A LUCKY PHONE CALL
ATLANTA, GA, 1986 -- Charlotte’s ‘31 Pierce needed parts, and she consulted the Pierce-Arrow Society roster.
She lived in Greenwood, SC, and Atlanta was not far away. She phoned me for advice.
I drove to Greenwood to check out the car. It was a beauty . . . but would need a full restoration some day.
“Call me if and when you’re ready to part with her,” I said wistfully.
Thirteen years later, in 1999, that call actually came.
BUYING THE CAR
GREENWOOD, SC, AUGUST 6, 1999 – The big day had arrived. It was time to purchase the car. Two of the best
PAS technical experts volunteered for the trip. Gene Reeves, Tucker, GA, and Arlo Boe, West Concord, MN,
came with me to check out the car. Gene had restored two exquisite ’32 Pierces, and Arlo (now deceased) was
a superb Pierce mechanic and an always helpful repository of technical assistance.
The car had black fenders and a maroon body. It had been reupholstered – probably in the 1950s. Charlotte
had kept most everything in original shape . . . the metal covers for the spares, the LeBaron insignia, the
archer mascot, the trunk and straps. The serial numbers checked out.
A major problem was the running boards. They were totally rusted and had been rigged to stay connected to the car.
The rubber matting and inlaid metal strips were in sad shape. “This part will be quite a challenge,” Arlo said.
How right he was.
WEST CONCORD, MN, 1999 – 2004 –Arlo agreed to do the restoration. And the car headed for Minnesota. There was
a ’35 Packard convertible victoria in his shop ahead of me; it was a “basket case,” Arlo said, and had been
there seven years. He would much prefer to work on Pierce-Arrows. “Pierces are tops . . . in a league by
themselves,” Arlo said.
And so the work began. The car was disassembled and the parts catalogued. Quite a few parts needed refurbishing
Greg Loftness, Blaine, MN, was a big help, and then Dave Murray, Gig Harbor, WA, bought a cache of ’31 Pierce
LeBaron parts from the Browning Estate in Utah. Little by little, we chipped away at the list of parts needed.
Special thanks to Dave Murray. He is the wizard who came up with the hard-to-find parts whenever we needed them.
We couldn’t have done it without Dave.
And there was a second “Dave” who is a major godfather for the car. Dave Harris, Minneapolis, has a ’31 Model
41 Pierce-Arrow. He and Arlo had made a new set of running boards for Dave’s car. Spread out on the floor of
his garage, Dave used those patterns to cut out new sheet metal for my car’s running boards. And, later, when
an original dual coil distributor cap was nowhere to be found, Dave Harris came up with one.
Progress is slow in a one-man shop, but, little by little, the car was moving forward. First the engine, then
the chrome (125 + individual pieces), disassembling the body, restoring the brakes, radiator, etc. Arlo had
everything under control.
Then, on the evening of April 24, 2004, there was a phone call from Lois Boe, Arlo’s wife. Very sad news.
Arlo had had a sudden heart attack and passed away. Greg Loftness would help catalogue all the parts, she
said. We should make plans to ship the car elsewhere to complete the restoration.
PACKING & SHIPPING
Lois Boe was determined that Arlo’s last restoration would be transferred smoothly to a new shop. She knew it
would be difficult. Pierce and Packard parts were piled in different quadrants of the large shop. And Arlo
always had three or four small jobs working – mostly Pierce-related.
Phil Marshall, Kendall, NY, agreed to pick up the car and all the disassembled parts. Phil has two ’31 Pierces
and knows the territory. Phil packed up the chassis, new tires, new chrome and dozens of boxes filled with parts,
then headed northeast toward Canada. It was May 27, 2004.
MOVING TO CANADA/STARTING AGAIN
WHITBY, ONTARIO, MAY 28, 2004 – Fawcett Motor Carriage Company is a second generation Pierce-friendly restoration
shop. Owners Peter Fawcett and Art Carty followed in the footsteps of Peter’s Dad, Ron Fawcett, a PAS member for
The first challenge was to identify all the parts. Regrettably, many were not to be found. The next few months
were spent searching the antique auto universe for obscure ’31 Pierce-Arrow parts. Some of the parts – door
latches, for instance - were made by LeBaron.
But everything was under control . . . except for the challenging running board mats. The ’31 Pierce Model 41
and the ’30 Pierce Model “A” have among the most beautifully complex running board designs ever. Five notched
chrome strips are set within half-inch grooves inserted within the running board mats. There is no margin for error.
Matt Browning’s shop had made two sets of molds from scratch. Eric Rosenau, Ramona, CA, bought the molds from
the Browning Estate and poured a couple sets of the mats. Arlo used the molds to make a set for Dave Harris’ car.
