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1930 Pierce Arrow Land Speed Record Car from American Picker's TV Show Unearthed!


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It is obviously a little crude because aluminum foil is hard to work with without ripping or wrinkling, but here are the results.... At least it gives a better idea of what the car used to look like. The Artist rendering is courtesy of MotoArigato.com

Glad I could be of service with the artwork, I could see the car in my mind but thought it would be nice to let others see it more clearly in a rendering. The foil work really gives it life too!

Maybe it's time to post it on Reddit if the car forums aren't providing any more info? It reaches a far and wide audience and people who may have knowledge of the car might not even be gearheads. Perhaps somebody saw it run when they were a kid, or their uncle built the thing, it's worth a shot and that site is known for solving mysteries. They even helped a Jalopnik writer get his own vintage Beetle back after it was stolen. Good luck!

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When we discovered our Stutz Schumacher Special, it took me 4 months to get the basic history. That was with an id plate on the car with the builders name, and many period photos that had already been published in CCCA newsletters so it was semi "famous". 7 years later people are still sending me period photographs or bits of information. The Internet was alive and well in 2005 and it was still a lot of work.

The process of finding the history on this car could take some time.

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  • 2 weeks later...
I wonder what other components can give clues as to how this car came about. I was wondering about the tires - assuming this covered very few miles, what kind of shape are they in in terms of tread wear and are they a matched set, etc. Where I am going with this is, if they are a matched set with little actual signs of miles it may point to a pro build, a mis-matched or worn out set could point more towards a budget type build. I could almost see a group of talented guys working on this in the postwar period, inspired by something like the Corsair, and of course the lines of WW II planes that inspired the auto designers as well. That could explain touches that could be popular with the hot rod/customizers like the electric door latches. Of course that may have actually been the simplest way to get working, streamlined doors?

In any event, +1 to A.J.'s suggestion on aluminum sheathing - bring sunglasses to the sand!!

I finally got around to checking the tires on the car. All four are flat and very dry rotted and literally falling apart but the tread looks very deep on all four as if the tires were never used. The two rear tires are a matched pair of Goodyear Heavy Duty tires from the 30's. The two front tires are "Cincher" tires made by Pennsylvania Rubber Company. The Pennsylvania Tire company stopped making tires in just before WWII, so all four tires are pre-war. The two rear Goodyear's are wider than the front tires. I thought the Pennsylvania Rubber co. tires were interesting and indicate a pre-war build because tires were as rare as hen's teeth during the war so a pair of new Pennsylvania Rubber Co. tires would not have been laying around through the entire war to then be bought and put on a post war build. My opinion anyway.. :) Also... the Stout Scarab from the early thirties also had electric door locks.
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REWARD: THERE IS A $100 REWARD TO BE PAID TO THE FIRST PERSON THAT CAN PROVIDE A PERIOD PHOTOGRAPH OF THIS CAR OR VERIFIED PROOF OF THE BUILDER OR ANY RACE HISTORY FOR THIS CAR! While not enough to get rich researching this car, it is enough to make the search a little more fun knowing that you were able to beat out every other car expert on the planet for bragging rights as "researcher extraordinaire" over every expert stumped by this car over the last month. I have also started a Facebook page for the car where I will be posting details of the car and of course the winner. https://www.facebook.com/PierceArrowLandSpeedRecordCar

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Where was the car located? Maybe a search around the area it was found will turn something up.

The car was supposedly purchased in the Ormond Beach area in 1988/89. It has been verified to be in that area during that time at the 1989 Turkey Rod run just after the previous owner bought it. I have conflicting reports that it was also located in the Orlando area for some period of time but I have no proof of that. I have been in touch with virtually everyone who knows cars in the Daytona/Ormond Beach area and searched the local archives at the Halifax Museum. There will also be several articles coming out about the car in the Daytona area within the next week or so which will hopefully spark someone's memory about the car. We are nicknaming the car the Pierce Arrow Phantom for obvious reasons. :)

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Another interesting little tidbit..... This looks like it may also be the first plastic bodied car.... Here is a link to a Popular Mechanics article about a car built in 1941 using the exact same technique as this car was built using. On the Pierce the stainless mesh is still in place covered by the Ethyl Cellulose. There are even 3 inch striations on the body work from the special caulk gun used to apply the body in layers just like what is shown in the 1941 article. Nothing Earth shattering.... just interesting. I wonder if the car was built to showcase the "new" plastic product?

