Amos Northup: The Auto Designer with an Independent Approach

Amos Earl Northup, born on October 23, 1889, in Bellevue, Ohio, discovered his passion for design early in life. He pursued his interest at the Cleveland Polytechnic Institute, where he graduated before embarking on a career that initially focused on furniture and interior design. However, his true calling emerged when he joined Pierce-Arrow in Buffalo, New York, in 1919.

After a period of designing the 1924 Wills Sainte Claire and other projects in his studio, Northup’s talents caught the attention of industry leaders. In 1927, he became the chief of design at the Murray Body Corporation, one of Detroit’s major body suppliers. Murray served various automakers, including Ford, Graham-Paige, Reo, and Willys-Overland, which relied on external designers due to the absence of in-house styling departments.

Northup produced some of his most remarkable designs during his time at Murray, including the 1930 Graham-Paige, the A400 Convertible Sedan for Ford, the Reo Royale, and the influential 1932 Graham Blue Streak.

1930 Graham-Paige
1932 Graham Blue Streak

He also briefly held the position of head of design at Willys-Overland, contributing designs such as the Willys-Knight 66B Plaidsides and the 1930 Whippet, before returning to Murray. Even after returning, he continued to create designs for Willys-Overland, such as the 1933 Willys 77 and 99 and the 1937 Willys.

Willys-Knight 66B Plaidsides

One of Northup’s notable works was the 1939 Graham, known as the Graham Sharknose or Spirit of Motion. His innovative approach, characterized by the elimination of the radiator grille as the dominant styling element, set him apart in the industry. The Graham Blue Streak, with its laid-back verticals, faired fenders, and integrated elements, is regarded as one of the most forward-looking car designs of the 1930s.

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Tragically, Northup passed away on February 13, 1937, just days after a fall near his home in Pleasant Ridge, Michigan. At the time of his death, his final design for the Spirit of Motion Graham was incomplete, and he never saw it in production form. His patent drawings for the Graham suggested an even more radical vehicle than the eventual result, featuring fully enclosed front and rear wheels and a teardrop rear deck. In Detroit, Amos Earl Northup stood out as one of the most independent and creative auto designers of his time.

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