Darin Schnabel ©2017, courtesy of RM Sotheby’s
Like many advanced American designs of the late 1930s, “The Spirit of Motion” caught on much stronger in avant-garde Europe than in its home country. The finest European coachbuilders took Northrup’s aerodynamic lines as their muse, among them Jacques Saoutchik of Paris. Saoutchik installed custom cabriolet bodywork on several “Sharknose” chassis, of which the car shown here is believed to be one of two existing examples and the only one currently in the United States. Chassis number 141747 was one of two Saoutchik-bodied Grahams displayed at the 1938 Paris Salon, with this particular car being the more special of the pair, with its cantilevered doors and folding windshield. It was the car displayed on Saoutchik’s stand, where photographs depicted Pierre Saoutchik presenting it to French President Albert François Lebrun. It was shown again at the Faire de Lyon in March 1939, as featured in the Graham factory newsletter The Supercharger. Following completion of the spectacular restoration, the Graham made its debut at the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Its design and restoration were acclaimed, as it became one of the most popular and most photographed cars of the show, and it was awarded Second in Class. It appeared again in 2015 at the Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance in Ontario, Canada, and was even more successful, being judged Best of Show among a field of superlative classics.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1938 Graham 97 Supercharged Cabriolet by Saoutchik
Years Produced:1938
Number Produced:Two
Original List Price:$1,290
SCM Valuation:$129,250
Tune Up Cost:$400
Distributor Caps:$35
Chassis Number Location:On body floor inside right door
Engine Number Location:On right side of block
Club Info:The Graham-Paige Owners Club
Alternatives:1951 Delahaye 235 cabriolet by Saoutchik, 1948 Cadillac Series 62 Three-Position Drophead by Saoutchik, 1938 Hispano-Suiza H6C Dubonnet Xenia Streamliner by Saoutchik
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 243, sold for $770,000, including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s auction in Amelia Island, FL, on March 11, 2017.

The Graham Brothers — Joseph, Robert and Ray — introduced their new Graham-Paige at the January 1928 New York Auto Show with introductions from boxer Gene Tunney and Norte Dame football coach Knute Rockne.

Ten years later, the “Spirit of Motion” was introduced with a new dramatic radiator design known as the Sharknose. Unfortunately, public reaction in the United States to the advanced design was not favorable, as it was thought to be too radical or too ugly — or perhaps even both.

The Europeans were, however, a bit more fashion-forward, and the streamlined designs of Jacques Saoutchik that appeared on Bugatti, Delahaye and other marques were well accepted. Saoutchik created several coachbuilt Graham cabriolets. Our subject car is thought to one of two remaining examples.

The car had rakish lines, and the absence of running boards with a fin molded into the rear deck added to the aerodynamic look. It also featured cantilevered doors that would swing out and over the rear fenders, a design feature that was licensed from James Young Ltd.

A folding windshield and three-position top completed the Art Deco look.

From France to Harrah’s to Pebble Beach

Our subject car was one of two Saoutchik-bodied Grahams that were displayed at the 1938 Paris Auto Salon, and chassis 141747 was subsequently shown at the Faire de Lyon in March 1939.

Then the supercharged Graham 97 began a remarkable journey that took it from Algiers to the famed Harrah’s Collection and to the show field at Pebble Beach.

After the show in Lyon, it was sold to a French soldier who was stationed in Algiers, and then a general requisitioned his car. After its return, the car was converted to run on coal, and it was finally sold to the French Army, which installed a military gas engine.

In 1944, it was sold to an American for the princely sum of $175. After several subsequent owners, it was acquired by Harrah’s, which attempted, unsuccessfully, to confirm the rumor that Charles de Gaulle once used the car.

It was again sold at one of the Harrah’s Automotive Collection dispersal auctions in 1981. It remained with its new owner for more than 30 years until his death. An eBay listing and an Internet post indicated that the daughter, who inherited the car, had no idea what to do with it.

Restoration and Pebble Beach

An RM Sotheby’s representative noticed the post and suggested they had clients interested in restoring cars that would have Pebble Beach-winning potential.

RM Auto Restoration performed a spectacular restoration. The heavy, 52-inch-wide cantilevered doors operate with a finger’s touch. The two-tone plastic dash was painstakingly re-created. The result was stunning; however, it only received a Second in Class at Pebble Beach, which had to be disappointing.

To be eligible for Best in Show, which we assume was the objective, a car at Pebble Beach must first win its class, so that goal was not to be realized for this Graham.

It did receive a Best of Show at a concours in Canada, however, and the Classic Car Club of America has accepted it as a Full Classic by virtue of its dramatic coachwork.

A rare car with peerless documentation

The car was auctioned with the extensive research documents from the Harrah’s Automotive Collection — and the 30-year archive from the previous owner.

The price paid, in my opinion, was most reasonable, as it will be welcomed at any major event. The solid, bulletproof documentation makes it beyond reproach. This car truly captures the “Spirit of Motion.” ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

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