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1938 Sharknosed Graham

Spirit of Motion – The Sharknosed Graham

Graham brought out a fresh and cutting edge design named the Spirit of Motion in 1938. The concept drawings were done by stylist Amos Northup in 1935, and the design was used in an effort by the fading automaker to regain its piece of the marketplace. Unfortunately, the move backfired after the styling was deemed unpopular with the new car buying public. Accurate production numbers are hard to find, but figures of around only 2500 have been reported.

Northup filed a patent application for the design on November 2, 1935, that he assigned to the Murray Body Company when it was approved on June 23, 1936. Graham contracted with Murray for the design and bodies, and the original concept was either changed for production by Northup or others after he died following a fall in February of 1937.



  •                  The 1938 Graham Supercharger Combination Coupe – 12o-inch wheelbase – 116 h.p.

The 1938 Supercharger Combination Coupe is just above, and the lead photo in the post shows an updated red 1940 Combination Coupe. The drawing below is one of Northup’s patent illustrations of the design in its original form. The front fenders were later shortened up, and the lines were somewhat softened.

The headlights, initially intended to be positioned behind the fender grilles were eliminated and ended up as surface-mounted lamps behind futuristic-looking lenses accented by flowing chromed headlight frames. The treatment was similar to those used by the French coachbuilders Saoutchik, and Figoni et Falschi.

While the car proved unpopular in its home market, abroad in France, it is reported to to have been a hit. There the car scored wins at the Paris Concours D’Elegance, the Prix d’Avant-Garde at Lyon, the Prix d’Elegance at Bordeaux, and the Grand Prix d’Honneur at Deauville.



  •                   Amos Northup’s 1935 patent drawing above with headlights behind pointed grilles.


  •     Centrifugally supercharged Graham 217.8 c.i. Continental six-cylinder L-head engine with 116 h.p.

Power enhancement for the Graham was also addressed and featured adding a vertical centrifugal supercharger much like the one Fred Duesenberg designed for the SJ Duesenberg. A similar unit was later used on the Auburn and the Cord. This change boosted the 217.8 c.i. Continental six-cylinder L-head engine’s h.p. from 90 to 116.

In addition to having good power, The Sharknose also had outstanding gasoline mileage. Earl Gilmore below is presenting the Sweepstakes Trophy to Clay Moore, who drove a Graham Supercharger in the Gilmore Yosemite Economy Contest. He won best mileage in class and the Sweepstakes for the highest ton-miles per gallon. The image is from Automobile Topics, January 31, 1938 issue.

The Spirit of Motion ended in 1940 when it left the lineup with the introduction of the new Hollywood Graham. That car was based on the old Cord 810 dies, that Hupmobile acquired but couldn’t afford to produce the cars so Graham built both the Hupmobile Skylark and their own Hollywood. Hupp had built a few prototypes only using bodies made by Hayes Body Corporation. You can learn that story soon in a future post. The color advertising images are courtesy of Alden Jewell. Engine photo courtesy of The Old Car Manual Project.

  •      Clay Moore and a Supercharger won the Sweepstakes in the Gilmore Yosemite Economy Contest.


  •          A 1939 two-tone four-door Sedan and a color illustration of a Combination Coupe are below.





10 responses to “Spirit of Motion – The Sharknosed Graham

  1. Maybe if the sharknose front had been echoed in the rest of the car’s lines Graham
    woulda hadda hit.
    Instead they hit a brick wall of “same ‘ol”

  2. I tend to agree with Chris’s comment above – the best part of the “Spirit of Motion” Graham always seemed for me to be the “front clip” ( from the cowl forward).

    I’ve been fortunate enough to see a few in person, at Macungie, and Hershey, and while they are striking for their aesthetics, the first time I saw one, I was surprised at their modest size. Especially the interior width.

    Learning here that Northrup conceived this design in 1935, the apparent narrowness of the body and the (forgive me) clunky-ness of the rear body section make a little more sense to me,

    For a 1938-’39 car, it’s so-so… for a 1935-’36 car, it’s a lot more impressive. The grille and headlight treatment will always be classic though.

    Regarding Northrup’s patent sketch, the grille and fender contours look a LOT like what appeared on the ’37 Willys.

  3. I’d suspect that the car didn’t fail due to styling so much as the company just ran out of funds and the ability to borrow before the car was introduced.

  4. I dunno, I found the Northrup design to be terrific. The American public usually is pretty resistant to sudden changes in styling. Just look at the Chrysler Airflow.

    • I couldn’t agree more, Last week I saw my first Sharknose and found it to be a beautiful car. Apparently others did also, for it won peoples choice award at the 2015 GOCI meet

  5. As the proud owner of a 39 sharknose . I enjoy the conversations at car shows which usually include Who made Graham. Where were they made.But usually just ” I’ve never seen one before”.

  6. I’m sure the rear portion of the Spirit of Motion ( I refuse to refer to it as “Sharknose”)was not done by my great Uncle Amos. Rather it was completed after his untimely death in February 1937.

    • The never produced 3 window coupe flowed much better to the rear, a cohesive design Graham didn’t see fit to produce.

  7. The 3 window coupe has a much more cohesive design showing a total “Spirit of Motion” front to back. For some reason, (financial?) Graham chose not to produce that body style.

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