1930 Hupmobile Bonneville Speedster

On May 7, 1930, Dr. Norbert H. Knoch of Denver, Colorado stepped into local Hupmobile dealer C.S. Norton, Inc. and purchased a brand new Model H sedan. The Model H was a mainstay of the Hupmobile lineup; a car that was of very good quality, with conservative styling, respectable performance and a reputation for reliability. On paper, it was a sound and smart decision for a doctor to get such a sensible, practical automobile. However, Dr. Knoch’ passion for motorsport would eventually lead him to transform the Hupmobile into one of the more fascinating early hot-rod/racing cars of the period. No ordinary Doctor, Norbert Knoch served as official team doctor for Duesenberg’s land-speed record attempts at Bonneville in the 1930s. He became closely acquainted with Augie Duesenberg and the “Mormon Meteor” Ab Jenkins. During the 1937 24-hour record attempt, a piece of debris lodged in Jenkins’ arm, and it was going numb during his stint behind the wheel. When he stopped for relief, it was Dr. Knoch who stepped in to treat his wounds and allow Jenkins to complete the record-setting run successfully.

Racing and record-breaking were essential marketing tools for motor manufacturers in the 1930s. Speed records and success on the race track demonstrated superior reliability and performance, translating into sales in the showroom. Hupp Motor Company of Detroit lacked the budget and resources to support racing on a large scale; however, they still recognized the tremendous sales potential that motorsport offered. In 1931, Hupmobile executives contacted Russell Snowberger, a privateer driver and car builder who had shown immense promise at Indianapolis with his home-built, Studebaker powered special. Hupmobile convinced Snowberger to replace the Studebaker engine with a Hupp 8, which he could modify to his specs with Hupp’s support. The resulting Hupp Comet was astonishingly quick considering its production-based engine. It debuted at the 1932 Indy 500, starting second on the grid and finishing 5th overall against a field of far more sophisticated machinery. At the end of the season, Snowberger chose to take a new direction, and he returned the special high-compression, four-carburetor engine to Hupmobile. With circuit racing on the shelf, management began to look elsewhere for sport-related marketing opportunities.

Meanwhile, in Denver, Dr. Knoch, with assistance from Bill Kenz (a future Bonneville legend himself) was making serious progress in converting his Hupp sedan into a dry-lakes speedster. He commissioned local coachbuilders Niederhut Carriage Company to create the light and purposeful two-passenger boat-tail body. Niederhut scrapped the fenders in favor of specially designed, streamlined mudguards which served to keep the salt out of the cockpit. Documents suggest the design inspired those used on Duesneberg's Mormon Meteor record car.

An astounding amount of original correspondence documents the development process of this remarkable machine. Multiple letters to Hupp Motor Corporation, fuel suppliers, oil refineries, and gear makers document Dr. Knoch’s quest for ever higher performance. Some of the letters reveal Hupp’s confusion as to what he was trying to accomplish, questioning his need for multiple carbs on a “pleasure car.” However, once they caught on to his plan, they saw the project as a chance to promote the Hupmobile name with minimal investment. The car’s initial runs were made with a modified factory engine, including a high-compression cylinder head and a multi-carburetor manifold. Knoch added an auxiliary tank which bled raw benzol into the carbs to boost the octane rating to accommodate the high-compression head. In the quest for more power, Dr. Knoch eventually purchased the ex-Russ Snowberger Hupmobile Indy car engine, which was sitting in storage since being returned to the factory. Now, Hupp Motor Company could recoup some of the investment made in the Indy program while still reaping the benefits of Dr. Knoch’s efforts.

On September 2, 1935, Dr. Knoch ran his Indy-powered Bonneville Hupp on the Salt Flats. As reported in a 1977 article in Cars & Parts magazine, Knoch achieved an impressive 136 miles per hour on the salt, in a car that was initially good for no more than 80 mph. Knoch’s wife was even given a turn at the wheel, and she ran the car to 130 mph, later reporting “It was a honey and really had a bark!” Following Dr. Knoch’s death in 1956, the Bonneville Hupp was acquired by Denver resident Don Crites. It later joined the famous Frank Kleptz collection in Terre Haute, Indiana. By that time it was painted white, yet it retained the Snowberger engine. It stayed with Kleptz for many years, until John Snowberger (Russell Snowberger’s son) purchased it to reunite the engine with his father’s newly restored Indy car.

The Hupmobile then sold to Rick Blomquist, who, together with his son Cord, began a comprehensive restoration. Completed in 2017, the fascinating speedster is now in a specification very close to how it last ran at Bonneville. Perhaps equally as impressive as the high-quality restoration is the astonishing history file, complete with the original 1932 Colorado title, and dozens of letters between Dr. Knoch, the Hupp Motor Company and suppliers. Also included are letters from Mrs. Knoch recalling their experiences at Bonneville, photos of the car on the flats (including one with August Duesenberg’s dog in the car!), and extensive articles documenting the car’s history, closely intertwined with Russ Snowberger’s accomplishments at Indy.

Now lovingly restored by the Blomquist family’s White Glove Collection workshop, this intriguing speedster presents in a close approximation of the original black and silver color scheme. A period-correct Hupp Model H 8-cylinder currently resides under the hood, beautifully detailed and fed by a single oversize Stromberg carburetor. The restoration is very fresh, having had little more than shakedown mileage. Paintwork and detailing is excellent, and the car has an undeniable presence, with the unique boattail body, aero mud guards, and laid-back radiator grille and fairing. Rare E&J Model 20 torpedo headlamps are a later addition yet in line with the car’s purpose and character.

With stunning presence and captivating history, this unique one-off Hupmobile is now beautifully restored to a high standard, suitable for show or possible entry into the popular T.R.O.G. (The Race of Gentlemen) events. T.R.O.G. celebrates the history and tradition American hot rodding and land-speed racing, traditions which Dr. Knoch’s Hupmobile is an integral piece.

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