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$500 REWARD! For the First Person to Identify the Builder of This Car or Provide a Period Photo


karguy12

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Well it is a new year and I've decided to have a little fun regarding the Pierce Arrow land speed car by offering a $500 reward to anyone who can conclusively identify the builder of this car or provide a period photograph of the car back when it was either being built or being run. Somewhere somebody has this information tucked in a drawer or an old photo album. Plus the winner will have bragging rights as the person who unraveled the mystery of the Pierce Arrow "Phantom", the car that stumped the internet. The first person that posts the photo, or the proof of build will be given the $500.

I will be happy to answer direct questions or provide information that has not been already answered or provided in the numerous internet articles or posts about the car. So if someone is serious about claiming the $500 they will have at least read up on what is already out there on the car. Just to nip it in the bud, this is NOT the Falcon/Thunderbowl Comet from the Jimmy Stewart movie.

http://autos.yahoo.com/blogs/motoramic/pierce-arrow-phantom-car-stumped-internet-204952420.html

http://forums.aaca.org/f169/1930-pierce-arrow-land-speed-record-348722.html

http://www.jalopyjournal.com/forum/showthread.php?t=794364 (I will not be posting the reward on the HAMB)

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The Yahoo link is helpful, maybe also include the link to the discussion that has already taken place on this forum and it will help eliminate a lot of false suggestions. Been following the story with interest... Good Luck.

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But why do you refer to it as a land speed record car when you apparently have no evidence that it was built with that in mind? More than likely it's one of many home built "specials" that were never actually completed.

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But why do you refer to it as a land speed record car when you apparently have no evidence that it was built with that in mind? More than likely it's one of many home built "specials" that were never actually completed.

For a clue as to whether the car was **intended** to be a LSR car, why not check the gear ratio of the diff, which was established to be Pierce in a previous thread. The 1931 Model 43 137" inch wheelbase cars (all closed cars on that wheelbase) had a standard ratio of 4.42:1. That ratio would afford a top speed of no more than 90 mph under the best of circumstances. Jack up one rear wheel, mark a point on the lifted wheel and the driveshaft, rotate driveshaft until the wheel has completed one revolution per x number of driveshaft rotations.

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One thing that seems to cause so many people so much difficulty with this car is that they are only aware of ONE land speed record, the all out top speed. They look at this car and think that unless it was capable of going 300 or more miles per hour it must not be a land speed record attempt car, hence all of the comments about the gear ratio and what top speed it may have been able to attain. To put this concept to rest once and for all I present the George Eyston 7 horsepower MG and the George Eyston top speed land speed car. The one had only 7 hp and broke land speed records in it's class of over 100mph. The other, with over 1,000 hp broke the overall top speed record of over 350mph. Same driver. Same time period. In many people's minds the 7hp MG would not exist because it did not have a gear ration that would allow it to go 350mph. Yet it did exist and is in the record books. There are literally hundreds of land speed records on the books that have nothing to do with the top speed prize.

This car was completed and was running including its completed plastic body and all wiring and mechanical components. It was built with no headlights, taillights, brake lights or the wiring for them, There is also no rear window or rear view mirrors. The engine bellhousing sits 4 inches off the ground WITH air in the tires. There is a working 300mph speedometer in the car along with a functioning aircraft fighter tachometer hooked up to a special hand fabricated gear drive unit. The engine his highly modified with the same type of custom intakes that are on the Ab Jenkins record cars. It has a specially fabricated huge handbrake. I could go on and on, but everyone that has inspected the car agrees that it was built for one purpose and one purpose only and is not usable for street driving, especially on the roads of the 30's (or even today).

But just to be clear, I am only interested in finding out the REAL history of this car, no matter what that may be. So if it is not a land speed car in your mind, help me find the history and prove your point. I am looking for one thing, the history of THIS car, no matter what that may be.

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All very well and good, but the subject vehicle has a 1931 Pierce-Arrow Model 43 engine and driveline; the engine is 366 cid stock and was claimed by the company to produce 125 bhp with a 5.01 compression ratio. Without looking it up, the bore and number of cylinders gives about 29.4 calculated hp vs the 7 calculated hp MG. In what class would this vehicle run, assuming factory engine specs?