Popular Mechanics - Google Books

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REWARD: THERE IS A $100 REWARD TO BE PAID TO THE FIRST PERSON THAT CAN PROVIDE A PERIOD PHOTOGRAPH OF THIS CAR OR VERIFIED PROOF OF THE BUILDER OR ANY RACE HISTORY FOR THIS CAR!

Have you posted over on the www.landracing.com forum?

They are the home of anything and everything about land speed racing on the net.

It's also a good resource for land speed history.

Also - I don't think your car actually set any records, or we would already know about it's origins.

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Another interesting little tidbit..... This looks like it may also be the first plastic bodied car.... Here is a link to a Popular Mechanics article about a car built in 1941 using the exact same technique as this car was built using. On the Pierce the stainless mesh is still in place covered by the Ethyl Cellulose. There are even 3 inch striations on the body work from the special caulk gun used to apply the body in layers just like what is shown in the 1941 article. Nothing Earth shattering.... just interesting. I wonder if the car was built to showcase the "new" plastic product?

Popular Mechanics - Google Books

So, are you thinking the car was built around 41? or skinnned with that material as a result of someone seeing that article?

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Have you posted over on the www.landracing.com forum?

They are the home of anything and everything about land speed racing on the net.

It's also a good resource for land speed history.

Also - I don't think your car actually set any records, or we would already know about it's origins.

Yes, it is posted over on Landspeed. They mostly focus on 1936 to current when the land speed attempts moved over from the Daytona area to Bonneville. My thinking is that when the move to Bonneville occurred, this car was left behind perhaps without enough funding or inclination to take it out west to run it. In 1989 the previous owner was shown a photograph of this car running on the beach. I think there were still people using the beach to go fast and test even after the big show left town. I agree about it not having set any records. I just a) know it was purpose built to attempt one of the various speed records and B) think it ran somewhere either testing or attempting a record. That's all I have so far. But like most people I am amazed that it has been on the planet so long and nobody knows anything about it! Edited by karguy12 (see edit history)
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So, are you thinking the car was built around 41? or skinnned with that material as a result of someone seeing that article?

No. What I am saying is that from looking at this article, and from examining this car, it appears the same type of construction was used in both cars. My guess is that the Pierce was built before 1941 since everything so far on the car has been dated previous to that. The other car appeared in the article about 1941.

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The car is now on Yahoo newsgroups as the car that "stumped the internet"! lol The Pierce-Arrow also... two potential histories of the car have emerged.... The first is the Tucker story. There was a lead claiming it may have been built by Preston Tucker. Tucker was a regional manager for Pierce Arrow from 1931-1933 and had moved to Indianapolis to be near the speedway and was working with Harry Miller making a few race cars for Ford. That may ...explain the access to a 1931 Pierce Arrow chassis and drivetrain. There he would have met Harlan Fengler who built the Thunderbowl Comet or Falcon as it was known back then which looks similar to this Pierce LSR. Tucker liked cars and he liked going fast, so much so that as a youth he joined the police force just so he could drive fast cars or cars fast. He also would have seen the Thorne streamliner that was being built in Indianapolis during that time and worked on by Miller. Tucker also started an aviation business in 1934 and was working on building a fighter plane for possible use by the Army/Navy. That might explain the aviation influences on the Pierce streamliner including the gauges. Tucker would have had access to those gauges brand new if he was building a plane for military specs. Some of the gauges were also built in Buffalo New York just down the street from the Pierce Arrow factory. Maybe all this gave Tucker an urge to take back the speed records from the British or just try it as a publicity stunt. The story goes it was shipped down to Ormond for testing and by the time it was built and sent it was no longer competitive and the beach land speed scene was winding down due to safety. Tucker then went onto to other things such as the Tucker Tiger, a 120mph troop transporter/tank for the army. Tucker never stuck with anything for very long.... Can anyone prove or disprove this scenario?