The project was quite labor intensive, they told me. Eric sent me the molds plus the name of a fellow in Akron, OH
who said he might be willing to take on the project.
Atlantan Bill Word has both a ’31 Model 41 and a very original ’30 Pierce Model A Pikes Peak car. We spent many
hours measuring and re-measuring both sets of running board mats. (The Model 41 has a four inch longer running
board, but the configuration of inlaid strips is almost identical.)
The molds were then reworked extensively to eliminate any handwork on the back end. Twelve sets were
produced . . . eight for the 1930 model and four sets for the 1931 Model 41. The running board project
spanned more than two years.
Meanwhile, the restoration was moving ahead quite well. Oh, a few obstacles popped up from time to time, but,
generally speaking, Peter and Art were unflappable. There was nothing they couldn’t do well.
It was early 2006, and our attention had turned to paint and upholstery. By now, the car had been painted a slightly
darker shade of the original maroon. It’s a complex – almost mysterious – color. In low light, it can be mistaken
for black. In direct sun, it’s a rich deep maroon.
The interior would complement the dark maroon. I had visited with Jim Weston in San Francisco, whose ’31 Model
41 Club Sedan is similar to mine. Jim was a great help in discussing the exterior and interior cosmetics of the
car. And Bill Rolapp, Los Altos, CA, had sent much detail on paint colors and interior fabrics, including the
loan of original paint chips.
I started looking for pictures of the original interior for the LeBaron Club Sedan. There were the photos from the
Weston car plus bits and pieces of photos from the auction book for the two Browning cars. I wondered if there was
a catalog page for the ’31 Club Sedan. None existed within the Pierce-Arrow Library.
I sent an e-mail to Florida Region Director Brooks Brierley. He has researched Pierce-Arrow for many years,
written several books and poked around countless dusty archives in libraries around the world. “Any chance of
a ‘31 Pierce LeBaron catalog anywhere,” I asked. To my amazement, Brooks had seen just such a catalog in the
AACA Library. I phoned Hershey right away and had a color copy in three days!
With the photos in hand and fabric samples from Bill Hirsch, my wife Deedee and I designed the interior of the new
Pierce . . . light taupe Bedford cord seats (as original) with darker taupe wool broadcloth door panels and headliner.
Carpets are a shade of light brown.
The upholsterer was recommended by Bob Sands, Buffalo, NY, another major godfather of the restoration. Bob has
restored several magnificent Pierce-Arrows and met me in Whitby at least three times to review progress of the
restoration. He also came up with several hard-to-find parts.
Gerald Remkes of Golden Cross Enterprises, Dundas, Ontario, did a superb job in restoring the interior. He had worked previously for
Bob Sands and Tony Zappone. Brockport, NY, and was well known to Art and Peter at Fawcett Motors.
DRIVING THE CAR FOR THE FIRST TIME
WHITBY, ONTARIO, NOVEMBER 1, 2006 -- It had been more than seven years since I bought the car. Now, I was to drive
the new restoration for the first time. The two-hour flight from Atlanta passed quickly. Clearing customs at
Toronto airport, I was greeted by smiling faces of Bob Sands and Tony Zappone, who had driven from Rochester/Buffalo.
We headed directly to Fawcett Motors. Ralph McKittrick would meet us there.
Ralph, from Toronto, has known Peter and Art for nearly 20 years. They helped restore his vintage fire engine and
keep his two Pierces (1918 and 1920) in top shape. Ralph is the godfather who watched over the restoration for
two years in Whitby and personally transported the car to and from the upholsterer. He also survived a harrowing
journey in the grip of a brutal winter storm to escort the ’31 back to Atlanta.
We arrived at Fawcett’s shop. And there she was . . . long and lean and low. Crouched in the driveway like a big
cat ready to pounce on its prey. When thousands of pieces come together, a new restoration is a remarkable thing
of beauty. My eyes were glued to the car. I couldn’t wait to take her for an inaugural drive.
Peter Fawcett took the wheel first. He pulled the spark control, adjusted the choke and pressed the big starter.
The engine roared to life, then settled down to a subdued roar. He nudged the gears gently and the graceful feline
moved into the roadway. We experimented with the gears, then realized there were a few intricacies yet to master.
The ’31 transmission actually has five speeds forward . . . including separate shift locations for second and third
free-wheeling and second and third direct. A button on top of the shift lever controls movement into direct drive.
Pierce-Arrow offered two transmissions in 1931. This was apparently the most popular.
We drove through residential streets of Whitby for nearly an hour. Young mothers with baby carriages stopped to
admire the long, low visitor. Neighborhood dogs cocked their heads, and an occasional senior citizen waved with a
smile of remembrance.
