#0007 - Pierce Arrow 15hp Rear-Entrance Tonneau, 1903
Photographed: Radnor Hunt Concours d'Elegance, 2007. Owner: John H. Hovey
Arrows: Along the way from the George N. Pierce Company to the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company, the Arrow portion enjoyed the status of a model within the Pierce range. It wasn't until 1908 that Arrow was permanently fixed to the marque. Pierce-Arrow does have that great ring to it, and it remains one of the very few hyphenated names in the auto industry that doesn't refer to two partners of a firm.
The Arrow itself was a broad jump forward. Compared to the diminutive Motorette, the Arrow is a complete car. There's a motor mounted in the front under a bonafide bonnet, a steering wheel instead of a tiller, and drive to the rear wheels goes through a shaft rather than a chain. Furthermore, the paint work and brass trim is prolific. The undercarriage is completely finished, as are the wheels and the rims. A favorite feature of mine, the bonnet carries broad brass plates along its shoulders. These are form fitted to the contour of the metal and, along with the louvres and brass rivets, make this functional component a work of art.
I must add that we had a chance to chat with the owner, Mr. John H. Hovey, and he was a dear for answering questions and showing us around the car. I believe Mr. Hovey completed much of the restoration himself.
De Dion: The pioneering French auto maker, De Dion, leant a motor to the original Arrow. By 1903, Pierce did have their own motors in production, but for the top of the line Arrow a more refined powerplant was required. The De Dion 2-cylinder unit was robust, as found in the De Dion Bouton Model Q, but would be supplanted by Pierce's own 4-cylinder the following year in the Great Arrow. As on the Motorette, transmission is controlled by levers on the column.
While a decent number of Great Arrows exist, the original Arrow is extraordinarily rare. The actual lot of surviving cars may be limited to this example, and perhaps another, somewhere, (though I certainly don't know). So, I was ecstatic to find this car at Radnor Hunt. It is a truly special car I'd seen before in pictures from Pebble Beach, and I'd hoped would be in attendance for this Pierce Arrow retrospective. I was not disappointed.
Morphology: Although not exclusive to Pierce, the most striking feature of this early veteran is the rear entrance philosophy. A hatch cut into the back of the coachwork opens to allow ingress of rear seat passengers. This hatch can be seen ajar in the illustration. Otherwise, the tonneau coachwork is fully trimmed, painted in a colonial blue and royal blue, and accented with cream pinstriping to match the wheels and undercarriage.
The shape of the Arrow is strongly patterned on contemporary French automobiles. The bonnet is the primary patronizing feature, reminiscent of the early Renault bonnets that became one of the first trends of automotive design. The rear entrance passenger compartment is another continental approach to motoring. A feature also adopted by the likes of Cadillac, this early rear-entrance touring car was an American take on French luxury—exemplifying the pioneering role of French automobiles, aside from being a dynamic piece of machinery in its own right.
In general: Broad sweeps of metal form the wheel skirts. Two stout tubular rails, recalling the bicycle-type tubing on the Motorette, define the chassis. The starter crank passes directly through the middle of a large radiator, now located out in front of the car, instead of below boards. And, of course, a veritable mint of brass and copper runs throughout, used both for mechanics and ornamentation. The entire car is finished, whether by paint or polish, demonstrating how quickly within the scope of the twentith century the automobile became a statement of personal taste. For my part, I love the two-tone blue livery, the cream trim, and the sea-green reflections cast by all that terrific metal. It's the closest an automobile can get to jewelry, and so impractical in retrospect that it deserves the title, unique.
In the classic car world, it's often just a footnote to discover a particular car is unique. But, for a veteran car—a true horseless carriage—you often know a car is unique just by looking. It's the absolute anachronism in design, that such a contraption is still rolling around planet earth, because there's no longer any practical use for a machine like this. Aside from pleasure, of course, for lunatics like me.
Popular Mechanics, October 2001, Commemorating the Centennial of the First Pierce-Arrow Automobile, Built in 1901 by Gregg D. Merksamer
Radnor Hunt Concours d'Elegance: In 2007, the concours featured Pierce-Arrow, with a particularly lovely selection of veteran cars, representing the company's strongest days.
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