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I have no idea what class it would have run in or was designed to run in. The engine has clearly been performance modified so there is no way to know at this time what the actual horsepower was when it was running. It could have been set up for endurance records to beat the Ab Jenkins 1, 6, 12 and 24 hour records. There are displacement records, Horsepower records, make and model records, endurance records, etc. It only had to beat one to own a World Record. In the 30's there were a lot of records that were still obtainable by the above average mechanic or car builder, unlike today. I don't know what the original builder intended, but I would like to find out.

In 1929 the Pierce Arrow straight 8 was the highest horsepower American production power plant. The Ab Jenkins runs proved they were reliable. So using a Pierce platform may have made sense at the time the project was conceived.

Again, I am not interested in arguing about what it could have or would have done. I am only interested in finding out the car's actual builder and the history of THIS car, regardless of who built it or why.

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Karguy12, I wish you well on your search for verifying information, and hopefully your offered reward will get some folks digging among their old paper. I claim no expertise in racing matters. I do know Pierce-Arrows reasonably well, and think that this particular engine would have been way down on my list in the 1930s (well before I was even a twinkle in my father's eye) to modify for any kind of speed run. I'm trying to avoid being impolite, but suggest that the burden of proof is on you. I commend you for seeking contemporary verification.

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Everything is wired, hooked up, completed and intact. The Stainless steel mesh was attached to the body ribs with countersunk screws like the parts of the body that are still there. The entire body has the countersunk screws still in place that held on the stainless mesh on each body rib. In other words there is evidence of the body all over the car. All of the extended controls, brakes, steering, driveshaft, fuel lines, spark plug wires, shifter mechanism, etc are all completed and intact. The four spring loaded hood hinges are still in place with their three dash mounted release cables (one opens both side opening "clam" style hoods and the other two release each side for removal and access to the engine) are still in place. The gauges are all hooked up. There is nothing missing from the car that would have prevented it from running. Currently the four carbs are missing as they were probably taken for another project but the custom made actuator rod to four cable accelerator linkage is still in place. The radiator and aluminum hoods were stolen by scrappers about 20 years ago. Other than that it is complete. The odometer shows 35 miles which I personally assume were test/run miles. Looking at the car closely there is nothing missing that would have precluded it from running and driving.

I cannot imagine working so hard to build this car from the ground up and then when it was done not driving it anywhere... at all.... ever.

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For me the welded in spark plugs identify it as the work of a not very well funded amateur back yard builder. Any idea what it weighs?

True Perhaps.... but there is no way to know when that "modification" occurred over the last 80 years or if the original builder did it. I have had dozens of cars with very questionable repairs and I have never assumed they were performed by the original constructor.

As far as weight I would imagine it weighs about as much as a bare frame and drivetrain plus about 300-500 pounds,

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http://tampa.craigslist.org/pnl/cto/4247727826.html

It would seem that you have uncovered documentation that the car was run at Daytona in a LSR attempt

The car was located in 1989 in an Ormond Beach warehouse after being stored for decades in the basement of the Orange City hotel owned by Pappy Hankinson, a huge race car promoter from the 20's and 30's. We have a first hand account of someone seeing the car in the basement there about 1982-84. It was stored there from the late 30's after Pappy Hankinson's death in 1942 at the Orange City hotel where he lived. Pappy Hankinson was also the last known owner of the Blitzen Benz land speed car before it disappeared. Nobody from the area built the car because there was no one in the area capable of a full build in the 30's. It has appeared in two Volusia County local newspapers asking anyone for information about the car or builder with no response. On the way home from purchasing the car from the warehouse in 1989 the then owner stopped at the first annual Turkey Rod Run held at the Daytona speedway. This has been confirmed by the founder of the Turkey Rod Run who saw the car there himself. (I would love to see photos of it from that event) The then owner reports that there was a seller of photos and other memorabilia there that offered to sell him a photo of the car running on Daytona or Ormond Beach that he had there with him. The cost of $30 was too much and he didn't buy it. He kicked himself for 20 years about not buying the photograph. If anyone knows who that memorabilia seller was I would love to contact him. From what I was told by the previous owner, it was test run on the beach but not during a timed event, but had a mechanical issue.

