#0012 - Pierce-Arrow Model 51 Vestibule Limousine, President Woodrow Wilson, 1919
This car is currently part of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum, Staunton, Virginia.
Photographed: Radnor Hunt Concours d'Elegance, 2007.
Historical Significance: Pierce-Arrow cars became a part of the presidential motorcade as early as 1909 during the Taft administration. Ten years later, the Executive Branch ordered a stately Model 51 for President Woodrow Wilson; the car was presented upon his return from the Versailles Peace Conference. With his term concluded three years later in 1921, Wilson arranged to purchase the car from the government. The connection between the man and his automobile would thence prove steadfast. Wilson kept the car in service through his waning years, modifying it for comfort and communication with his chauffeur, and used it almost daily until his death in 1924.
A few particular touches define the personal character of the car. In the first place, the Presidential Seal on the vestibule door was, for the duration of his ownership, replaced with a Princeton seal in honor of the school where he was, first, an undergraduate student, second, a professor, and later a president at the turn of the century. (Wilson completed his doctoral work at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.) The pinstripes on this black car are, in turn, Princeton orange, ornamenting the flanks, bonnet, and artillery wheels. Lastly, a AAA badge has been affixed to the grille, although I'm not sure when this addition was made.
Morphology: The vestibule limousine, similar to a Pierce-Arrow brougham in body design but perhaps distinguished by the open plan for Executive use, is rooted in the European landaulet form. This particular design appeared early in the decade on various Pierce-Arrow platforms and is notable for its curved entrance to the passenger compartment. Paired to this feature is a set of imposing lanterns, giving the flank a static, architectural feel. The entire body aft of the bulkhead is cast aluminum, an exceedingly expensive practice, but worth-while in structural rigidity and weight-saving. Once this sort of Edwardian style was phased out of the industry, Pierce-Arrow reverted to aluminum panels exclusively.
Context: One other detail of note, the Model 51 was among the first to receive the new dual-valve 6-cylinder motor, which links the car directly to the Model 48 from which it's derived. Coupled with the lightweight aluminum body, the new 48 brake horsepower motor gave impressive performance both in terms of acceleration and top speed, while only marginally increasing fuel consumption. Taking into consideration reports of the standard Model 51's performance, and factoring the pace of progress since the good old 1906 Great Arrow in which David Donald's father managed a police reported 60 miles per hour, an estimate of 70 miles per hour is not out of reach for this large vehicle of strong build and impeccable period engineering.
The Performing Art of the American Automobile by Jonathan A. Stein, photographs by Michael Furman, Coachbuilt Press, Philadelphia, c. 2005, pages 28-33
Radnor Hunt Concours d'Elegance: Featuring Pierce-Arrow during the 2007 edition, and providing decent information compiled by Robert de Pue Brown.
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