1933 Hupmobile Convertible Coupe
1933 Hupmobile Convertible Coupe. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

The 1930s Depression wiped out many respected automotive names, including Duesenberg, Pierce-Arrow, Jordan, Marmon and Cord. Another was Hupmobile, which succumbed after 30 years of building cars.

Brothers Robert and Louis Hupp founded the Hupp Motor Car Co. of Detroit in 1908. They had almost instant success with their first product, the Hupmobile Model 20, a two-passenger runabout with a four-cylinder engine and a two-speed transmission. It was introduced at the 1908 Detroit Auto Show, and first year sales were more than 1,600.

A model D came in 1910, and to prove its durability, one was sent on an around-the-world drive in November, 1910. The trek, completed in January, 1912, covered 78,200 km (48,600 miles). By that time, however, Robert Hupp had left the company following a bitter disagreement. He launched an automobile firm called the RCH Co., which sank after three years.

The Hupmobile established a solid reputation, and prospered into the ’20s. It attracted good engineers and produced a variety of models, all with four-cylinder engines. In late 1925, Hupmobile decided to do as Cadillac had done in 1915: move directly from a four to an eight-cylinder engine, although it was a straight eight, not a V8 like Cadillac’s. A Hupmobile six would be added a year later, and good sales of sixes and eights saw Hupp’s earnings soar.

A stylish new 1928 model was so successful that Hupp added plant capacity by buying the Chandler-Cleveland Corp. of Cleveland, maker of Chandler cars, which were soon phased out to make way for more Hupmobiles. When 1928 ended an all-time record 65,862 Hupmobiles had been produced.

The same models were carried over into 1929, and sales continued strong until late in the year. When the stock market crash began to slow the economy, yearly sales were off by 23 percent. Undismayed by the looming Depression, in fact almost in defiance of it, Hupp forged ahead with a new 70-horsepower six and a 100-horsepower eight for 1930. A few months later a 133-horsepower eight was added, but with the Depression deepening, Hupmobile sales fell to just over 22,000.

Hupp reduced prices for 1931, but sales still fell, ending up the year at 17,456 cars. Still confident, Hupmobile entered 1932 with some handsome new models styled in part by Raymond Loewy, who would later become famous for the creation of Studebaker’s groundbreaking “coming-or-going” post-Second World War design. Because the front fenders of the ’32s followed the contour of the wheels, they were referred to as the “cycle car” Hupmobiles.

But 1932 sales fell to about 10,500, and Hupp’s low cash flow dictated going into 1933 with few changes. Unfortunately, sales continued down and Hupp was reaching a critical decision point. The company had made no profit during the ’30s. But Hupp management boldly supplemented their traditionally styled 1934 line of cars with a daring new Aerodynamic model. It had a rounded body, faired-in headlamps and a three-piece “pilot house” windshield with its end sections slightly “bent” around the corners.

Improved public reception encouraged Hupp to add two more Aerodynamic models, and sales rose to some 9,000 for both 1934 and ’35. If Hupp had been free to use this reprieve to rebuild, the company might have survived, but in addition to the Depression, there were problems in the boardroom. Archie Andrews, one of the corporation’s largest shareholders, disagreed with the Hupp board’s operation of the company, so he and his supporters sued. In 1935, opposing shareholders successfully countersued and had Andrews removed from the company.

The public followed these courtroom shenanigans with interest, and a growing loss of confidence in Hupp. This, plus the litigation costs, and a strike and lockout, meant that Hupp was virtually finished by 1935.

Hupp management later refinanced the operation and brought out 1938 models, which were contemporary but conservative. A short, sharp recession marred Hupp’s economic recovery in 1938, and this combined with the loss of public confidence and a decimated dealer network, resulted in few sales.

Hupp made one last desperate attempt at recovery with what many consider the best-looking Hupmobile of all: the Skylark. It used the body from the front-wheel drive Cord 810-812 model, but had Hupp’s conventional rear-wheel drive. It was built for Hupp by Graham-Paige Motors, which also marketed an identical model called the Hollywood.

It was too little too late, and the Skylark was also a sales failure; it was all over for Hupmobile cars. The Hupp Motor Car Corp. wound up its automobile operations late in 1940, although it continued on in Cleveland as Hupp, Inc., a successful builder of such products as heating and air-conditioning equipment.

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