This seems to jive with the 35.9 miles on the odometer. It is 33.2 miles from Ormond Beach to the Orange City hotel. Pappy Hankinson's hotel had a garage underneath the North East corner of the hotel. Maybe it drove to Ormond beach, made a mile run or two and was towed back due to mechanical failure. I can only guess at this point. This garage was used to work on the race cars of the drivers that stayed at the hotel during beach racing season. The hotel was quite a hot spot with a New York style Jazz club and a brothel. I have been to the hotel and have viewed what was the garage area, now converted into a storeroom. It looks like it could have held about six cars at a time with room to work on them.

The car also wears Pennsylvania Rubber Company Tires. These tires were made at the factory near Pappy Hankinson's summer home and are the same brand of the huge stock of tires Pappy Hankinson claimed he owned that would allow racing to continue during the war as he argued to the war department to lift the ban on wartime racing. It was a little unpopular for Pappy to be using up or hoarding valuable goods like tires during the war. These tires on the car and it being at the hotel since Hankinson died seem to also support the Pappy Hankinson connection and the fact that it is a pre-war build. The Pennsylvania Tire company converted to war production and never produced tries after the start of the war making ALL Pennsylvania Rubber Co. tires all pre-war tires.

That's all I know at this point about the connection to Daytona at this time.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi. It appears to be the very same car that was shown on Discovery Channel American Pickers show about a year ago. Mike & Frank did a walk around of the car in the owners back yard on that show. Seem to recall that the owner said it was one his dad had purchased some years ago and never restored.

Jimmie

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Hi. It appears to be the very same car that was shown on Discovery Channel American Pickers show about a year ago. Mike & Frank did a walk around of the car in the owners back yard on that show. Seem to recall that the owner said it was one his dad had purchased some years ago and never restored.

Jimmie

Yes it is the car from the American Pickers show. On the show they made it look like the car was in Daytona Beach. Dozens of car collectors scoured the Daytona area looking for the house shown on the show but of course they wouldn't find it because it was actually stored in a yard on the West coast of Florida and filmed there during the show. Mike and Frank don't know cars very well and always seem to get in over their heads, but this car was one they should have bought.

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First, let me say that this project of yours is a bit out of my era of choice. But it is interesting.

And, among other things, I am interested in speedsters and race cars from the beginning through the 1920s. Many times, I have argued that "speedsters are as much a part of our automotive history and heritage as any Packard or Pierce Arrow". Tracking the "history" of most individual original speedsters is nearly impossible. They were not considered important enough through the '30s till the mid'60s and most of their individual histories were lost. Racing cars are a little different. There is a better chance that some of their history may have been recorded, maybe even in the local newspapers. So good luck!

I also agree with your assessment that finding its history is important for the car. I am in the same position with one of my projects. I would dearly love to find any original photo of my car, even a blurry newspaper shot. It could help for me to restore the car more correctly. Yes, it would also make the car more valuable if I were to sell it either as-is or restored. On this, I applaud your efforts. Whether you can find its full history or not, I hope you restore it well. Make it as right as you can. Cars like it also need to be restored, preserved, seen, shown, and driven. Again, make it as right as you can.

I would suggest, however. Refrain from the LSR designation. The LSR is a specific "speed record", the "land" speed record. I would say to call it the "speed record" car all you like. There are hundreds of different speed records. Many dozens of weight classes, size classes, horse power classes, as well as production classes, modified classes, unlimited classes, number of cylinder classes and even fuel classes. There really is only ONE LSR, the fastest thing on land. Your car was probably never a contender for that. Welded spark plugs aside, no flathead can breath well enough to turn fast enough to produce enough horsepower to gear up enough speed for the LSR after about 1925. At least not without blowing the head off in a hundred pieces. By the late '20s, the speed was just getting too high.

Air is a funny thing. The faster you go, or the engine turns, the harder air gets. And it gets harder exponentially. I used to work with the figures in commercial antenna systems (wind-loading). Basically, double the speed, four times the load (or resistance). Between 25 mph and 50 mph is a good jump in resistance. Then 100 mph. Then 200 mph. At 200 mph, you have over 60 times the air/wind resistance of 25 mph. It simply takes too much horsepower to go any faster. An engine of that design simply cannot do it.

