Online Auto Museum

Pierce 15hp Rear-Entrance Tonneau, 1903

  • For the George N. Pierce Company to venture away from bicycles and birdcages, onward into the twentieth century, son Percy Pierce and future president Colonel Charles Clifton auditioned both steam and internal combustion plans. The latter option came to practice through Clifton's travels in Europe, resulting in a contract with de Dion for the supply of motors. Until Pierce began manufacturing its own four-cylinder units, most Pierce cars were small Motorettes powered by de Dion single and two-cylinder units. These early exercises were distributed throughout the country via Pierce's bicycle dealer network, and proved durable in reliability trials. According to Automobile Quarterly, that the Pierce Motorette proved commercially viable emboldened the company to expand on the Motorette by building a fully fledged horseless carriage: "Consequently, in 1903 still another model was introduced, a 15 hp two-cylinder vehicle built to the Panhard formula, with a vertical engine mounted in front under a Renault-like hood." This concise reference describes our car here, but only in vague terms—"another model"—as it was not any of the nascent Motorettes and also not yet an Arrow. So this particular car is an interim step between the early single-cylinder cars, and the fully mature Arrow that Pierce would begin producing in decent quantity in 1904.
  • What we mean by the Panhard formula is this: the Système Panhard, circa 1891, described by René Panhard and Emile Levassor, who were perhaps not the first but certainly the most persistent in demonstrating the practicality of a front-motor, rear-drive car. Pierce quickly followed this rule, and with a French motor and a largely French design, put together their first complete motorcar.
  • As counterpoint to the continental influence, British-born chief engineer David Fergusson (b. 1869, Bradford, England) was responsible for much of Pierce's mechanical development, imprinting on the company from the very beginning in 1899, and delivering those first single-cylinder Motorettes by 1901. Fergusson remained with Pierce-Arrow until 1922, seeing the company through two decades of progress. So it should be remembered that while the Pierce-Arrow marque recalls George N. Pierce, the version of the company that ventured into motoring was very different from the 19th century company interested in domestic wares. Colonel Clifton and David Fergusson were principal leaders in this new technology—Clifton recognizing the potential of the concept, and Fergusson finding a home to put his ideas to work. At that, the Pierce family would sell its entire interest in the company by 1908.
  • Thank you to Mr. John H. Hovey, who was a dear for answering questions and showing us around the car. I believe Mr. Hovey completed much of the restoration himself.


Last Updated: Jul 24, 2017