Feature Article, Other Motorsports, Washington — September 25, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Greg Orvella’s 1932 Graham (issue 103)

by

by Steve Heeb

When Greg Orvella retired in 2010 after 14 years as a Teamster driver with the Boeing Co., he knew it was time to get to work on a project that had been waiting quietly since the company’s 757 took its very first flight.

It was 34 years ago that Greg shelled out a little over two grand and brought home a 1932 Graham project car.

“I fell in love with the lines,” he says of the wide-bodied car. “It was similar to the ’32 Fords, but different.”

Designer Amos Northrup widened the stance for the 1932 Graham Blue Streak line by eight inches, producing an impressive 61-inch width. Ads of the era boasted that the new Grahams were wider than they were tall.

But Greg’s newly acquired Graham was not in the same league as the Graham-powered racers in Indy 500 competition in the early Thirties.

“It had an old tired 327 in it when I bought it,” Greg recalls.

After four years of driving in the Federal Way area, Greg knew something had to be done.

“I decided to pull the motor and re-do the front end,” Greg explains. “It went poorly. I got frustrated and put it aside.”

The unfinished Graham was then garaged for more than three decades.

“My kids always laughed that I would never get it finished,” he says. “They said it would be my retirement project. Turns out it was.”

He adds that they all like the car, noting with a laugh that the Graham really has more seniority than they do.

With money pulled out of his retirement package, Greg set to work on the Graham again.

He enlisted Jason Miller to remove the previous Mustang II front end and prepare a new one.

“He pretty much did the whole thing,” Greg says of the fabricator and builder. “He knows everything from soup to nuts.”

That came in handy as there were several challenges to be overcome before the vintage Graham would be back on the road.

“The second Mustang II front end had to be widened because the car is six inches wider than the Fords of that year,” Greg says. “The drive train is all new.”

Greg’s Graham has a Nascar Locker Ford 9-inch rear end and power rack-and-pinion suspension with airbags in all four corners.

A rebuilt 1968-vintage Chevy big block 396 motor produces about 400 horsepower with an electric fuel injection system made to look like a carburetor.

Part of the powertrain project made quite an unshakeable impression.

“We call our Turbo 350 ‘the shaker’ because I bought the transmission in Maple Valley during the Nisqually earthquake,” he says.

The 15×12 Wheelsmith wire wheels in back were also a bit of a challenge.

“We had a time finding a tank big enough to chrome them,” Greg says.

Luckily, all the outer body parts came with the car as Greg notes that the chances of finding replacement parts would be slim.

“The grill is only one of 27 in the U.S.” he says. “Mine still had the red factory primer behind it.”

Greg credits Dave Ohnemus for his work on the wrapped fenders, one of several stylish innovations pioneered on the Graham Blue Streaks. Catching the competition by surprise, the Graham team introduced fenders with seams rolled under to produce an untarnished smooth surface, and extended as skirts to better conceal the undercarriage while giving the impression of a single body more than the other cars of that era.

Instead of the rumble seat option, Greg’s Graham was built with a trunk – a relatively new concept for cars in the early Thirties. The air tank for the shocks is tucked in the back of the trunk and Greg disguised it as a nitrous tank.

Other features include the original tail lights, electric cutouts on the side pipes and a front window flips up while the rear window rolls down.

Once the upholstery was crafted by Jody Woolery, the ’32 Graham was ready to roll off the line like its original debut 80 years prior.

“We finally got it back on the road this July for a five-mile drive with my wife Terri,” Greg says of their first real chance to go cruising in the restored Graham. “It’s like a child. We waited 34 years for this baby to come to life.”

Greg has been a member of the Graham Club of Puget Sound for five years.

“They just got done having a meet in Ontario, but next year the National Graham Club will be meeting in Puyallup,” he says, enjoying the opportunity to be close to home while the bugs are being worked out.

During this summer’s Goodguys Pacific Northwest Nationals in Puyallup, it was clear that the Graham was different amongst a sea of vintage Fords.

“People try to guess what it is,” Greg says. “At a show in Stielacoom one guy did recognize it. His grandfather had actually worked for the Graham Co.”

Greg and Terri also belong to the Rod Knockers Car Club.

“It’s a family club with about 20 families that meet once a month,” Greg says. “We try to get out and do something every month.”

Amazingly, Greg’s rare Graham wasn’t the first on the Rod Knockers’ roster.

“This is the second Graham we’ve had in the club,” says Rod Knockers president Frank Tolliver, also from Graham, Wash. “One of our original members Clyde Wistrom had a ’29 Panel Graham. He passed away in 2003 and his brother wound up with the car.”

To keep things simple, the Rod Knockers maintain eligibility rules that match the Goodguys and are open to pre-1972 vehicles. The oldest car currently in the club is a ’31 Coupe Periwinkle.

When they’re not traveling to other events and activities throughout the year, the Rod Knockers host their own car show in Eatonville, Wash., that draws around 250 entries each June.

That gives Greg and Terri a few more months to choose a color scheme for their Graham.

Greg says that some of the original gold paint can still be seen on the car, bright colors being one of the innovations that the Graham Co. introduced in an era where cars were typically available only in black.

Graham also was among the first car companies to experiment with using guanine crystals extracted from fish scale proteins suspended in the lacquer to create a pearl essence for their 1932-33 Blue Streak lines.

“Terri really likes a candy apple red or purple with cream two-tones,” Greg says.

Though they’ll probably hold off on the fish scales.

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