The Earl Ipsen
1932 Hupmobile Custom Roadster
Chassis no. 5021
* 350-cid Chevrolet V-8
* B&M automatic transmission
* Unique and well documented early 1950s custom
* Dates from a seminal period in American hot-rodding
* Well known in Hupmobile circles
America, 1951: All over the country, young car enthusiasts, caught up in a swirling vortex of newly emerging automotive trends, are taking up the torch and building cars. Most build hot rods. Some slather lead onto late model convertibles, creating 'customized' boulevard cruisers. Others set out to create a low-slung custom sports car. Many of the resulting cars, if they are ever finished, will be ungainly. A few will be downright hideous. Some, though, will be beautiful. A handful, if they somehow survive, will endure as works of automotive art. Here is a custom roadster, begun in that seminal year of 1951 that arguably fits into the last category.
The story of how a faded and worn sedan became the sleek roadster offered here leads back to that day in 1951 when Earl Ipsen, trucking a load of milk to an evaporator plant in southwest Washington State, took a detour off Highway 99 to avoid a flooded river. As he wound his way up into the foothills, Earl spotted an old car for sale. It was a 1932 Hupmobile Sedan, a striking car even in its considerably weathered condition. Earl, who had an eye for cars, had never seen another oneits deeply sculpted radiator shell, large headlamps and unusual cycle-type front fenders, nicely accented by side-mounted spares with chrome covers, made it a standout.
Earl liked the distinctive look of the Hupmobile and, as he passed by it each day, began to think about how he could turn it into a sweetheart of a speedster. After some contemplation, he finally bought the car, for $50. It was towed home behind the milk truck, his wife at the wheel. "My plan was to make it a facsimile of a sports car," Earl would write in the Hupmobile Club's Hupp Herald magazine years later.
(Through the Hupmobile club, Earl would also learn the '32 Hupmobiles and their 'form-fitted' fenders had been the first car styled by an industrial designer named Raymond Loewy. Just about the time that Earl was redoing his old Hupmobile, Loewy was penning the design that would become the 1953 Studebaker 'Loewy coupe'.)
Earl set to work, building his speedster. A 'turret top' roof section, sliced from a '38 Studebaker sedan resting in a nearby salvage yard, provided the metal for the rounded rear deck. The body and cowl were dropped down over the frame a full six inches Earl channeled it, a hot-rodder would say. He cut down the hood and radiator an equal amount. The doors were notched and Model A Ford seats were installed. Sheet metal from the sedan body was shaped to fill the gap between the deck and fenders. A '37 Ford windshield frame was modified to approximate a speedster-style windshield. The engine and drivetrain were left stock, but Earl did install an after-market Ford overdrive, adapted from an old truck, behind the factory transmission. The car was completed in 1952.
Brad Ipsen remembers that his dad's custom-built car always attracted a lot of interest and offers. Finally, in 1957, someone talked Earl into selling the one-off Hupmobile. It went through several hands in the decades that followed and the ownership trail became hazy. Many years later, it turned up in the hands of a restoration shop owner who somehow became convinced it was a factory show car. At one point, it was even talked about that the car was the storied Raymond Loewy prototype for the '32 cycle-fendered Hupmobilesbut of course, it was not. The happy result of all the confusion was that a full, high-quality restoration was done on the car.
Actually, except for adding a few items such as the Studebaker bumpers and the '37 Ford windshield, Earl's custom, as he built it, was still mostly 1932 Hupmobile. When the restorer redid the car, he equipped the car almost completely with era-authentic components. These included a nicely raked chrome-framed, speedster-style split windshield that replaced the '37 Ford assembly. The paintwork was also redone in a combination such as would be found on an early '30s roadster. The Hupmobile retains this uncompromised classic-era speedster look today. In fact, with its cycle fenders, wire wheels, racy slanted windshield and fast little boattail deck, the low-slung custom Hupp is reminiscent of a vintage SSK Mercedes from some angles.
Brad Ipsen, who was ten when Earl sold the car in 1957, says, "This was the first and maybe the best of many customs my dad did throughout his life." Like Earl, who has since passed away, Brad Ipsen has endeavored to keep the story of the custom Hupmobile straight as the car occasionally re-appeared over the years. Earl's 1982 and 1996 stories about the car in the Hupp Herald, and the photos Brad has made available of the Hupmobile before, during and after construction, give it a wonderful provenance for future owners.
Today, with collectors interest in the early '50s hot rods and customs growing markedly, those few remaining documented custom jobs from that seminal period having a traceable heritage and real eye-appeal are finally getting their due. The 'Ipsen Hupp' is one such examplethe fully restored Hupmobile has won several best of shows and also reportedly took first place at the 50th Anniversary Portland Roadster Show in 2005.
The most recent owner has undertaken a complete mechanical transformation to provide more reliable motoring, replacing the engine and transmission with a 350-cid Chevrolet V8 and B&M 350 transmission. A new Speedway Motors drop front axle with Ford spindles was fitted, along with rack & pinion steering by Cross Steer. The original cable-operated brakes have been replaced with a modern power-assisted hydraulic system, with Speedway Motors' GM 11" discs and calipers at the front and 11" drums to the rear. The electrical system has been converted to 12-volt, including lights and gauges. All of these upgrades have been accomplished without any modification to the original chassis and related components and all the original drivetrain components have been retained should a future owner wish to return the car back to the original specification.
The Ipsen Hupmobile is a genuine piece of Americana. Its story bridges the American automotive experience all the way from an independent manufacturer's 1932 attempt to stand apart with dramatic styling during the Great Depression to the exciting early post-WWII era, when so many new forces were shaping the nation's 'car culture'. If ever a single car could represent the confluence of automotive trends emerging in America in 1951a year when hot rods, customs, sports cars and classics were all just beginning to really perk this is it. There never was, and never will be, another Hupmobile such as this.
- Please note that this vehicle is titled with chassis number 15021.
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