The Hupmobile: A Lesson for Today's Car Makers

The Downfall of the Hupmobile Should Be a Lesson for Manufacturers

Hupmobile car, (c1925-c1935?).

Heritage Images / Getty Images

The Hupmobile may not be a familiar name among classic car enthusiasts, but it was one of the many respected and beloved marques that fell victim to the 1930s Depression after 30 years of building cars.

The History of the Hupmobile

Robert Hupp, a former employee of Oldsmobile and Ford, and his brother Louis Hupp founded the Hupp Motor Car Co. in Detroit, Michigan. They introduced the Hupmobile Model 20, a two-passenger runabout with a four-cylinder engine and a two-speed transmission, at the 1908 Detroit Auto Show. It was very well received and their first-year sales topped 1,600.

The Hupmobile did very well into the 1920s and established a solid reputation which allowed them to attract good engineers. The Hupmobile moved from a four-cylinder to a straight eight and produced a variety of models. By 1926, the Hupmobile Six was added and Hupp’s earnings skyrocketed.

It was the success of the stylish 1928 model that helped the Hupp brothers afford to increase plant capacity by buying the Chandler-Cleveland Corp. of Cleveland. 65,862 Hupmobiles had been produced by the end of that year.

Encouraged by the previous year’s strong sales, Hupp made the mistake of increasing the Hupmobile power plant to a 70-horsepower Six and a 100-horsepower Eight in the 1930 models after the stock market crash. With sales dipping 23 percent and depression looming, Hupp forged ahead with a 133-horsepower Eight in an economy that couldn't afford additional gas consumption.

Plummeting Sales

Hupp reduced prices on the 1931 models, but this didn’t stop their sales from plummeting. Hupp decided to collaborate with Raymond Loewy, famous for the creation of Studebaker's groundbreaking "coming-or-going" design, to introduce a stylish new model for 1932. Because the front fenders of the '32s followed the contour of the wheels, they were referred to as the "cyclecar" Hupmobiles.

With only 10,500 of the new model Hupmobiles sold, there was not enough cash to make any significant changes for 1933, but the bold designs for the 1934 Hupmobile received public attention and approval. It had an aerodynamic body, faired-in headlamps and a three-piece "pilot house" windshield with its end sections slightly bent around the corners.

The increased sales didn’t ease tension in the Hupp boardroom resulting in Archie Andrew, one of the corporation's largest shareholders, filing a lawsuit. Opposing shareholders successfully countersued and had Andrews removed from the company; all of which created a lack of public confidence.

Hupp’s last attempt for a recovery produced what many consider the best looking Hupmobile of all -- the Skylark. It used the body from the front-wheel-drive Cord 810-812 model and Hupp's conventional rear-wheel drive. Unfortunately, the new Skylark was not enough to turn things around and the Hupp Motor Car Corp. wound up its automobile operations late in 1940.

The lesson here is that car makers need to build cars that coincide with the demands of the economy, not their egos.