Regardless, your car looks very interesting, and appears to have some good history behind it. Good luck on your quest! I really hope to see it fully restored one day.

Drive carefully, and enjoy, W2

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Thank you for the clarification on a "speed record" car versus a "Land speed record car". I don't know if that is an "official" designation or not, but it does make a lot of sense. I too do not think that this car was ever built to go after the ultimate speed mark. By the time it was built that mark was in the 250mph range. Even though the speedometer in this car is a 300mph unit, there is no way that the car could have gone that fast. To me it looks capable of perhaps the 160-180 mark. Until the engine and drivetrain is dissected and inspected there is no real way to even calculate what the top speed of this car's potential was. It will run again and I hope to see it run on the salt in the future so we can all see what it may have been capable of.

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I would think you would be interested enough to check the rear end ratio. I'm sure someone knows the ratio of high gear in that trans. Simple enough to calculate the theoretical top speed at a given rpm and tire size. Not like that engine was ever going to see 6000 rpm or anything. Check the rear ratio and we'll calculate it here. Not necessary to "dissect the engine and drive train".

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I would think you would be interested enough to check the rear end ratio. I'm sure someone knows the ratio of high gear in that trans. Simple enough to calculate the theoretical top speed at a given rpm and tire size. Not like that engine was ever going to see 6000 rpm or anything. Check the rear ratio and we'll calculate it here. Not necessary to "dissect the engine and drive train".

How would you figure in the possible gear ratios of the transmission in that equation without knowing what the actual ratios of the transmission in this car are? There is a custom aluminum hand fabricated gear box attached to the rear of the waterpump shaft that converts that shaft's RPM to an accurate gear driven cable drive for the mechanical aviation tachometer. So clearly the builder of this car understood gear ratios to have built his own gear box for the tachometer. And if that is the case, they clearly would have understood the limitations of a standard 3spd factory transmission. Couldn't there be a custom gear set within the transmission? There is no way to know what the final drive of the transmission is, is there? Wouldn't that affect the number of times the driveshaft would spin going into the rear differential per RPM of the engine? Are there transmissions that are higher than a 1:1 drive?

The comment about "dissecting" the drivetrain was to examine the modifications that were made to the engine, (shaved head, higher compression pistons, four intakes and carbs, etc.) to determine possible horsepower as well as the gear ratios within the transmission and of course the rear end ratio. That would provide a more accurate horsepower approximation, the final transmission ratio as well as the rear end ration giving a fairly accurate guestimate of top speed.

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In the previous thread on this car, we established by engine number that the engine is a late-production 1931 Pierce-Arrow Model 43, and the driveline appears consistent with 1931 Pierce equipment. 1931-35 Pierce transmissions are 3-speed with a top gear ratio of 1:1. In my post #6 on this thread, I stated that the standard differential ratio for a 137-inch wheelbase Model 43 was 4.42 to 1. The fastest ratio offered was 4.08 on a 134-inch wheelbase open car. That engine's factory specs were 3.5 bore, 4.75 stroke (= 366 cid), 5.01:1 compression ratio, 125 bhp @ 3200 rpm. I expect that an absolute redline for that 9-main babbitt crankshaft is 4,000 rpm. Also in post #6, I suggested a non-invasive means for checking the diff ratio actually installed. (BTW the Pierce **V-12** Bonneville cars 1932-34 almost certainly had special diffs with ratios less than 3:1). After measuring the diameter of an inflated tire, you can use the McCullough formula (Google it) to determine engine rpm at any road speed.

It would be a very hard sell to any Pierce-Arrow aficionado that this was a factory effort, because beginning in 1932, P-A was trying to establish a reputation for its V-12s, not for its well-established eights. Pierce first offered V-12 for 1932 in two sizes, 398 cid and 429 cid. The 398 was dropped for 1933. The straight 8 such as you have consistently outperformed the smaller V-12. For 1934, the 429 cid was enlarged to 462 cid, which remained the V-12 offering until the company failed in January 1938.

If you're willing to pull the head and cc it (measure combustion chamber volume in cubic centimeters), Pierce 8 chamber volume was 58-61 cc per cylinder, depending on displacement and offered compression ratios.

FWIW....

