Historic Car Brands
In 1909, Bobby Hupp co-founded the Hupp Motor Car Company, with Charles Hastings, formerly of Oldsmobile. Emil Nelson, formerly of Oldsmobile and Packard, was chief engineer. The Hupmobile brand survived the Great Depression, but ceased production in 1939.
1909 Hupmobile Model 20 Roadster – Anackire
The 1909 Hupp Model 20 cars were built in a small building in Detroit, Michigan, but instant sales success dictated larger premises, next to the former Oldsmobile plant. The company produced 500 vehicles in its first year and production increased to more than 5000 by the end of 1910.
The Model 20’s pricing was in the US$750-$1100 range and bodywork was available initially as a Runabout. Later bodywork offerings were two seat torpedo and four-seat touring and coupe models.
The L-head, four-cylinder engine had a bore of 3 1/4 inches and a stroke of 3 3/8 inches and was rated at 16 to 20 horsepower. It featured up-market Bosch magneto ignition, but was limited in appeal by its low engine power and widely-spaced sliding-mesh two-speed transmission.
Unlike most of its competitors it came with a quality warranty.
1911 Hupmobile – National Automobile Museum of Tasmania
The year 1911 was pivotal for the Hupmobile brand: it pioneered the use of all-steel bodywork in the USA, as BSA was doing with its car range in the UK; and it saw the departure of its co-founder, Bobby Hupp, who fell out with the other company directors.
Chief engineer Nelson had approached the Hale & Kilburn company in Philadelphia looking for help with developing an all-metal body for the larger Hupobile 32 model. Later to be famous Edward Budd and Joseph Ledwinka were employed at Hale & Kilburn at the time: Budd as general manager and Ledwinka as engineer.
Budd and Ledwinka worked with Nelson to develop a way to manufacture Nelson’s design for this body. They devised a system in which the body’s many steel stampings were welded into frame-supported sub-assemblies that were transported by rail to Detroit, where they were given final assembly, painting and trimming in the Hupmobile factory.
While that procedure was being implemented, Bobby Hupp founded another car company in August 1911. A court ruling prevented his use of the ‘Hupp’ name so his new car brand was known as ‘RCH’ – his initials.
1912 RCH Runabout – National Library of New Zealand
RCH produced small vehicles that were powered by a four-cylinder, 22hp engine and were priced at under US$1000. Bobby Hupp also directed to RCH many supplier parts that once headed for Hupmobile’s plant, forcing Hupmobile to expand its own production capacity in a new plant, in 1912.
RCH had stellar initial success, but in an attempt to meet the demand, quality suffered. After only three years, the decision was made to cease the production of RCH vehicles.
Additional departures from Hupmobile were Budd and Ledwinka, who left to form the Edward G Budd Manufacturing Company that became prominent in the US auto body business. (Interestingly, neither Budd nor Ledwinka had patented the original steel body-making system they developed for Hupmobile and when Ledwinka tried to patent the process in 1914, it was too late, thanks to the existing Hupmobile 32 that proved the process was already in the public domain and therefore not novel.)
Several thousand all-steel touring cars were made before Nelson resigned in 1912. Hupmobile’s commitment to this leading-edge approach did not survive his departure and the remainder of Hupmobile 32 production used conventional body assembly processes. In 1913 Frank E Watts was hired as designer.
1915 Hupmobile Model N – MartinHansV
Hupp Motor Car Company continued to grow after its co-founder left and the Hupmobile brand competed strongly against Ford and Chevrolet. DuBois Young became company president in 1924, advancing from vice-president of manufacturing.
By 1928, annual sales had reached over 65,000 units, so to increase production and handle sales growth, Hupp purchased the Chandler-Cleveland Motors Corporation, mainly for its manufacturing facilities.
1929 Hupmobile M Opera Coupe – SamTorres
However, Hupmobile sales and production began to fall, even before the 1930s Great Depression. A decision to make the Hupmobile a larger, more expensive car began with the 1925 introduction of an eight-cylinder model and that decision was followed by the elimination of the staple four-cylinder Hupmobile post-1925.
Hupmobile wasn’t the only car maker to turn its back on its established clientele, in the production of more profitable, larger vehicles. In an attempt to capture every possible sale, Hupmobile offered many different models, but no variant could be produced in sufficient quantity to achieve economy of scale.
1933 Hupmobile K-321 Sedan Cyclefender – Sicnag
Hupmobile turned to Raymond Loewy to design its 1932 Cyclefender roadster that did well in competition, but sales continued to decline. In 1934 came a restyle called ‘Aerodynamic’ by Loewy, as well as a lower-priced series that employed Murray-built, slightly-modified Ford bodies.
1934 Hupmobile Model J Aerodynamic Sedan – AldenJewell
Squabbles among stockholders and an attempted hostile takeover in 1935 took their toll on the company, so by 1936 Hupmobile was forced to sell some of its plants and assets.
1938 Hupmobile 822-E – Dave7
A new line of six- and eight-cylinder cars was fielded for 1938, but by this time Hupp had very few dealers and sales were disappointingly low.
In a last gasp, Hupmobile acquired the production dies of the Gordon Buehrig-designed Cord 810, paying US$900,000 for the tooling. Hupmobile gambled that the striking Cord design, but in a lower-priced, conventional, rear wheel drive car, called the Skylark, would return the company to financial health.
Lacking adequate production facilities, Hupmobile partnered with the ailing Graham-Paige Motor Co to share the Cord dies. Hupmobile and Graham both sold similar models, all built at Graham-Paige’s facilities. While each marque used its own power train, the Graham edition, called the Hollywood, differed from the Skylark in a few minor details.
Hupmobile Skylark – John Lloyd
Enthusiastic orders came in by the thousands, but production delays soured customer support.
In 1939, deliveries of the Hupmobile Skylark finally began, but most of the orders had been cancelled by then and only 319 Skylarks were produced.
Hupmobile ceased official production in late 1939 and Graham-Paige suspended production shortly afterwards.