10-11 October 2013
1910 Pierce-Arrow 48-SS Seven-Passenger Touring
- Chassis no. 7940
Sold for $687,500
- Offered from single-family ownership since 1950
- Known history since new; formerly the property of Frank V. du Pont and Thomas Marshall Sr.
- Spectacular, national award-winning restoration
- An exceptional, no-excuses, high-horsepower brass car
By 1910, the luxury car market in the United States had come to be dominated by what would be known as the Three Ps: Packard, Peerless, and Pierce-Arrow. These marques were set apart not only by the vast price and locomotive-like engineering of their products, but also by the statement they made.
When a buyer took delivery of his Model 48-SS from the George N. Pierce Company’s Buffalo, New York, works, it was a marker of taste that was conservative but fine and an appreciation towards quality and solid design over the modern “flash and dash” exhibited by other, less genteel, automakers. Nonetheless, the Pierce offered style and power in abundance: 525 cubic inches in six cylinders, running 48 horsepower to the ground through a four-speed selective-gear transmission, and all of this is on a wheelbase that stretches over 134 inches and is wrapped in Pierce-Arrow’s innovative cast aluminum coachwork. A Pierce was strong and built to last forever, while also running at speeds that few roads of the era could accommodate.
The Model 48-SS Seven-Passenger Touring presented here was acquired new by prominent Delaware socialite James Winchester. It was eventually passed by Winchester to his society friend, Frank V. du Pont, a member of the prominent chemicals family and the chairman of the Delaware State Highway Department. Mr. du Pont was an early antique automobile enthusiast, almost before the phrase was invented, and he assembled a small group of very carefully selected big Brass Era automobiles. Reportedly, he once used the Pierce to deliver presents to the estates of other du Ponts at Christmas.
When du Pont parted with his collection, the Pierce was acquired by Thomas Clarence Marshall Sr., another Delaware resident, who would serve as the national president of the AACA in 1952 and is best remembered today for his preservation of many Stanley steam cars. The fact that a man who was so accustomed to precision engineering could appreciate this internal-combustion automobile is a testament to the outstanding quality and originality of this Pierce. Nonetheless, its place in the Marshall Collection was soon taken by a Doble, the crown jewel of steam car collecting, which resulted in the sale of the Pierce to Marshall’s friend and fellow early enthusiast, William Ball.
Writing to the Chester County Antique Car Club Newsletter in 1958, Ball recalled that “everybody in the family was tickled pink when, in 1952, we acquired this Pierce…It needed some restoration, but basically it was in excellent usable condition.” He spent several years reconditioning the car, and then began to drive it.
The Ball Pierce-Arrow rolled from the 1950s through the early 1970s in grand style, completing many local tours, journeying to Bill Swigart’s annual meet in Pennsylvania, and participating in several of the AAA Glidden Tours. Ball’s son recalls the 1957 Glidden, which began in Virginia and ended at the AACA Eastern Fall Meet, as “one tour that started and ended in foul weather; the cars were all dirty from back roads and rain. Dad parked the Pierce inside the Hershey football stadium with all the mud and mess that had accumulated over the week of touring. The judging result? The AAA Award, for the most typical Glidden Tour car. Our local AAA head, a friend of my parents, requested, and was given, the permission to ‘retire’ the award with Dad and the Pierce. We still proudly display this award.”
In 1975, Ball took the Pierce-Arrow apart in preparation for restoration for the 1978 meet, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the George N. Pierce Company. Like so many projects, however, once begun, the car was not completed, and in fact, it remained apart until after its long-time owner’s passing in 2000.
Two years later, Ball’s son took the family car to Gaslight Auto Restoration, which was engaged to perform a 100-point, detailed restoration on the “complete, but completely apart” Pierce. Most of the work was performed in-house by Jon Fleck. New wheels and rims were acquired from Calimers Wheel Shop, of Pennsylvania, while renowned upholsterer and Pierce-Arrow owner Loren Burch, of California, created a stitch-by-stitch copy of the original upholstery and top. The block water chambers were expertly metal-stitched by Frank Casey, of Massachusetts. In every detail, the car was precisely taken back to its original condition and appearance, with the only exceptions being a hidden electric starter and “pre-oiler” electric pump, which were added for ease of use. The car retains not only its original body, chassis, and engine, but it also has an astonishing amount of original trim. It is, indeed, every bit the car it was in 1910.
After seven years of hard work, the Pierce’s restoration was completed in February 2009. A month later, it attended the Amelia Island Concours, where it received an Amelia Award and a Second in Class, followed by First in Class honors at the Radnor Hunt and St. Michaels Concours. A First Junior at the AACA meet at Gettysburg led to the receipt of the prestigious Pamphilon Distinguished Car Award, honoring “a pre-1916 self-propelled land vehicle of outstanding merit entered in a National Meet” at the national meeting in Philadelphia. The car would return to Amelia Island in 2011, at the invitation of the class judge.
Offered still in show-ready condition, this incredible 48-SS is perhaps the final outstanding restoration of an original, early “high horsepower” Pierce to be completed. Fifty years after its award-winning arrival in Hershey, it returns here to be offered as a beloved family heirloom, out of over six decades of loving conservation, enjoyment, and painstaking restoration. It will be accompanied by a wonderful collection of 1950s photographs, correspondence between the Ball family and James Winchester’s family, and receipts and tooling drawings from the car’s original restoration, as well as its AAA and AACA trophies and a pride of ownership in which only the new owner will be able to share.
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