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The 3 P's of Fine Motordom

Guest BJM

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This was originally posted by my friend Jeff Brown and Peter recommended a new post. Although it's not a hot button issue, it's simply topical, it is interesting.

The main point is it is a by-gone era for all 3 makes. In their day they competed head to head and it is true that Peerless had a checkered history compared to Packard, especially. Pierce Arrow had it's ups and downs. All 3 made "compromise" cars (re: 6 cylinders) trying to generate profits to sustain their senior cars.

Peerless is simply more interesting as a car company. Many folks don't know that Peerless went through many ownership changes, a function of free enterprise, and this constant change led to closure at the start of the Great Depression.

The Board of Directors decided in 1932 that there was more of a future in BEER then luxury cars. Pierce Arrow followed 4 years later. In it's final years the Peerless borrowed motors from Continental, but that hardly means they were assembled cars.

Their styling was tweaked by Alexis de Sarkoffsky (sp) a European that went on to design some great cars through the 1940's. Those of us who love Peerless, are equally interested in the crs as we are with the quircky history.

There is no doubt they were on top from 1906ish to 1916 but they built a nice V8 engine from 1916 to 1927. They were largely hand built cars, and it is amazing they lasted untl 1932, many of their rivals dying off sooner.

So, no matter when the phrase was created, probably later then sooner, it is relevant and Peerless was one of the "3 P's of Fine Motordom"

Jeff's post -


You had some questions about Packard, Peerless and Pierce-Arrow and whether they were called The Three P's of Fine Motordom, Three P's for Prestige, etc. back in the old days.

I was hoping that some more knowledgeable people than myself would have written in about this by now; and that they, or you, would have found out who originated the term. I looked online a little to see if "The Three P's" can be traced back to a particular date, person, etc. No luck.

I did find a few references to Peerless and it's reputation, as well as some writers' opinions on the "3-P'S" question.

John Bentley, in his "Great American Automobiles", p. 67, in 1957, says:

"After the achievements of Barney Oldfield, Peerless had little left to prove at the close of the first five years of this century. Sustained racing has always been a tremendously costly business when organized on the grand scale; the firm had evolved and launched a uniquely successful luxury car that put it among the quality leaders of the automobile industry..."

Richard Wager, in the 1986 book about N.E. Ohio carmakers, "Golden Wheels", says:

"...in America the motoring public was quick to adopt the popular, wholly unofficial title, The Three P's-Packard, Peerless, and Pierce-Arrow - as typifying motordom's highest quality, with price tags to match." (p.71 )

In the 1973 Automobile Quarterly story about Peerless, which I would highly recommend, Maurice Hendry has 24 pages about Peerless, including this on p. 87 of AQ's Vol. 11, No. 1:

"Exactly when the image of the 'Three P's' formed in the public mind is not clear, but it was probably around this time * . It is doubtful whether Packard stood at the front then, as it did in later years - although the spoken order of the holy trinity could vary according to the speaker's car - but Peerless and Pierce probably ranked as joint equals, with Packard a poor third, at least until several years later."

"The American Automobile" by Ralph Stein, about 1972, gives this opinion on p. 135, in a 14-page chapter about Packard:

"By 1907 the Packard was one of the great 'Three P's,' alongside Pierce-Arrow and Peerless, and sold in greater numbers than either."

I don't own a Peerless, but became interested in them after seeing one for the first time about two years ago and have found them to be a fascinating carmaker to study. ----Jeff

*this was in a description of 1909 luxury cars

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Jake; much of what you have posted is true. But, then your only talking about the three P's as being the greatest cars of their respective era's. I think as others weigh in, you'll find many different opinions, and you will find that there arguments are most persuasive. I will answer you as follows;

1.) I strongly disagree that in it's earliest years, that Packard was a poor third as rated against both Peerless and Pierce. With research, many racing accolades can be found, bestowed on all three marques. Many technological 'firsts' in auto history can be attributed to all three P's as well. But again, in order to compare, we must first define the parameters that will allow comparison, not just quote others who might or might not have done their homework.

In any case, I don't believe the term "the three P's' has a lot of significance to it, in that there were other cars of equal or perhaps even greater stature than these;i.e. Simplex, Stearns,Alco, etc. etc.. regards Jerry Janson

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Well it's not a treatise on the idea that the 3 P's were heads and tails above other makes, and sustained it. All 3 P's were innovators, and I won't list the "1sts". Cadillac was an engineering house for many years and along with DELCO matched the 3 P's. However, Cadillac lacked styling due to Leland's insistance on Engineering first, which later bit Lincoln in the rear-end.

The Oldsmobile Limited probably trumps all of these cars in awesomeness and prestige, but year in and year out the 3 P's delivered largely hand built, quality constructed autos that surpassed mass produced autos.

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It is interesting to see how different people feel about the different makes. The Peerless, Pierce-Arrow, and Packard were all great automobiles along with many others and everyone thinks the one they own is the best and that has been going on for many years. Try an tell a Ford person that the Chevy is better or the Mopar is better than a goat or a Locomobile is better than a Packard. It is good that everyone thinks their car is the best.

There is a reason why Peerless used the Continental engine in the late 20's. The President and Vice President of Continental Motors owned a large share of Peerless stock, there was even a rumor in Cleveland that Peerless would be taken over by Continental Motors. There was another stock take over in the late 20's and the Cleveland owners where able to retain control.

The Green Dragon

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Here's how I look at it. When we talk about the "big 3" everyone knows we are referring to Ford, General Motors and Chrysler. When we say "low priced 3" everyone knows we mean Ford, Chev and Plymouth.

So where does this "3 P's" business come from?

I have never seen any evidence that the term was used while Pierce Arrow, Packard and Peerless were in business. It seems to have first been used in England some time in the 70s. It was just something made up for a magazine article.

We could sit here all day making up things like "the 3 S's of fine cars" (Stutz, Stanley Steamer and Studebaker President) or "the 3 B's of overhead valve engines" (Bentley, Bugatti and Buick) that would be just as meaningful, or meaningless.

This is not a knock to Peerless and has nothing to do with its merits or achievements.

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Well, the first Antique car book I ever recieved was Ralph Stein's "The Treasury of the Automobile" on Christmas day in 1961. Aunte Betty set my hobby in motion with that gift and to this day I don't think a better book has been writen that gives a better overview of automobile history. On page 62 Ralph wrote "The 1906 Pierce "Great Arrow" was one of America's greatly respected "three P's - Pierce, Peerless, and Packard." Who really cares when the term was first used, If you are a true Antique Car person you know what the Three P's are.

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  • 1 month later...


I found a reference to the 3 P's that goes back earlier than the 1970's. On the www.vintagepaperads.com site, there is a Saturday Evening Post clipping for sale, which is a Peerless Motor Car Corporation ad from 1930 (the date appears to be February 9, 1930 ). Here is the first line of text for the ad:

"Always one of the three great makes known affectionately as the '3 Ps' - Peerless sets out to make its leadership more pronounced than ever before."

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