Hollywood Boulevard is lined with cars. This is a night to remember. It is the premiere of The Maltese Falcon, a film directed by the great John Huston. It stars Mary Astor and Humphrey Bogart, and introducing to the screen, Sidney Greenstreet.
The excitement is so thick you could cut it with a knife. All the cars carrying celebrities and stars to the premier are slowly moving down the boulevard. One car glides to a stop and it looks like a 1937 Cord from the rear; from the cowl forward, though, it is undeniably different.
It has a very elegant demeanor of style and grace, yet a sporty lean as well. It belongs here with all the Rolls Royces and Bentleys. Upon a closer look, it says “Graham Hollywood” on the sides of the elegant hood. The three grilles give the slight appearance of the legendary 1937 Lincoln Zephyr.
The show goers climb out of the back seat in gowns, tuxedos, and cutaways. The grayish-green car glides away into the night. This was just a glimpse of a wonderful car that had a very short life on the highways and byways of America, but one that left a lasting impression nonetheless.
(Editors Note: Article written by Jim Cox, photos provided by Dick Raczuk, and layout by David Chick)
So what of the Graham Hollywood? How did this wonderful car get in that premiere parade line late in 1941? To find the answer, we must take a closer look at three car companies–Auburn-Cord-Duesenburg (ACD), Hupp Motor Company (HMC), and Graham-Paige (GP).
ACD had lost the good fight and closed their doors in early 1938, and for HMC and GP, things were getting to the breaking point as well. Older car designs were causing market demand to dry up rapidly, and something new and bright had to be made if the situation was to be reversed.
In 1939, Hupp Motor Company introduced the Skylark, which was essentially a rehashed Cord Winchester. Shortened from the Winchester’s 125-inch wheelbase to 115-inches, the front end had received a fresh treatment by John Tjaarda of 1937 Lincoln Zephyr fame. Meanwhile, the Gordon M. Buehrig-designed body gave the car a look like no other.
Despite an auspicious debut, the Skylark ran into problems rather quickly when it came to production. A deal with Graham-Paige, allowing the latter to use the Winchester’s dies to create the Hollywood in return for a per-piece manufacturing contract, did little to stem the tide. So it happened that of the roughly 1,400 to 1,500 Skylarks and Hollywoods built a full year later, only a combined 400 were sold.
By November of 1941, the Hollywood had ceased production, with only another 1,400 or so models built and sold. The automaker shut down its car-building efforts for good once World War II started, and retooled its factories to help with the war effort.
With so few of these cars around, it’s all the more important that there’s folks like Dick Raczuk, who refashioned this ’41 Hollywood to make it one of the best around. Seeing it in person, we couldn’t help but be taken aback by its immaculate presentation—not to mention its power.
When Dick Raczuk first saw a Hollywood, he was very impressed. Dick has always been a car buff-hot rod kind of guy. Born in Freemansburg, Pennsylvania in 1939, he was moved along with his family to Van Nuys, California in 1947.
It was the right time and place to be alive for a hot rodder like Raczuk. After graduating high school and attending college for a bit, the young man joined the Army and traveled extensively. Though he felt like becoming a musician, the call of high-octane gasoline, blacktops, and peeling rubber was just too strong to ignore.
A brief stint as a draftsman and then a salesman ended when Raczuk got to know Ken Sliger, a go-kart builder. They loved the experience of the kart so much they decided to buy a go-kart shop.
One thing led to another, and soon enough Raczuk began embracing motorcycles. He and Sliger started Kendick Engineering, making patented motorcycle parts and a heap of money along with it. Once it evolved into Kerker Exhaust, Raczuk felt he had accomplished enough and retired at 45 to give his life to the hot rodding passion.
Being a longtime admirer of Cord designer Gordon M. Buehrig, Raczuk pictured his ideal Hollywood as a rolling work of art, and it is just that. When you first see the Hollywood it is striking, almost magical. It has the attitude of a thoroughbred.
