There is nothing like this car on the west coast – period.” Princeton resident Glenn Irish said, as he sipped on a cold glass of lemonade, and sat down with his wife Miriam to discuss the history and beauty of their 1935 Model 73 Graham Business Coupe Special 6: a unique find coupled with an equally unique backstory.
Code named the ‘blue streak,’ the historic Model 73 Graham Business Coupe Special 6 has a unique pre-war history, which Irish said changed the automobile industry.
“They don’t teach this stuff in schools, but they should,” he said, “The unique feature of this car is its fender – it’s hiding the leaf springs. It was an engineering marvel in 1932.”
With America coming out of the Depression-era, the ‘Blue Streak’ was such a trendy vehicle that it sent rival automakers into overtime, scrambling to catch up.
“Everyone copied this car, everyone wanted their car to look like this car – but this car was even more special,” said Irish, “This car was the middle-class car, Buick and Cadillac didn’t have the same appeal when this car came out, and everyone wanted it.”
“If you had a little extra money back in the day, this was the car for you. It was often called the ‘poor man’s Cadillac’ – but it was better than a Cadillac,” Irish said. “Way better.”
Beyond looks, the car’s unique design served an important purpose.
“The Graham Brothers hired an engineer and designer that built a brand new chassis called the ‘Banjo Frame,’” said Irish, “This gave the car a wider stance and allowed the leaf springs to be put on the outside of the chassis for the first time in American automobile history. With this, they had to cover up the ugly mechanics and put the first skirted fender on an American automobile.”
The banjo frame also gave the vehicle added stability, Irish said.
“The banjo frame was so strong that in 1934, two cars were entered into the Indianapolis race,” said Irish, “they were stripped down versions, but they were the first vehicles to have a supercharger.”
Irish commented that with the availability of a bolt-on supercharger, the Graham ‘Blue Streak’ obtained the popularity with the “Purple Gang.”
“The Purple Gang was one of the meanest and most corrupt groups of their time,” said Irish, “They strapped steel plates around the car, as it could handle the weight and robbed banks. Nobody could catch them!”
Irish explained that the Purple Gang got their name because they were often compared to rotten meat, which often turns purple when spoiled.
He added that the story of Bonnie and Clyde would have been different should they’ve chosen a Graham ‘Blue Streak.’
“They would have survived! Shame on them – they should have had a Graham,” Irish joked.
A Barn Find – A True Veterans Car
Irish’s love of vehicles was influenced by his father.
His father, Dan E. Irish was an officer in the Merchant Marines who sailed the Atlantic during WWII, and later in the Pacific.
“He was the only known restorer of vintage cars in the Philippines,” Irish said. “He restored many vehicles. I always wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
While out looking for his next restoration project in 1963, Irish and his father were traveling through Brentwood, California where they discovered a picking opportunity.
“We were going pass this ranch, and I spotted a barn, and next to that barn appeared to be two cars, covered up,” said Irish, “I told my dad what I saw, and he said let’s go look at them.”
The two made their way up the driveway to the house where they were greeted by the property owner’s wife, sitting on the front porch.
“My father asked the lady if we could look at the cars alongside the barn,” said Irish, “she told me she had to ask her husband, and she went into the house.”
“All of a sudden her son came bolting from the house, all dressed up in a uniform, playing ‘lawman’ and scared the heck out of me,” Irish chuckled, “My father assured me that the gun the child was holding was not real. It was a real shocker.”
Moments later the husband appeared from the home and headed out to the barn.
“He hopped on a horse and rode off like the lone ranger,” said Irish, “he yelled – talk to my wife. He was gone. We never saw him again.”
The wife then apologized for her husband’s actions and commented that he wasn’t the same since he came back from the war.
That man was William Murphy, a WWI Veteran, a soldier who fought in France.
As they removed the tarp from the first vehicle, Irish’s father was not impressed and he moved to the next car.
“I fell in love with the first car,” said Irish. “Dad said he wanted to take the second car, and I asked if I could buy the first car – he approved.”
Irish drove the car from 1964 to 1966.
“I stopped driving it for about two years and drove it a little longer in 1968,” said Irish.
He had worked in the shipping yards before being drafted into the Vietnam War, “My uncle gave me some yellow paint to cover the surface rust, and I parked the car under some pine trees in Danville and went off to war.”
Following his return home, Irish never drove the car again; however, it managed to follow him everywhere he went.
“I just couldn’t get rid of it – it was a beautiful car,” he said.
Later Irish moved to the small community of Princeton, California.
“I fell in love with the town, its small, quiet, and it’s my little piece of paradise,” said Irish.
The car was stored at his home, and Irish and occasionally took it for a drive around town.
