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Pierce-Arrow restoration or restomod?


Greenside
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Growing up, our family had the priveledge of owning a beautiful 1930 Pierce-Arrow model B sedan that my dad helped restore. Some of our fondest memories as kids were on road trips riding in the back and feeling like royalty. Unfortuantely, my dad's Pierce sat under 18ft of water for several days as a result of Hurricane Katrina. He sold it to a friend who planned on restoring it but found the restoration slow and parts difficult to obtain and expensive. The Pierce has great sentimental value that recently led me to buy the car back.

My dad was very excited when he heard I had bought the car back. Unfortunately, his health is not what it was and I do not possess the skills or ability to work on the Pierce. I am prepared to put some serious cash into this endeavor but am concerned that an original restoration could be too expensive and could turn into a bottomless pit. My dad recently spoke with someone who had put $90k into a similar Pierce to restore it and still was not running. This has led me to consider a compete restomod. The goals would be to completely restore the interior and body which would then go on a new frame with engine, tranny etc. Surprisingly my dad got behind this idea and even brought up the idea of dropping in a 430hp LS3 corvette engine. I don't know if all that is technically possible but it seemed pretty radical. It would be a totally different car and I always had the desire to drive that original Pierce. However, I now have my own family and my own small kids and know the real reward will be to have the car completed and running so that we can enjoy the car as a family.

The idea of a complete restoration seems intimidating for the above mentioned reasons and the fact that the car will need a lot of work. On the other hand I have not been able to find any mention on the Internet of any comparable Pierce-Arrow restomod undertakings. I would appreciate any thoughts or ideas about this restomod idea. Is it completely insane?

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Just my opinion, but turning any Pierce Arrow into a restomod would be an absolute disgrace and a disservice to the AACA, the original Pierce Arrow craftsmen and future generations. Didn't you have this Pierce insured? If you're willing to put in enough money, anything can be restored. Once something is hot-rodded, it's gone forever. I would think there would be other options; even parting it out would be a better fate than turning it into some sort of Frankenstein. Again, just my opinion, it's not my car.

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You say you bought the Pierce back because it had great sentimental value for you and now you want to gut it and turn it into something your Dad might not even recognize? I say sell it to somone who appreciates it for what it is and turn your sentiment toward the money. What makes you think street rodding it would be cheaper than restoring it?

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I tend to think you may get into the car for deeper money than looking for a reasonable replacement - there have been 2 decent 27-28 sedans sold in the 20-25k range recently - one by "Motoringicons" on this site - the other on e-bay. Edinmass (above) has what I think would be a fairly easy restoration for sale at a price a little less than the two older restorations mentioned.

I'd hate to see any good early car made into something it is not, but it is yours to do what you will with but you could at least offer the rest of it to someone here - it may help them save another car from the same fate...

Edited by TheMoneyPit
28-28 cars should have been 27-28 (see edit history)
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Oh, please, no. The parts that are so hard to find and expensive are still parts you'll need for a resto-mod. Engine and suspension parts are probably just fine after being submerged, so no need to replace them, and the cost to rebuild that stuff to stock condition is likely cheaper than totally re-engineering the entire chassis for modern components (and probably safer, too). The things that were most damaged are things you'll still want in a resto-mod, including the sheetmetal, the seats and interior trim, gauges, chrome, etc. The body you're using is still framed with wood that was probably damaged in the flood, and it'll need to be restored either way. You will still end up restoring all the stuff you'd restore in a stock restoration: exterior chrome, the bodywork, and the interior. You will still face the challenge of finding/restoring all the little bits to make the "resto-mod" look like a Pierce instead of one of those goofball rods where the guy patched it together from late-model Excalibur parts and stuff he whittled himself on a band saw. I don't think you'll save much, if any, money by re-engineering the car to hold a garden-variety small block Chevy. Plus it won't drive like a Pierce Arrow anymore, it'll drive like an old Chevy truck. If that's what you want, great, but it won't feel like your dad's Pierce anymore and you'll still spend a giant pile of money building it.

Resto-mods always fall into two camps: efforts that look like cut-rate homemade chop jobs (because they are) or cars that look and run great because someone spent a giant bundle of money on them. There is no way to get what you want from what you have without spending a lot of money, regardless of which route you take. Neither route is cheaper than the other.

What you really need to decide is what you want when you're done: a Pierce-Arrow or a 3/4 ton truck that merely looks like a Pierce-Arrow.

