Curbside Classic: 1935 Hupmobile J-521 Six “Aerodynamic” – Raymond Loewy Helps Usher in The Aerodynamic Era

Hupmobile 1935 fcurbside photos posted at the CC Cohort by trabantusa

(first posted 12/12/2013)      The Great Aerodynamic Fever hit its peak in the years 1932 – 1934, when the streamlining contagion suddenly flared up on both continents. Infected designers and engineers would awake one day and find that they were suddenly incapable of drawing straight lines anymore, especially vertical ones. One of the earliest victims was Raymond Loewy, a French engineer who moved to the US and got his start here designing department store windows. He soon put his affliction to good use.

Hupmobile 1034 alden jewelimage source aldenjewell

Rather than seek a cure, Loewy decided to exploit the phenomena, and opened an industrial design office in 1930. One of his first clients was Hupmobile, one of so many small independent automakers. He cleaned up their 1932 models a bit, but the big leap forward was the 1934 Hupmobile “Aerodynamic”, Loewy’s first clean-sheet automotive design which arrived the same year as the ill-fated Chrysler Airflow. And although the “Aerodynamic” was less radical than the Airflow and relatively more successful, it still wasn’t enough to save Hupp. Apparently American consumers had a natural resistance to the streamlined contagion.

hupmobile 19291929 Hupmobile

Not surprisingly, the Hupmobile was named after its founder, Robert C. Hupp, an engineer who had worked with both Ransom E. Olds and Henry Ford striking out on his own in 1909. And like so many founders of new companies, he eventually got into it with his investors, and walked away just two years later. Hupmobile survived, and prospered during the go-go twenties, and hit a sales peak in 1928 of 55,000 cars.

Loewy toaster

But the Crash of 1929 and the subsequent Depression severely impacted Hupp, like so many independent brands. So they looked to Raymond Loewy, in the hopes that he could replicate the success he and other designers had in making consumer products look more attractive by enclosing their working parts in a streamlined envelope. If it worked for toasters, why not cars?

Hupmobile 1934 Ad-01

Hupp thus became Loewy’s first automotive client. Wisely, Loewy did not push the (aerodynamic) envelope too hard with his 1934 Aerodynamic Hupmobiles, available in six cylinder and eight cylinder versions, and in coupe and sedan body styles.

Hupmobile 1935 rq

From the rear, the Areodynamic Hupmobile is only about a year ahead of such mainstream cars like the Ford, which adopted similar design language for 1935, except at the front.

Hupmobile 1935 fq

Unlike the Airflow’s blunt front end and waterfall grille, Loewy went with more traditional design cues up front, but faired all the elements together. The result is bold, dynamic and advanced for the time, but certainly not revolutionary, like radical and grill-less Tatra streamliners of the same vintage.

Pierce Silver Arrow

Loewy’s approach to streamlining the traditional front end is somewhat similar to that taken by Philip O. Wright with his 1933 Pierce Sliver Arrow, shown at the 19933 Chicago Exposition, although the Silver Arrow was more radical in the treatment of its front fenders and the lack of running boards.

Hupmobile 1934 aerodynamic

Did it have the desired effect, sales-wise? Well, sales did improve, up to a whopping 9420 for 1934. That also included non-Aerodynamic models, but undoubtedly the new look generated a bit of badly-needed foot traffic for Hupmobile. 1935 sales rose to 10,800.

Hupmobile 1934 ad

Although the cars looked smooth, the company was in total disarray thanks to another fight for control of the company. By 1936, Hupp was in ruins, and shut down for an extended period of time.

Hupp Skylark 1936

Hupp had one final act of desperation before it shut down for good. General Manager Norman De Vaux bought the body tooling from the late and great Cord 810/812, and adapted it to Hupps rear wheel drive chassis, with a new nose styled by John Tjaarda, another of the early infected designers. But Hupp couldn’t get the Skylark into production, and made a deal with also-floundering Graham to have them build the bodies for both companies. (Graham CC here)

That Cord design must have been doomed, as it took forever to get any kind of production going by Graham due to tooling problems. Production didn’t begin until 1940 (!), and the supercharged Graham outsold the Hupp Skylark six-to-one. But it wasn’t enough to save either company, and Hupp shut down for good in July of 1940, having sold some 300 Skylarks.

Hupmobile 1935 r

This 1935 Hupmobile is a great find by trabantusa, who posted it at the CC Cohort. I was infected by the aerodynamic contagion at an early age, and seeing a car like this triggers symptoms; writing them up, in may case.