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The other lead that has surfaced is that the car was owned by Ralph "Pappy" Hankinson of Orange City from the late thirties until his death in 1942. The car was supposedly stored in the basement of the Orange City hotel in Orange City which was owned by Hankins...on and was also his residence when he wasn't in Pennsylvania or New York. Perhaps that explains the Pennsylvania Rubber co. tires on the car? Hankinson was a racing promoter and is in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. "Pappy" was also a part of the AAA, the same organization that timed and officiated the speed trials. After his death the Hotel stayed in the family for a while and was then sold with all of it's contents to a woman who for all accounts was a hoarder. The car remained in the basement until the 80's when the owner's health was failing and the hotel's contents were hauled off to a warehouse and sold. Allegedly this is how "Randy" from American Pickers purchased the car in 1988. There is an eye witness that claims to have seen the Pierce Arrow in the basement of the hotel in 1981. Can anyone confirm or dispute this scenario? It should also be noted that scenario one with Preston Tucker and scenario two with Ralph "Pappy" Hankinson of Orange City are both possible. A trip to Orange City is planned for next week to check out this lead and run a story in the local paper to flush out more information.

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I can add nothing other than the second scenario is much more plausible than the first. Preston Tucker has been researched left and right and he was a promoter. Anything he touched got publicity so I doubt it would be a secret if his hands were on it.

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  • 1 month later...

Another lead has surfaced that this car was exhibited for a time at Bill Tutthill's Museum of Speed in Daytona in the 70's. It may have been owned by Harry Doan who had it stored there. The museum was closed in the 70's. anybody happen to see it or photograph it there??

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  • 2 months later...

Karguy12,

I have researched the 1935 Harris FWD Speedster since 1987.

This first Futuristic Exotic Supercar in time, is no bigger, higher, longer or heavier than an AC Cobra or a D-Type Jag.

The advent of the computer really helped me out.

Neat car that you acquired, my passion in automobiles is one-offs.

In all of my research of Preston Tucker, I never found anything which would tie him to your car, BUT, new things do pop up, >>> BTW, we were the ones which picked up our deposit, and tore up our contract to purchase the #57 car which was a hot potato & topic for quite sometime.

The guys herein, and sites like autopuzzles are great to work with>> and love historical work.

One gent from autopuzzles recently unearthered a magazine article on the Speedster from 1937, our earliest magazine article is 1935.

We also found, what we believe is a picture of Marylin Monroe in the Speedster.

http://www.harrisspeedster.com/harris.html

http://www.autopuzzles.com/forum/index.php?topic=11958.0

I am sure something will pop up on your automobile, as it had to have had some publicity.

Sent you an email with my phone number to offer help>>

Warm regards,

John

Edited by harris speedster (see edit history)
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Bob,

Thank you for posting !!!

I am an old dog, chicken pick on the computer>>> and barely know enough to navigate.

Still can't get it right to paste and move pics and docs>>> guess I am a real nitt witt on the computer !!!!!

I just gave my two sons the go-daddy access codes, and they are going to start downloading a ton of Historical documents and pictures.

As there is a real surprise coming in the next few months on the Speedster, it will no longer be obscure !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

No heresay, no assumption, just hard facts, >>> we did not build this first exotic supercar, we are only reporting what has been un-earthered in 24 years of research>> with much help, >>>>>> we are only the care takers of Bens fabulous creation and his own legendary story !!!

