Free wheeling


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    On the tail of the fixed the roof thread the question was asked about driving with free wheeling. There was a good PASB bulliten a year or two back that discussed this, probably can find it with keyword freewheeling, free or wheeling. Basically the gist was, don’t do it, too dangerous. It was outlawed in several states I believe. I think it will be interesting to try mine out some day on slow flat roads a few times just for the novelty, but leave it locked out for most driving.


    I took delivery of my 1936 Pierce Convertible sedan, 52 years ago.  I was 26 years old.  Someone recruited me into the Pierce Arrow Society.  Away I almost immediately went to Huntingdon Pa, for the PAS Annual meet.  I was rolling along in overdrive (and free wheeling, they go together after 40mph.  In the mountains of Pa, I was going down a mountain, and noticed that I was going seemingly, too fast around 65 mph, downhill.  I tried to slow down with the footbrake, which became innefective after about two minutes of application.  Scared to death (figuratively and potentially literally) I pulled the overdrive handle out at that speed to the tune of an awful noise.  Immediately after that, I shoved the car in second gear, and eventually slowed down.   Lesson learned.  Overdrive is ok, on flat ground, only with perfectly functioning brakes, and I don’t use it in populated areas, where immediate stops may be necessary.


    1936-1938 Pierce Arrow’s are prone to brake fade, thus overdrive should never be used on unfamiliar roads……ever. I use free wheeling on all my 1931-1935 cars safely and effectively. They are much less prone to fade. That said, the same applies to only use it on familiar roads. I have driven thousands of miles with it and learned my lesson just like Tony on my 1936 V-12.


    hi   everyone,   give   me   the   best  take   on   driving   my   1601    1936   direct    drive    or  free wheeling.    free   wheeling   50 mph.   a    little   scary   with   this  weight   and   size.    thank  you    be  safe.     larry   sorcher


    I have been driving our 1936 1601 Sedan with overdrive engaged for 25 years now unless I am in mountains. Even then I may go in and out with caution between big downgrades. The original setup puts the engage/disengage at 40 mph. At that 40 mph point when decelerating, the overdrive lockup drops out and you are freewheeling. It is indeed scary if you don’t know what to do in an emergency, but knowledge and experience can quickly solve this issue.

    When I purchased our 1601 from George Peckover he insisted on my mastering the best method to disengage overdrive before I could take the car home. If you crest the top of a high bluff and drop down a steep hill, immediately 1) ACCELERATE to put engine load on the driveshaft and 2) pull the O/D lockout lever only when that has been achieved. Pulling it without sufficient engine load can result in damage to the drivetrain! I used this sometimes intimidating approach for the next decade before a better solution came to light. Speeding up to slow down is counterintuitive unless you have practiced the technique.

    The later versions of the B/W Overdrive used an electric solenoid control that engaged at about 20 mph and most importantly didn’t drop out into freewheeling until about 15 mph. I drove Fords with the solenoid setup as a kid with never a scary experience and loved it on my Hudsons in later years. The Pierce version uses weights controlled by centrifugal force. Talking to Jan Appenzeller one day around 2005 he mentioned that he had modified the weights on John Steckbeck’s  to lower the engagement and disengagement speeds. I had him do the same for our 1601 and the engage speed is about 25 mph and the dropout to freewheeling is at 20 mph. All concerns were eliminated from then on and I haven’t had to do an emergency lockout since. Unfortunately Jan has passed, but I’d expect we have ingenious members that could figure out how to do this modification. This change provides a HUGE safety factor when cruising along at 70 mph+ and makes the 3 ton car very manageable.

    The brakes on our 1933 and the 1936 appear to be the same. Ed is very correct that brake faded is an issue with the Bendix vacuum brake booster, but not with the ’33-35 Stewart Warner power brake units. I find that a softer lining helped a little bit, but a significant cool down period is still essential for effective hard stopping.

    If only Pierce could have kept the S/W unit for 1936 AND added the Overdrive, we’d have a dream combination! I have wondered if the later solenoid units could be used in a Pierce. They do look the same dimensionally on the outside and were used with V-8’s in the muscle car era. The only difference between 6 and 12 volt o/d’s seems to be the solenoid.

    Give me a call if you want to talk more about my overdrive experiences and techniques. 231-740-3610

    Dave Stevens


    When I first got my 1933 1236, I was afraid to drive the car in free wheeling.  I noticed a lot of brake fade, and always used engine braking to slow down the car.  Bill Morris was kind enough to let me drive his 1934 roadster at Gilmore one year, to see how the brakes were really supposed to work, and wow, I almost went through the windshield.  Problem on my car turned out to be the clutch disc in the SW power brake system.  Scott Stastny sent it off to be refaced with Kevlar, and the results were astonishing.  The new clutch, and the fact that the linings in the car were virtually new, really made for some great brakes.  Chicago, being relatively flat, I generally drive the car in free wheeling since the brakes are really effective.  The only caveat to the SW braking system is to get used to the slight lag in brake action at low speed.  I got used to that driving Dave Stevens’ 1933 1247 and have never had a problem with my car.

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