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I really do not wish to entertain what my dad or I should have done. I really would like to focus on where to go from here now that it is my project. The engine will be broken down this upcoming week and that should give me some insight and direction. Remember this was salt water that the car sat completely submerged under for days and then it sat outside for several years. I will work on posting pics. I understand the benefits of going either way and am honestly still on the fence. I completely agree the car will be more fun to drive as original. It will be safer and likely driven more as a restomod and would still be fun. I recognize, that as Matt pointed out, much of the expense will go towards parts that will need to be restored regardless. No way around that. I have been told by two different parties that depending on the condition of the engine etc., it may be significantly cheaper to change frame through engine. This is the premise that I am operating under. Again, I should know more in the next week. I appreciate the helpful posts and private messages which I have received.

All things being close to equal, then we will go back original. If not equal and restoration of frame through engine is significantly more expensive, I admit that it does not feel right to me to pour money into a complete restoration that may not be worth half of what it will ultimately cost to fully restore. I say this with no intention of ever selling the car which I guess makes it one of my quirky hangups that I have to work through. For those of you worried about the future of humanity if I do decide to restomod, rest assured that the parts will be sold to people better than I who do not worry about insignificant things like money ;)

Edited by Greenside (see edit history)
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Body, chrome & interior will be 5 times the cost of the mechanicals. Yes, you can probably save 50% by putting a crate motor in it but that is incidental to the overall cost of restoring the car. My argument is that a 4 door Sedan of any variety makes a poor rod, and a Pierce Arrow 4 door sedan is probably the worst except for maybe a RR. Sell it for what you can get and buy something finished.

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If that is the case then this is good news. If the mechanicals are only going to be a small part of the overall project, then I feel much better about the idea of going back original. I hope it can be done. I will be the first to admit that I am new to this process and do appreciate the insight.

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If that is the case then this is good news. If the mechanicals are only going to be a small part of the overall project, then I feel much better about the idea of going back original. I hope it can be done. I will be the first to admit that I am new to this process and do appreciate the insight.

I don't mean to be negative, but in either case the finished vehicle's resale will be less than you have in it. The rod will then depreciate from there.

I think your point on the continued effect of salt water corrosion is perhaps not fully appreciated, but a rodded Pierce will be a very polarizing vehicle. There isn't a lot special about a Chevy truck with a Pierce body.

Their is perhaps a third option. If you can locate a body that can fit the Pierce in a more valuable body style, you will not have a completely original car, but it will still be a Pierce Arrow. Remember that the custom body people built for multiple chassis.

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I can understand that if the engine can't be saved it probably seems like a daunting task to find another Pierce-Arrow replacement engine. Perhaps another possibility would be what they did in the 40's and 50's and adapt another more readily available Straight 8 to fit. Thinking along the lines of a Studebaker or other large engine.

My dad had a 1933 Model 836 and if I recall correctly (this being 50 odd years ago) there were some things like free-wheeling, a rather odd and touchy brake system, etc. that may require a bit of thought to incorporate or delete depending on the engine chosen. If you can find an old fire engine graveyard the Seagraves trucks used a similar engine (think we bought a timing chain from Seagraves for the 1933).

It would not be a purist restoration but it would be a more or less period correct repair and would maintain the original character and feel of the car.

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Daunting task to find an engine? Nope, I just traded a 1930 Pierce series A engine for another newer one I wanted as a spare. He got a numbers matching engine for his car that makes it correct, and I got a correct spare for mine. He is from Seattle Wa, and I'm from Western Mass. No money traded hands, just two car guys making a trade, both motors delivered to Hershey by friends at no cost. If anyone needs a Pierce motor just drop me a note, I have just about every year eight and twelve in all series on palet racks. YES that's a lot of engines, I just like to have lots of spares. Ed

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Glad to know there are still large parts caches around. Makes me want to find and perhaps buy my father's old Pierce back - beautiful car. We picked it up in Boston in 1960 and drove it back to Rochester, NY. The next year we drove it to Mount Washington for the Eastern Pierce Arrow Society meeting. We blew a head gasket on the way back (perhaps something to do with cruising at 70 mph oe thereabouts). My dad had picked up a spare earlier and had it stored under the back seat - four hours later we were on our way home again. After we got home we had the head milled which cured the problem (prior owner apparently hadn't used a torque wrench).

And yes, if I do buy it back (or buy another one) I will drive it - old cars were made to be driven. I used a Model "A" Ford as a daily driver in the late 60's. I remember a local parts dealer (Elmer Bassage) made the trip from Rochester to Hershey every year in his 1918 Larrabee truck well into the 70's if memory serves.