I have a really cool one page article>>>that if I had your email address, I could send you to post>>> believe me>> everyone would enjoy this one page, plus>>> would also start to realize just how important this special man was in auto design and building the National SCCA in it's infant years !!

I do not hide, and I am always willing to openly discus/share and search out new docs & pics>> so >>> motorcarinvestments@gmail.com

Thanks with warm regards,

John

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If you can get some good closeups of the instruments, both the front and the dataplates on the back I might be able to narrow down the year they were made. Also, try shining a light obliquely across the dials and look really, really closely. Sometimes they have their data printed in black ink on top of the black face of the gauge - near the middle area. As you mention, these kinds of gauges were pretty much one size fits most aircraft of the late 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and even more recently. In the meantime, when doing research I encourage you to use Occam's razor - - - when you have several possible explanations, the most likely is the simplest one. Using this, since there is no information from a very wide range of very knowledgeable people who know a great deal about land speed cars, combined with this having a small engine that would not have been able to make it go very fast, it would seem unlikely that it was an actual land speed car and is more likely a backyard project of an enthusiast or maybe something for show like a movie prop. Of course further research may come up with something much more interesting and such research can be a lot of fun. I hope it does turn up some specific information, but until it does the best place to start is to assume the simplest explanation.

It is hard to tell in the photos about the condition of the rust and corrosion. Is it just surface or has much of the metal and other parts been eaten away to the point of there being too little metal to restore? Have you tried a couple of lesser parts or less visible areas to see how much metal is left under the rust/corrosion to see if it could be restored without having to hand-make a very large number of parts and sections?

Edited by Kimo (see edit history)
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  • 2 years later...

Wow, good question.  I'm interested too....although I'd bet the same guy owns it, and there's still no documentation on any speed record, or we'd have heard about it.  Fascinating that such an unusual beast would have not just sketchy history, but no history at all!

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5 hours ago, alsancle said:

I was wondering what ever happened to this?

I just read this whole thread from page one and not skipping to page five to see what it is then nothing. Like reading a murder mystery novel and the last page being ripped out!!!!! 

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8 minutes ago, Joe in Canada said:

I just read this whole thread from page one and not skipping to page five to see what it is then nothing. Like reading a murder mystery novel and the last page being ripped out!!!!! 

 

And therein lies your answer to what it really is...

 

No matter how many straws were grasped, this car was not any of the things the owner was trying to convince us/himself that it was. My gut still says movie prop, but I doubt we'll ever know for sure.

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  • 4 years later...

Fellow’s been searching for years for some history or photos.  With all the pictures and written words about race and land speed records, the lack of same, to me, tells the whole story.  A figmentation of someone’s imagination.....

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I am new to this site and also just read the entire thread. Very interesting story and automobile. I know nothing about these type of vehicles other than what I just learned reading this post. Ebay auction is interesting. One of the post shows another streamline auto that I am assuming the OP restored. Absolutely beautiful car!! Which leads me to one question, if he has the ability to do that type of resto, then why part with such a significant auto? Saying its 'the first' plastic covered car may be a stretch 🤔 Using the Tucker name seems to be a bit far fetched as well. I would think that a man of his stature and presence in the auto world would have been researched ad nauseum. It would be more likely that 'Tucker built a car that's whereabouts is unkown' ( and thus it has been found) as opposed to 'this car was built by Tucker, and no one knew about it until now'.

Whether built by a 'big name' person, or someone with a big wallet, it is still quite an interesting auto, and well deserving of a restoration to some extent.  Looks to me like it will take another million to restore on top of (what I perceive as an astronomical) buy in price.

Perhaps we will see this vehicle resurrected one day, sitting on the lawn at Pebble Beach, or crossing the auction block for 100 million! We can all say, I remember when I could have bought that car for $75k...............................!

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4 hours ago, alsancle said:

Guess what is back?   I see still no history which I'm surprised by.   I think it is cool, but the cost of restoration gives me heart burn.

