HVA Honors Pioneer of Streamline Design at Concours d’Elegance of America

The HVA will display five influential Amos E. Northup automobile designs at Concours d’Elegance of America on Sunday July 30th at The Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth, Michigan.

The HVA returns to Michigan this summer for a special display of five automotive designs of Amos E. Northup at the Concours of d’Elegance of America.  The display includes a 1933 Graham Eight Blue Streak that recently became the nineteenth vehicle recognized by National Historic Vehicle Register program in partnership with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) to be archived in Library of Congress. This HVA exhibition is part of a public heritage program to foster appreciation for our automotive past.

1926 Wills Sainte Claire T6 Roadster
Courtesy of Paul and Deb Pawlosky, Ottisville, Michigan

When Northup joined Wills Sainte Claire (Marysville, Michigan) in 1924, he was one of the earliest “art directors” employed by a manufacturer. The Wills Sainte Claire automobile designs were considered attractive, progressive, and sleek for the time.  His use of “artistic color” and quality coachwork helped Wills Sainte Claire stand apart.

1929 Whippet Roadster
Courtesy of the AACA Museum, Hershey, PA

After a stint with the Murray Body Company, Northup joined Willys-Overland as its chief auto designer.  At the time, Willys-Overland was America’s third largest automotive manufacturer. He was responsible for bringing a fresh look to the new Whippet “light car” and the Willys-Knight. The Whippet received a longer wheelbase, more generous proportions and sweeping belt-line. Willys-Knight launched the sensational “plaidside” roadster and phaeton that used plaid pattern stripe sides to create an unusual but elegant and refined appearance.

1931 Reo Royale Eight Coupe

Around 1930, Northup returned to Murray (Body) Corporation as the chief designer where he stayed until his death in 1937. One of his most important designs was the Reo Royale.  It was the beginning of his streamlining efforts.  With the Royale, the front of the body became more integrated from the V-shaped grille to a flowing hood-line and more enveloping fenders.  It was one of the first production cars to be both modeled and wind-tunnel tested.

1933 Graham Eight Blue Streak
Courtesy of The NB Center for American Automotive Heritage, Allentown, PA

In December 1931,  Graham-Paige (Detroit)  introduced a new car that instantly made everything else look old. Designed by Northup, it was called the Graham Blue Streak. It was designed from the bottom up in the depth of Great Depression. Its chassis was lower, which improved handling.  Its eight-cylinder engine proved more powerful thanks to an aluminum head.  And its body design was more beautiful, more elegant and more streamlined than anything else on the road.  By 1933, the industry quickly copied the design. Graham claimed the Blue Streak was the most imitated car on the road. They were right and Northup’s design remains seminal.

1940 Graham Spirit of Motion
Courtesy the NB Center of American Automotive Heritage, Allentown, PA

Over the course of the 1930s, the automobile business continued to decline for the Graham-Paige automobile company. By around 1936, management looked to Northup (then at Murray) to create a new car that might spur the industry again as the Blue Streak had earlier in the decade.  His new design was a forward-leaning streamline car that was striking and unlike anything else on the road.  Sadly, he died before the car was launched in 1938.  It was a hit in Europe, however, but not in America.

On Valentine’s Day, 1937, Northup slipped on ice and hit his head near his home in Pleasant Ridge, Michigan.  A day later he passed away. He was just 48 years-old. Northup has since been credited as one of the pioneers of streamline automotive design.

A year ago, the HVA celebrated the work of designer Harley Earl with the recognition of the Buick Y-Job as the 14th vehicle recognized by National Historic Vehicle Register program.  This year the HVA is pleased to recognize one of his important contemporaries, Amos E. Northup, whose work has been largely forgotten.  His streamline styling set many design cues that others followed. He was an important figure and intellectual force that changed the course of automotive design.






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