Unrestored Pierce Arrows and McGriddles.

Few automotive encounters have been as memorable as the first time I laid eyes on Bill Morris' original 1934 Pierce Arrow 1240A Convertible Coupe in the parking lot of a suburban Chicago McDonald's on a cold November morning in 2011. This car is one of five or so models known to exist out of roughly 20 convertible coupes to roll out of Pierce's Buffalo, New York factory that year. Such a highly sought-after classic car seldom sees the light of day, let alone the highway anymore. What was it doing in the purveyor of the McRib's parking lot?

Wasn't Bill worried about someone rubbing up against it or scared of harming the whitewall tires by running over a stray Big Mac? And what about its V-12 engine, could it maintain today's highway speeds? So many questions raced through my head. Then I clued into the fact that there weren't antique license plates on this Pierce Arrow. They were regular plates that everyone has on their everyday cars. The tires showed some miles, as did the rock chips and the thinning finish on the grille and brightwork. I told myself to relax and had another bite of McGriddle as I walked around the car.

Sure enough, this old gal is a driver.

No cupholders in 1934? Where exactly does one place their Shamrock Shake? 
You read that correctly, this motoring icon is a driver that have been gone through mechanically and its as sound today as it ever was. Bill's car was among the several dozen that participated in 2011 with the North Shore Chapter of the  Illinois Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America. I know, that's a long title!

The club has ceremoniously celebrated the anniversary of the similar British motor event that commemorates the early days of the automobile and its triumph over the locomotive as a means of personal transportation. Consisting of nearly 40 miles of scenic touring, the annual Chicagoland event is always held the first weekend of November in a different starting point, (occasionally a McDonald's parking lot), and concludes at a tavern in tiny Brighton, Wisconsin. While that means challenging Midwestern fall weather, for the most part this is a great event that reminds us of how far the automobile has come. Its a great last blast of the season for the collector car owner, and it allows younger generations to see glorious machines like Bill's Pierce Arrow...in action! Prior to that day I had seen Pierce Arrows before in museums and at high end shows, but I'd never seen one move under its own power or gotten to see it up close.Getting to do so was a real treat.

After the Brighton Run, the cars park in a field across from Jeddy's Bar and the drivers and passengers usually mingle and show off their pride and joy as they cool off. My brother Gordon and I used this opportunity in 2011 to chat with Bill about the history of his '34.

The Pierce grazing in the grass after the Brighton Run.

Bill acquired the car nearly 10 years ago from a fellow in suburban Chicago who had owned the car since 1953. Amazingly, it was left alone and not much had been done to alter the car. It was repainted a close, but not exact match of the original colors in roughly 1950 and it wears the respray well with only minor fading and some thin spots. If Bill hadn't said anything, I would have thought it was the original finish!

1933 Chicago World's Fair souvenir. The Pierce Arrow Silver Arrow was displayed here. 

A Pierce Arrow buyer from Chicago in 1934 would have likely seen the cars at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair in the Travel and Transportation hall. There, the streamlined Pierce Silver Arrow created a frenzy, and out-shined nearly all of the competition, including the Cadillac V-16 Aerodynamic coupe and the Lincoln-Zephyr prototype. Packard took the top honors that year, but the Pierce Arrow got a great deal of press. The newspaper headline after the Silver Arrow's 1933 appearance was Suddenly, its 1940! The 'regular' production Pierce Arrow cars were still a treat, as this convertible proves. Lucky was the man or woman able to drive home such a luxurious car in the mid-1930's.

Oh sure, this Pierce's chrome and trim shows some age, and isn't as flashy as the day the fortunate original owner took delivery of it. Considering its eight decades of use, its remarkable that it still has some shine left at all. Here's the kicker: If you look at it closely, you can see that the paint and trim is worn from years of taking care of of the car. Polishing it. Loving on it.  You can't create this sort of look.  This patina is most genuine. As Bill told us, the only real work he's had to do to keep the old droptop running is mechanical work to the engine, which was meticulously restored to perfect operating condition.

Pierce Arrow's 366 CID V-12 featured hydraulic lifters starting in 1933, and unlike Chevrolets, were whisper quiet! Notice the original decal on the air cleaner above. 
Bill yanked the original motor as it required an overhaul. (Can you imagine how much that V-12 weighs? Wow.) After sourcing parts and making sure things were within spec, it went back into the car and you can see and hear the results.

A Pierce Arrow 12 was motoring at its finest in 1934! Of course we all know the story. Pierce Arrow didn't make it through the depression. One of the company's flaws was the fact that they only manufactured premium automobiles and didn't offer any bread and butter models to keep the factory's lights on. When Pierce Arrow went belly-up in 1938, the V-12 castings were snapped up by Seagrave Fire Apparatus and used as a powerplant for their fire trucks for another 30 years.

Preservation of a classic car such as this 1934 Pierce Arrow is a wonderful thing. Instead of a full frame-off restoration where the entire vehicle comes apart and is stripped of its originality in order to be perfect in every way, preservation keeps its bumps and bruises and allows us to see what these things were made of. Their chips and rips expose simple materials like leather and canvas on the interior. We're able to see how these items were used and how they lasted over time. Outside viewers are able to see cracked lacquer paint and washed away chrome and nickel trim. These premium materials wear but they're still there. Are we to expect the same from today's vehicles? I'll let you answer that one. Furthermore, a car that has survived tells a story if we're willing to listen. This Pierce is no exception. If it was stripped, painted and completely rebuilt, would it be more beautiful than it is in its current state? Would owners like Bill drive such a car if it was restored to a Concours level?

These unrestored classics survive as a testament to their quality, and prove that things really aren't built like they used to be. They also are subject to love and attention from a very special type of classic car owner...the person who leaves well enough alone. It was a pleasure for my brother and me to meet Bill and learn about his beautiful Pierce Arrow a few years ago. I wish him and his family the best and I know that their car will take them as far as they wish to go. Hats off to him for keeping his Pierce preserved for the next 50 years.

My photography skills leave a lot to be desired, so here is a link to the AACA forums photo album where better images of the Pierce reside.


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