 

https://www.ebay.com/itm/1930-Pierce-Arrow-/164355519111

 

1930-Pierce-Arrow

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Well, you may set an endurance record with the engine it had in it, but that is about it.  Think about the technology that was in racing at the period and there is none of that here (it is just a nice flathead 8)

My guess is someone just had the handy gene. 

Edited by John_Mereness (see edit history)
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4 minutes ago, TAKerry said:

One of the post shows another streamline auto that I am assuming the OP restored. Absolutely beautiful car!! Which leads me to one question, if he has the ability to do that type of resto, then why part with such a significant auto? Saying its 'the first' plastic covered car may be a stretch.

 

This one?

s-l500.jpg

 

This is just that same skeleton wrapped in tin foil so you can see the shape better, not a restored car

 

This guy has been making these same wild and unsubstantiated claims about Preston Tucker, Daytona Beach, and land speed records for many years, trying to turn this nothing into something to justify his investment. His attitude of "prove me wrong" isn't helping, either. Nobody cares, it's obvious to everyone but him that it's not what he says it is, and nobody is going to pony up that kind of cash for vaporware that needs three times that much spent on it to turn it into a shiny piece of vaporware that's still not worth anything. It's a guy using the "get rich quick by fooling the rich, stupid car guys" scheme who clearly didn't realize that there aren't as many fools as he expected.

 

My theory is that this was a "prop" created by the American Pickers TV show from junk they found at other sites--which they are wont to do, apparently--and this guy was suckered by the idea of it having been on TV lending it legitimacy (what else is new, America?). Sadly, the very last person willing to admit he's been fooled is the fool who got fooled, so he's going to keep digging and digging and digging until he's buried in this poor beast.

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I was referring to his post about the 1937 Adler.  You know far more about autos than myself, so I guess I am the sucker. It does seem like a period, car to me, just not what is advertised. Although I would not doubt a made up conglomeration for the sake of the tv world. I would think if it was built by Tucker, someone like Dr. Simeone would be jumping all over it.

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17 minutes ago, TAKerry said:

I was referring to his post about the 1937 Adler.  You know far more about autos than myself, so I guess I am the sucker. It does seem like a period, car to me, just not what is advertised. Although I would not doubt a made up conglomeration for the sake of the tv world. I would think if it was built by Tucker, someone like Dr. Simeone would be jumping all over it.

 

Sorry I didn't see the Adler, I just assumed the guy was passing his car off as something else. Sorry about that.

 

There are all kinds of theories on what this car is. The one thing on which everyone agrees, however, is that it is NOT a land speed record car built by Preston Tucker to run on the sands at Daytona.

 

Everyone would love to be wrong. But for something like that to exist and for there to be no record, no photo, no person who lived near the guy who built it or saw it driving on the streets near his house, or anything else that forms a link in a pedigree chain, is very suspicious. At best it's home built and never finished and just abandoned and at worst it's fakery designed to entertain or fool. Neither of those is worth $75 large, I'm afraid.

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4 hours ago, alsancle said:

Guess what is back?   I see still no history which I'm surprised by.   I think it is cool, but the cost of restoration gives me heart burn.

 

https://www.ebay.com/itm/1930-Pierce-Arrow-/164355519111

 

1930-Pierce-Arrow

s-l1600.jpg

This has been around for eons and no reason to discredit that (aka it did not get this way by being "made up of parts" to become an american picker's episode). That said, Preston Tucker was a pretty "photographed guy" and with all the photos that survive I doubt you have an odd duck.  And, Preston Tucker was copied just as other people were also copied.   This was most likely built in the 30's to at latest very early 1950's).  That said though, it is Rough, Rough, Rough and that engine looks pretty off the shelf.  I would say someones 1930's handy gene and "look mom we built a car out in the garage" and why it is undocumented.  Robert E. Peterson of Peterson Publishing built a career out of people building things (ex. hot rod magazine) and people were customizing things from the very first car ever made.  As to value, who knows, but without a photographic history it is very speculative at best. 

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