 1937.

The Graham models for 1938-1940 remained poor sellers, and the shark-nose front end design was eliminated after 1940.

Despite its poor reception, Graham had taken a bold step forward in automotive design by introducing a radical vison of what a consumer vehicle can look like. The models were big and luxurious sporting a 120-inch wheelbase with a high-powered economy engine. The most expensive model Graham offered for 1938 was the Custom Supercharger 4-door Touring sedan. This series was offered for $1,225.

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The Graham Motor brand went from a household name to obscurity during the war years when many automotive companies refitted their assembly lines to produce war machines instead of autos. Now, Graham and Graham-Paige autos are highly collectible and rare to see at any given car show.

One can imagine that when Graham first introduced its 1938 “shark-nose” design, some consumers enjoyed the styling and thought that something new and exciting was happening in automotive design.

Judging from the research from the day, it seemed that the motoring public had a love-hate relationship with the radically designed Graham automobiles – some loved the new look while others expressed an intense dislike.

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In 1939, Graham decided to enter into a partnership with Hupmobile to build cars based on the designs of the famed Gordon Buehrig who had designed the Cord 810/812. The partnership, however, was unable to come up with funding to build the car so Graham agreed to build the Hupmobile Skylark on a contract basis.

In 1943, the late Joseph Frazer became the person in charge of Graham-Paige; two years later, with Henry J. Kaiser, they both took over the Willow Run manufacturing plant for Kaiser-Frazer production. By 1947, the Graham-Paige brand was taken over by Kaiser-Frazer and eventually dissolved.

Today, the controversial styling of the 1938 Graham models are very collectible and scarce and will always be a part of our automotive heritage.

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For further information on photos please visit or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Please do not republish the story and/or photographs without permission of MotorCities National Heritage Area. (Bibliography: Graham Supercharger News–Detroit. “Graham wins again” January, 1937 Volume 1 and 2; Langworth, M. Richard. “Encyclopedia of American Cars 1930-1980” 1984.)

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