Pierce-Arrow Society Feature Article 
'31 Lebaron when purchased
Marc & Deedee Hamburger
A FAMILY AFFAIR
How the Pierce-Arrow Society
Restored a 1931 Model 41 Club Sedan
by Marc Hamburger

TOLEDO, OHIO, JULY 1, 1958 – The large chrome grill sparkled in the bright summer sun. The used car lot was filled with early 50s Fords and Chevrolets. There was a bathtub Nash and an assortment of those tall “fluid drive” Chrysler products. But toward the back, in the corner of the lot, was a long wheelbase pre-war sedan.

Charlotte Bolton, age 34, was not a typical 1950s housewife. She and her husband loved luxurious older cars. Charlotte loved the lines of the ‘31 Pierce. She bought it on the spot for $900. It became part of the family. She owned it for the next 41 years.

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.

RESTORATION BEGINS

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 or replacement. 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 decades.

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.

INTERIOR DESIGN

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.

PAS Tour