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One more point for analyzing what the engine is or is not: Pierce 8s did not have counterweighted crankshafts until the 1934 model, which was 385 cid (3.5 x 5). So if you do have a counterweighted crank, you have a 385 cid engine due to longer stroke (and necessarily, 385 cid connecting rods). The 385 cid crank and rods will fit the 366 block.

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Can anyone tell us how tall the average tires would be mounted on the PA 19" wire wheels? (all four of these are flat and coming apart)

Thanks for all of the great info guys. The car is in currently buried in storage and on a trailer without a center floor section and hard to get to but I will try to check the ratio as you instructed and post the results. It may take a week or two.

I've never said that I thought this was a factory effort. The Ab Jenkins runs were not officially a factory effort either according to the accounts of the day. One thing I did not know until recently was that Jenkins was on the payroll of Pierce Arrow as an engineering consultant. While the Ab Jenkins run was not an official factory effort, they were watching and taking notes. I would be VERY interested in knowing if any of the Pierce Arrow archives preserved any of the communications back and forth about these record runs. Especially any letters between Jenkins and Pierce. Ab Jenkins also hung around in Indianapolis with the same people Tucker hung around with during the same period in the early 30's including Harry Miller, a major proponent of aerodynamics. I feel that the car was likely built in Indiana at some point and that's where Phillip Wright may have seen it. But again, no hard facts, just theories at this point. But you have to start looking somewhere that makes sense.

I do feel that Pierce Arrow was aware of this car based on the striking resemblance to the 33 Silver Arrow side profile. It is also one of my theories that this car was meant ONLY to show the efficiency of aerodynamics. If it could beat the stock V-12 roadster Jenkins used with a less powerful engine using ONLY aerodynamics then it would have proven the effectiveness of streamlining quite well. Not DESPITE the engine being a smaller straight 8, but BECAUSE the engine was smaller and less powerful.

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High gear in a stock PA transmission is 1:1. In high, it is straight through. It is, technically, not in any "gear, just a direct hookup from the input to the output shafts. In order to change the high gear ratio from 1:1 to an overdriven situation would require much, much more than a custom gear set. I'm not saying it couldn't be done, just that it is unlikely to the point of near impossibility. Making a simple tach adapter is child's play compared to the task of designing and building a gearset and fitting it in a stock case.

And, yes, there is a way to determine what the final drive is. Unbolt the shift tower from the transmission and look inside. Same with the rear end ratio. Jack it up and turn a wheel one revolution and count the number of revolutions that the drive shaft makes.

All we've seen and heard so far is speculation, name dropping and a healthy dose of imagination regarding the lineage of the car. Now is the time to supply some real, hard fact about the car. Tell us what the final drive ratio is and the theoretical top speed of the LSR car can be easily calculated

I wasn't saying that just because the builder fabricated a transmission for the tach drive that he could fabricate new gear sets. What I was saying was that he had to have an awareness and knowledge about gear ratios and how they would have affected final drive. In other words the builder would have been aware of the need for some attention in the area of gear ratios.

What would I look for if I unbolted the shift tower from the trans? It is very easy to get to since the trans sits about two feet in front of the firewall.

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A rough calculation shows that at 4000 rpm with a final drive of 4.08 turning 36" tall tires you would be travelling about 104 mph in direct drive.

Would the weight of the car or the aerodynamics or lack thereof have any affect on this calculation? What would that speed be if it were say a 3:1 rear ratio? The reason I ask is that Harlan Fengler claimed that he had driven the "Falcon" about 150mph during the speed run filmed while making the 1936 movie "Speed" with Jimmy Stewart. That car is very similar in construction to this PA streamliner and also was powered by a straight 8, his being a Cord. Here is a link to a contemporary article about that run. Fengler also claimed he was going to use the same car to go after the 24 hour endurance run. Fengler also claimed that filming that scene was the scariest ride he had ever taken in a car because he was traveling so fast and the crowd was told to move aside as he approached. He said going 150mph towards a crowd of people was horrifying. This coming from a board tack racer!