Peter, Art and staff had done a remarkable job. The running boards were beautiful. The paint, the chrome,
the upholstery, the dash and all the instruments – this was truly an elegant new automobile. Ever so tastefully,
they had incorporated turn signals, using original ‘31 tail light buckets mounted low on the rear fenders.
We celebrated over lunch that day. Next stop . . . Atlanta.
A HARROWING JOURNEY HOME
Ralph McKittrick volunteered his truck and trailer. Peter and Ralph decided they would deliver the car personally
to Atlanta . . . roughly 1000 miles each way. They would make sure it arrived safely and check me out at the wheel
one more time.
It was early November, and the Fall season in Toronto had been unusually mild. Weather should be fine for the next
few weeks, they assumed. So the customs documents were filed . . . with the expectation that things would proceed
smoothly. They didn’t. First Canadian customs, then US customs – each wanted “one more document” before we had the
OK to cross the border with a privately owned Canadian truck and trailer and a restored vintage automobile headed to
an American owner.
Time passed (more than a month) and colder weather blew in from the North. An early blizzard buffeted Buffalo.
The city shut down. Was it too late to head South with precious cargo in tow?
Finally, it was late afternoon on December 4. The call came: all was approved. Ralph and Peter loaded the car
immediately and headed south for the Lewiston, NY border crossing. It was 8:00 PM. The bridge over the Niagara
Gorge was a sheet of ice.
Early nightfall and a light snow were not a problem. But just after the New York-Pennsylvania border, they were
hit by a total “white out.” Traffic inched forward. Visibility was zero.
At the wheel of the big Ford diesel, Ralph came upon a car stopped on the Interstate, in the middle of both lanes.
An elderly lady was standing in the roadway. She was lost and couldn’t see ahead. Ralph reassured her that all
would be well. She would follow closely behind the trailer to the next exit, then seek shelter at a service
station. Mission accomplished, Ralph and Peter found a motel for the night. By now it was 1 AM.
The sun came out early the next morning and the journey continued. No problems along the way. About 800 miles later,
they arrived in my driveway. The unloading ceremony was particularly exciting. After seven long years, the ’31
Pierce had finally come home.
AWARDS AND ACCOLADES
AMELIA ISLAND, FL, MARCH 10, 2007 – The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance has often been described as “The Pebble Beach
of the East.” It’s a remarkable gathering of 275 cars in roughly 30 classes. The recipe seems to work; the Ritz
Carlton golf course is jammed full of spectators.
The Pierce was invited. It was a maiden voyage and a debutante ball all rolled into one. The odometer had clocked
about 10 miles since arriving home from Canada.
There we were on the show field, surrounded by exotic Classics . . . a Rolls Silver Ghost on one side, a ’41
Packard LeBaron on the other. There was a ’29 Stutz and a ’41 Buick 90 owned by Nicola Bulgari of Rome.
There was a Marmon 16, a ’32 Lincoln KB Coupe (Judkins) and a beautifully restored ’27 Pierce-Arrow Series 80
Club Brougham, owned by PAS members John and Eloise Haulbrook of suburban Atlanta.
Midway through the afternoon, a cheerful judge in blue blazer and straw hat stopped by. He grinned at my wife
and affixed a blue ribbon to a windshield wiper blade. “What does that mean,” Deedee asked innocently. “This car
wins best in class,” he said.
There were hugs and tears and instructions for the car’s long promenade to the winner’s circle. It was a heady
time as we ambled down the fairway, buoyed by the cheers and applause of thousands of fans. The ’31 Pierce had
made a successful debut.
WILLIAMSTOWN, MA, JUNE 25 – JULY 1, 2007 – It was the 50th Annual Meet of the Pierce-Arrow Society. More than
250 Pierce aficionados escorted 65 + Pierce-Arrows to this idyllic college town in far northwestern Massachusetts.
Daily driving tours of 80+ miles were sure to work out the kinks. We adjusted the brakes and – in a challenging
interlude on the judging field – discovered that three inoperative tail lights did not necessarily equate to
faulty wiring or blown fuses. As Pierce technical experts probed every conceivable glitch, Deedee whispered “can
we check the light bulbs?”
It was a humbling experience to receive the Weis Award (most authentic restoration) Saturday night. So many others
had done so much work to restore this car. Truly, I was receiving the award for them.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Restoring a Pierce-Arrow is a magnificent experience . . . in multiple dimensions. First, there is detailed
research which precedes an authentic restoration. Next, there is the search for parts and suppliers to get
the job done. And thirdly – and perhaps most importantly – there is a unique bond which Pierce-Arrow People
share when a car is being restored.
Bringing a Pierce-Arrow back to life is truly “A Family Affair.”
Very special thanks to the Pierce-Arrow Society . . . and to the many members who gave so freely of their time
and expertise to restore this car. It could not have happened without you.