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  • 1 month later...
Their is perhaps a third option. If you can locate a body that can fit the Pierce in a more valuable body style, you will not have a completely original car, but it will still be a Pierce Arrow. Remember that the custom body people built for multiple chassis.

Greenside - it says quite a lot that you consulted with the forum. Kudos to you! Am not sure you are still mulling over a decision on what to do. If so, and if body restoration costs are indeed the most expensive part of the restoration, I agree with bkazmer on the third option. Another possibility along these lines would be to create a dazzling new body in the 1930 fashion. If you have the 5-pass 134" wheelbase sedan, perhaps a racy 4 pass convertible might be grand. If you have the 139" 7-pass sedan, many exciting 4 door styles could be had including open and town car (front seat open) styles, most of which would use many of the body parts you already have. If you want ideas feel free to e-mail me at pwest@mahoningdesign.com.

Paul

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  • 3 months later...
Growing up, our family had the priveledge of owning a beautiful 1930 Pierce-Arrow model B sedan that my dad helped restore. Some of our fondest memories as kids were on road trips riding in the back and feeling like royalty. Unfortuantely, my dad's Pierce sat under 18ft of water for several days as a result of Hurricane Katrina. He sold it to a friend who planned on restoring it but found the restoration slow and parts difficult to obtain and expensive. The Pierce has great sentimental value that recently led me to buy the car back.

My dad was very excited when he heard I had bought the car back. Unfortunately, his health is not what it was and I do not possess the skills or ability to work on the Pierce. I am prepared to put some serious cash into this endeavor but am concerned that an original restoration could be too expensive and could turn into a bottomless pit. My dad recently spoke with someone who had put $90k into a similar Pierce to restore it and still was not running. This has led me to consider a compete restomod. The goals would be to completely restore the interior and body which would then go on a new frame with engine, tranny etc. Surprisingly my dad got behind this idea and even brought up the idea of dropping in a 430hp LS3 corvette engine. I don't know if all that is technically possible but it seemed pretty radical. It would be a totally different car and I always had the desire to drive that original Pierce. However, I now have my own family and my own small kids and know the real reward will be to have the car completed and running so that we can enjoy the car as a family.

The idea of a complete restoration seems intimidating for the above mentioned reasons and the fact that the car will need a lot of work. On the other hand I have not been able to find any mention on the Internet of any comparable Pierce-Arrow restomod undertakings. I would appreciate any thoughts or ideas about this restomod idea. Is it completely insane?

I did see a PA on ebay a while back that had a sbc in it..but the car looked stock..it was only when you opened the hood when you know something was up..my dad was a rodder and i was in a street rod club for a while. and i have seen lots of cars that appear original..but they weren't. and the " once something is modified you can never go back"..that's not always the case..you can build motor mounts that bolt on..and if you ever put the pa motor back in just weld up the holes ..nobody ever knows..and if your farming everything out most shops charge $75 an hour..so $75 and hour restoring or $75 hour modifying it? it's not going to be cheaper either way..but if your doing the work yourself..you might surprise yourself and find out that it would be easier to go back to original. and if there are people that are willing to give you a deal on some parts..because they don't want to ever see a modified pa..then all the better..it would be nice to have jay leno's money but not alot of us do sometimes things get modified because people work with what they have and what they know how to do..no crime committed..it's just metal..but anyway it's not a p.a.. Leake Auction Company that 33 Chrysler sold for $54k..and it didnt even have the original motor in it . anyway just me 2 cents on the subject..just maybe you could buy a cup of coffee with it? good luck on your project,benny

Edited by 1933Mopar (see edit history)
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Green, I empathize with your plight and think you were on the correct road with thinking cheap Chevy conversion. You are attempting to save a piece of family sentiment and obviously, the funds are an issue.

Listening to everyone on this board, it is ironic how easy it is for everyone to spend others money. Pierce parts ARE exorbitant and a motor is big bucks-don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

I have seen what some on this board list parts on ebay for and if you aren't Bill Gates, you're not putting a PA engine together....

With that said, I would personally do a Chevy conversion that doesn't damage the originality of the Pierce, so that it could be brought back in the future, though doubtful that anyone would want to, regarding the value of a 4 dr Pierce. They are dropping in price. Custom bodies are a nice idea, but not what I think you have in mind and again, expensive. Save as much of the original as possible and a 350 chevy crate motor is a song and easily undone.

Best of luck to you. I applaud what you are trying to do....

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