Looking at the car almost makes one forget the ordeal behind the build. To begin with, Hollywoods are extremely rare; as mentioned earlier, there might have been 400 built in 1941 (nobody really knows for sure), and it had to be in good enough shape to work on too.
Through long nights and weekends of searching, however, Raczuk finally struck paydirt. Located in Reseda, California, the car had to be shipped over 300 miles to its new home in Lake Havasu City. The maroon paint job was all but gone, and the problem areas required extensive preparation. “For every ten hours of labor there are eight hours of thought, planning, and organizing, and two hours of building,” said Raczuk.
The car was stripped completely down to the bare metal, a starting place to make everything pure and new. For the drivetrain, Raczuk elected to use what he was familiar with; namely, a Cadillac Northstar engine, mated to a 700R4 transmission that routed to a 1982 Corvette rear end.
The normally transverse-mounted Northstar engine had to be turned around to work with the rear wheel drive of the Hollywood, requiring a ton of planning and toiling to pull off. Raczuk also wanted to install twin turbos with intercoolers, adding to the workload.
New pulleys and accessory drive systems had to be designed and handmade to fit inside the constrictive engine bay as well, increasing the engineering challenge. Eventually, Raczuk found a way to make them fit into center rear of the engine.
Along the way, a method for mounting the turbochargers’ braided stainless steel oil lines had to be figured out. Raczuk found making up all of these lines was not the easiest task in the world.
He thought there must be a tool to make assembly of the braided stainless steel lines much easier. Turns out there was not, so he invented the tool he needed.
Since the invention of his tool for working with braided steel lines Raczuk has bled a lot less, and he doesn’t have to explain the bandages on the end of his fingers anymore. The innovation of the tools needed to do the job has resulted in the creation of a company, KOUL Tools, to make them.
To cool the engine a full custom radiator was built. Made of copper, it handles the cooling of the Northstar engine perfectly. To cool the air down heading into the engine from the low mounted turbochargers, intercoolers are mounted behind the Hollywood’s lower grills. The cooled air is then passed into the Northstar’s tuned port electronic fuel injection.
When all is said and done, the car doesn’t just run well, it runs great. It uses a Fatman Mustang II front end with rack and pinion steering, along with Chevrolet 13-inch disc brakes on all fours. For wheels, Raczuk went with a set of Foose rims complete with custom made hubcaps.
The body of the Hollywood has been worked over a little here and there, with an aluminum front center grille installed, the lower grilles repaired and rechromed, and the aluminum rock guard made and shaped by hand. The front and rear fenders are tipped with stainless steel and rivets, all formed and designed in the shop.
Around the windows you see the chromed aluminum frames. They are all handmade. They were cut out on a band saw, and then shaped by hand to fit the windows. They make the car look so rich and complete.
The paint is a unique shade they are calling Green Mystic. It is a unique pearl green that crosses the bridge from the car’s look from the 1940s to present day.
In the interior, Raczuk stayed close to the Graham’s original style. The dash remains true to the spirit of what the original, but it’s been redesigned with aftermarket white-backed gauges in the middle, and handmade Graham logos to the outside corners of the dash.
This car is without a doubt, hot rod magic at its best. We would be hard-pressed to think of a car created and built for the hot rod world that is better thought-out, or better designed. Taken all at once, the sedan has a look befitting its nameplate, coming across like an automobile fit for a celebrity.
Incidentally, it appears the hot rod community agrees with this statement. Having been entered into a couple of car shows already, the Hollywood has definitely made a name for itself: the first one netted Raczuk “Builder’s Choice,” while the second took home “Best In Show.”
Though Raczuk believes he built the car for under $80,000, to him, its value is priceless. Still, there are times he just turns the badger loose and sees a little bit of the power and glory that is innate. It runs very well. It sounds great too, with the slight whine to the turbochargers at an idle adding to a truly unique project. When he opens it up it has that stout sound like it is barely holding itself back.
Going back to The Maltese Falcon, there’s a line by Bogart that connects well to Raczuk’s ride: “It’s the thing dreams are made of.” Although he is speaking of the eponymous, the quote applies to this epic ‘41 Hollywood without a doubt.