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1970&dat=19360407&id=aQUiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=oaMFAAAAIBAJ&pg=5421,3541624

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"Can anyone tell us how tall the average tires would be mounted on the PA 19" wire wheels? (all four of these are flat and coming apart)" (karguy12 post #42)

Check the Coker and other distributors' online catalogs for diameters for your 19-inch wheels. That said, different brands today have different diameters, almost always larger than factory--which causes grief if you have a sidemount-equipped car. For example, Lesters are smaller in width and diameter than other makes, and will usually fit in fenderwells without dropping down a size, whereas BFGoodrich and Bedford Famous Cords (latter available only from Lucas) are larger diameter--and width--in the same nominal size. I prefer the Bedfords myself for the tread pattern and sidewall tread edge designs--and the handling and wear characteristics, but they won't fit in my fenderwells in the correct size. For example, the 700x17 (not your size) Lesters in my 1936 fender wells to allow the covers to fit are 30" in diameter, whereas the BFGs I prefer on the road wheels are 32 inches. The Bedford 700x18 (again, not your size) on my 1930 Pierce roadster's road wheels are 32.75 in diameter but will not fit in the wells at all, so I run 650x18 tires on the spares. Probably Lester diameters and widths are closest to what was offered as original equipment, although their sidewall and tread designs are not as authentic as the other brands mentioned.

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Could the spark plug welds be analyzed by a metallurgist?

Evidence of arc or gas welds?

That would perhaps date it somewhat.... ie: a later hacker did it or not.

Perhaps the plugs had a different thread pitch than on the head - cut one apart to find out why it was welded on to begin with.

My opinion: Stop wasting your time on speculating - refurbish it and drive it, as you will have something no one else has.

Good luck.

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Could the spark plug welds be analyzed by a metallurgist?

Evidence of arc or gas welds?

That would perhaps date it somewhat.... ie: a later hacker did it or not.

Perhaps the plugs had a different thread pitch than on the head - cut one apart to find out why it was welded on to begin with.

My opinion: Stop wasting your time on speculating - refurbish it and drive it, as you will have something no one else has.

Good luck.

Not all of the spark plugs are welded, just some of them which is what makes me think it was a "fix". Looks like stick welding to me, something done real quick and not all the way around the plug, just enough to hold it.

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That said, different brands today have different diameters, almost always larger than factory--which causes grief if you have a sidemount-equipped car. .

It is almost a given that when you are looking at a side-mount equipped car, especially one with covers, the tires on the road are bigger (some times much so) than what is in the side-mount.

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That is because the tire makers are using one mold for more than one size tire... only changing the wording on the side. For instance, a tire marked 7.50 is exactly the same as a tire marked 7.00. So, some tires may be the correct size as originally specified.

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My next move is probably to go sift through the Pierce Arrow archives in Michigan if they will allow me to for any letters or communications that show any communications between Ab Jenkins and Pierce Arrow regarding his land speed runs and if Tucker was involved at all with the Ab Jenkins runs or pitching ideas to his bosses. Pierce Arrow was not a huge corporation and I feel that Tucker would have stuck his nose in everything that had anything to do with going fast, making the cars more sporty or racing. I hope to find some letters back and forth proving this and maybe evidencing Tucker making suggestions or offers to show PA brass what can/should be done to improve the cars or the company. Even if someone else built the car, it is possible that they approached Pierce for information, parts or sponsorship. Either way it will be fun looking though them and reading them.

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  • 1 year later...

… Your situation is somewhat similar to what I went through in documenting 3 old Race Cars. The one I am most enamored with had been bought out of a junkyard, ended up being a car that had been Road Raced in France. The car carries a unique to each car a Federal International Automobile Association (FIA) number. The car was in bad condition had partially stripped but my gut just told me it was special. For years I made phone cars and wrote letters to USA, England and France; when I thought I was getting close I would include some cash just thanking them for their time and any response, no matter how insignificant it might seem to them. In the process of finding history on my car there was nary a word of encouragement in fact as you are experiencing people inject unsolicited negative information; accept them for who they are and carry on with the dream!

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Here is a hint for those who may have stumbled across a former race ,or something they are told was raced . If the car was raced under FIA rules ( and that actually covers land speed racing ) or any of the formula type racing ,the The nostalgia forum on the Autosport web is the place to ask.http://forums.autosport.com/forum/10-the-nostalgia-forum/ A lot of former race drivers,car builders historians etc etc spend their days there .Np matter how obscure,when it comes to racing there will be someone who has information.

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