Amelia Island

10-11 March 2017

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Lot 243

1938 Graham 97 Supercharged Cabriolet by Saoutchik

  • Chassis no. 141747
  • Engine no. 146749

Sold for $770,000


116 bhp, 217.8 cu. in. L-head inline six-cylinder engine with crankshaft-driven supercharger, three-speed manual transmission with overdrive, independent front suspension with coil springs, semi-elliptical leaf spring rear suspension, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 120 in.

  • The 1938 Paris Salon car for the Saoutchik stand
  • Unique, special styling features, including cantilevered doors and a folding windshield
  • 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance class award winner
  • Thoroughly researched, spectacular restoration by RM Auto Restoration
  • Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) Full Classic
  • The finest surviving combination of American and French Art Deco


THE SPIRIT OF MOTION

That title suggests an abstract work of art, and the 1938 Graham was as close to that category as production automobile design ever dared reach. It was, for its time, as mold-breaking as the Cord 810 that preceded it two years prior. The final creation of the late Amos Northrup, an early pioneer in automotive aerodynamics, it sported a jutting prow flanked by curved fenders, with headlights blended smoothly into their leading edges. The radiator seemed to bend around the hood with the force of the wind, its strakes continuing nearly all the way to the cowl. Pontoon fenders, with shrouds over the rear wheels, and a built-in trunk were not altogether new in 1938. However, no American car before had carried them quite so audaciously.

SHARKNOSE BY SAOUTCHIK

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.

Writing in the June 1984 issue of The Classic Car, automotive historian Karl Zahm described the Saoutchik Graham best: “This Graham is a rakish car made more so by the absence of running boards and its decided ‘notch-back’ style accented by the sweeping side moldings. An aerodynamically inspired fin molded into and forming part of the rear deck adds to its streamlined look. The car is also fitted with unique parallel opening doors built under license by its developer, British coachbuilder James Young, Ltd. A double-bar, pivoting swing hinge is used, allowing the fifty-two-inch wide doors to swing out and back over the rear fenders – always parallel to the car’s sides. The door windows are also unusual in that they work on a double retractable system. Upon rolling down the window, the rear or larger part retracts first, allowing the wind wing section either to return into the body of the door or be left upright in operable position.”

THE ROAD TO (AND FROM) ALGIERS

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.

The car is recorded by Saoutchik historian Peter Larsen as having been originally sold to a Maurice Reb. Reb kept his car during the time that he was stationed in Algeria with the French Army. However, the commanding officer of the French Army in Algeria, General Alphose Juin, requisitioned the Graham. Reb put up a fuss and was subsequently conscripted to the General’s chauffeur until the end of 1939! Late in 1940, Reb returned with the car to Algiers and around this time, it was converted to run on coal gas due to severe wartime fuel supply restrictions. Reb sold the Graham to the Army in late 1942, who then put a military vehicle gas engine in the car. It remained there for two more years; during this time, it was photographed in the town of Touggourt, where it remained in service as a staff car.

The Graham was eventually acquired in 1944 by an American Chrysler employee, Thomas Demetry, from the French Army Service of Supply, and was exported from the Algerian port city of Oran to the United States for $175. The car was then traded among enthusiasts in Michigan until 1966, when its final Great Lakes State owner, Morley Murphy, sold it to legendary collector William Harrah for his renowned Nevada museum. Harrah’s staff performed their usual painstaking research on the car’s past, including following up on a rumor of its use by Charles de Gaulle; they contacted de Gaulle’s office, which sent back a terse reply that they would not be commenting, and that it would be best not to pursue the matter further!

The car was sold at one of the Harrah’s Automobile Collection dispersal auctions in 1981 to Edmund Kowalski of California, who exhaustively documented its restoration over a 30-year period of research on two continents. Finally, in 2013, it was acquired by the current owner, who set to work having RM Auto Restoration resurrect it to its original beauty.

RESTORATION AND RESURRECTION

The Graham had survived the years in extremely original condition; while it was missing various trim components, the period photographs located allowed them to be recreated, painstakingly and carefully. Original color schemes were carefully studied and considered, and the cantilever doors painstakingly rebuilt to operate as new.

While about half of the body wood had to be replaced during the restoration due to dry rot, the majority of the body sheetmetal was able to be preserved. Mechanically, the chassis and suspension was in good condition, requiring only new bearings, bushings, and steering joints. The complete electrical system was rebuilt to function correctly, including the original tube-type AM radio. A period-correct engine and supercharger were rebuilt, assembled, and then tested on a chassis dynamometer.

Much of the trim work for the interior was missing, probably due to the earlier restoration attempts. Molds were made and the plastics for the instrument panel were cast using the original swirled two-tone colors. The original mechanism for the three-position top was rebuilt to function properly, and the top was made using the correct materials. Leather belts were made to hold the roof in the mid position if it is desired.

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 2nd 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. It has also been accepted by the Classic Car Club of America as a Full Classic, by virtue of its stunning custom coachwork.

Further, the car is offered with the comprehensive collection of documentation assembled for it by Edmund Kowalski, covering virtually every segment of its history and perhaps the most authoritative archive ever assembled on the Saoutchik Grahams. This includes its full file from Harrah’s Automobile Collection.

Ready for further show appearances, and undoubtedly more trophies, this amazing machine has survived World War II to become one of the most thrilling surviving combinations of American and French streamlining from the golden era of Art Deco.

Addendum

Please note that the Arizona Concours d’Elegance has kindly extended an invitation for this car to attend its 2018 concours on January 13-15, 2018. Furthermore, it has also been invited to the 2017 Elegance at Hershey on June 9-11, 2017. Please refer to an RM Sotheby's representative for additional information.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

aweaver@rmsothebys.com

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

asabatie-garat@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

bruprecht@rmsothebys.com

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

dswig@rmsothebys.com

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

drose@rmsothebys.com

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

dgould@rmsothebys.com

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

gduff@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

jauerbach@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

kforry@rmsothebys.com

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

mmalamut@rmsothebys.com

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

msquire@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

mfairbairn@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

ocamelin@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

pdarvill@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

pfisher@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

smyers@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

tvandervelden@rmsothebys.com

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more