The Rare Car and Its Discovery
After several years, Irish listed the car in the classifieds section of the Sacramento Bee.
“I remember listing the car for $10,000, just how it was,” said Irish, “I would get all kinds of calls about the condition, how good the chrome was – but no one wanted to take it – nobody believed me it was all original.”
Just then, Irish received a phone call that would change everything he thought about the car.
“This guy from Red Bluff asked me if I knew what car I had. I told him I didn’t know exactly what it was, only that I knew it was a pretty little coupe, and it has been mine since 1963.” Irish said, “he asked if he could come take a look at it and I agreed.”
A few weeks later the potential buyer showed up.
“He rolled up in a 442 Oldsmobile, you could hear him coming from miles away,” said Irish.
That person turned up to be Bill Conley, the president of the Graham Owner’s Club.
“He was impressed when I pulled it out of the storage area, with the car running,” he said.
After a few tense moments of watching Conley search the vehicles every last corner, some good news came. It turns out Irish had one of the rarest cars in the nation.
“There were only four to exist at that time,” said Irish, “Mine was number five.”
With all of the model numbers checking out, Irish learned that the engine was the original stock engine.
“I received a call from Bill McCall, who kept asking me if I knew how rare the car was,” said Irish, “It never dawned on me on how rare the car was.”
McCall is a co-author of the book, ‘The Graham Legacy: Graham-Paige From 1932’.
The two built a friendship over the experience and McCall offered an insight into his vast knowledge and restoration of Graham vehicles.
“He said he would do what he could to help me restore the car,” said Irish, “We spent many hours on the phone together.
In 1996, Graham was able to have the car designated as a historic vehicle by the California DMV.
Irish later married his wife, Meriam, and the couple decided to restore the car and enjoy its pure beauty in 2010. A process the couple thought would take three to six months ended up taking six years — and the couple is still making small finishing touches.
“First, we had the frame powder coated,” said Meriam, “we wanted to protect the frame. It was coated twice because we didn’t like the way it was done the first time.”
Irish began doing extensive research on the car and scouring the world for spare parts.
Irish’s Blues Streak was one of the few remaining vehicles to have a wooden skeletal frame that had to be rebuilt by hand.
“Its made from red and white oak,” said Irish, “we were able to find a man out of Arizona who stayed with us for almost two months and rebuilt the interior frame piece by piece. It was painstaking but worth it!”
In addition to the frame being rebuilt, Irish sought an individual to help rebuild the motor.
“We couldn’t find anyone who knew much about these motors,” said Irish, “that was until we met Ron Azevedo of Maxwell, he was a great help in restoring the engine.”
Over the next several years, Irish and his wife would slowly restored the grandeur of the Graham Blue Streak – from the interior to the paint, to the front grill.
“It was a lot of work – a lot of work, I couldn’t have done it without my wife,” said Irish.
Irish also said that he wanted to express his gratitude to Aldersons, a local repair shop that allowed him to put the car up on the rack to make necessary adjustments or repairs.
“You can’t get anymore hometown than that,” said Irish.
First Public Appearance
Irish dedicated the vehicle to his father, Dan E. Irish, and to all veterans.
“This car is a real people’s car, it is also a true veterans car,” he said.
The couple named the car Enya, after the Irish Folk Singer, which means ‘little fire’ in Gaelic. They then began their quest to showcase the vehicle to the public.
“We submitted our application to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance (considered by many to be the most prestigious automobile event in the world), but we were turned down,” said Irish, “we will try again for next year.”
In the meantime, Irish sought out the Veterans Car Show in Colusa back in May, hosted by Colusa County Safe Haven.
“We had a very good time,” said Irish.
Being a veteran himself, Irish enjoyed conversing with other veterans, and discovered a gem in the county while visiting Veterans Memorial Park.
“The Veterans Memorial wall is outstanding. I heard something was being built but never had a chance to see it. They have done a magnificent job,” he said.
Following the Veterans Car Show, Irish was excited to showcase his car and entered it into the Maxwell Rodeo Car Show.
“We had a lot of fun, there were a lot of amazing cars, and people loved Enya,” he said, “they loved hearing about the story and seeing the car.”
Enya took three awards at the Maxwell Rodeo Car Show.
“We received the best original car, best in class and people’s choice award,” said Irish.
Irish said the most significant award was people’s choice.
“I like people’s choice award the best,” he said, “that’s the award that tells me that people have enjoyed my car, and all the work is worth it.”
Irish plans on showcasing his vehicle at various local car shows, and to continue his restoration efforts.
“I am not trying to sell this car, it’s mine!” he said, “It’s been mine for 53 years, it was my very first car.” <