1909 Peerless Found in New York barn

Story and photos by John W. Lyons |
I n recent years, automotive barn finds have drawn huge amounts of attention, both because of the importance of the find and because of the preservation classes that are popping up at major events. Barn finds invite the discoverer and, for the fortunate few who witness the event, take hobbyists back to the era when the car was produced. They witness the technology and workmanship that went into the automobile without any influence from the future.

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This 1909 Peerless was found recently in a New York barn. At one time, Peerless was known as one of the “Three P’s:” Packard, Pierce and Peerless. The three were considered key players in the auto industry, because they met the criterion of wealthier buyers of the day.

As a preservation class candidate, nothing seems to draw more attention or generate more excitement than a legitimate barn find in original condition. With concours like Pebble Beach and Amelia Island inviting preservation-class cars to their events, the public awareness of these incredible time-warp finds is growing by leaps and bounds. Preservation cars are sought after by many major collectors who, in some cases, have staffs that roam the world looking for these marvelous cars and they car becoming more and more difficult to find.

Over the years, one can point to many examples of extraordinary finds of incredible cars in unthinkable places, such as fields, parking garages, swamps or, of course, the romantic-yet-lonely-sounding barn. These cars are found in various forms from rusted chassis, to partially complete cars to complete and untouched originals. Some of the major finds in the last 20 years include a Tucker Torpedo in a parking garage in the early ’90s and a Duesenberg, also in a parking garage. Several significant cars were discovered in a swamp on the Belgium French border many years ago, including a couple of Hispano Suizas and other rare European cars.

A car without peers

In the early 1900s, hundreds of car makers were working their hardest to introduce motoring to eager Americans. Companies such as Ford had developed excellent techniques of producing large quantities of cars via a production line, and this resulted in the numbers of great and inexpensive cars being available and assured Ford’s long-term survival. The luxury automakers of the time built their expensive cars by hand, and as a result, their chances for survival were much more dubious, especially in the event of an economic downturn. While several luxury builders were competing for the wealthy consumer, it is generally agreed that the “Three P’s:” Packard Motor Co., Pierce (and later Pierce-Arrow) and Peerless, were the dominant players because of their ability to meet the discerning needs of the demanding wealthy buyer of the day.

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This 1912 Peerless will be offered for sale on Nov. 3 as part of the Hilton Head Sports and Classic Car Auction.

Peerless, out of Cleveland, Ohio, was not shy about touting itself as the best, with advertisements of the day proclaiming “Silence and Comfort, all that the name implies.” Obviously, the company had great confidence in its ability to build superior cars, and it did! The pinnacle for the Peerless Motor Car Co. is widely regarded as being between 1908 and 1913, at the height of the brass era. This was just after the advent of its six-cylinder engine, which offered more power and reliability than just about anything else on the market.

It is likely that no American brass-era cars can lay claim to being as important as the Peerless. Just as the name implies, the Peerless offered amenities, styling and presence that were unrivaled. Established in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1869 as a producer of washing wringers, the company began to produce automobiles in 1901 and changed its name to Peerless Motor Car Co. a couple of years later.

Peerless led the way with many great innovations, including a drive shaft with floating rear axle, a stamped steel frame, the first side-entrance tonneau, a tilt steering wheel, an accelerator pedal, the use of aluminum to save weight and the first enclosed body as well as the first starter and electric lights.

The high use of aluminum would be the primary reason that very few Peerless motor cars are around today. During war-time scrap drives, Peerless cars commanded a very high trade-in because the scrap value of aluminum was so high. Sadly, while other cars were left untouched, Peerless cars were being tracked down and broken up for junk to get at their aluminum content.

The Great Depression would spell the end for Peerless, as it did for countless other luxury marques and less efficient automobile manufacturers. In Peerless’ case, a brewer would take over the factory. By 1933, the only thing coming out of the Peerless factory was beer with a nationwide celebration of the end of prohibition.

Finding an unrestored Peerless

Because so many Peerless cars were sold for scrap, very few survived. That makes the 1909 Peerless recently pulled from a barn even more significant. Even more, the example survived untouched and completely original for many decades.

In what could arguably be one of the biggest individual finds in the last couple of decades, a 1909 Peerless Model 19 30-hp seven-passenger touring Roi des Belges (chassis no. 4171, engine number 2308 and body number 3297) was found in a barn in New York. The car was purchased new in Maine in 1909 and driven for several years before being stored, in completely original form, by a New York resident. This example is on the highly desirable 122-inch wheelbase and is powered by a 30-hp four-cylinder engine and features a non-synchronized manual transmission. The car was put away some time in the late 1930s, where it would stay the next several decades.

The Peerless reunion in 1991 was the very first time this car was seen since the 1950s. As further testament to the scarcity of the early Peerless cars, the last known AACA judging of an early Peerless was in the 1950s. These cars are almost never seen in public. The very few that do exist are parts of private collections and not available to the public for viewing.

The Peerless then made an appearance at the Newport Beach Concours d’Elegance, where the owner was inundated with offers to buy the car. The owner finally and reluctantly agreed to sell the car for a substantial amount of money under the condition that the car not be restored. The new owner gladly made the decision to keep the car original, because of its significance, and he has remained faithful to that commitment.

While research was being done on the history, it was found to be an authentic Roi des Belges “King of Belgium” body, which was only found on very high-end cars of the day, such as Rolls-Royce and the like.

The car is original down to the leather on the seats and the oiling cans that accompany the car. It is one of the most remarkable, original and complete unrestored brass-era cars in existence.

During World War II, the owner held onto this car at some risk, as there was substantial government and societal pressure to contribute all unneeded scrap metal to the war effort. It is likely that the owner of this Peerless would have been under heavy pressure to scrap the car if anyone at all knew about its whereabouts of his car.

Since its last public appearance nearly 20 years ago in California, the 1909 Peerless Model 30 has been carefully maintained in a private Texas collection exactly as it was found. The car is likely the last Peerless barn find that will ever be discovered and without question, the most original and faithful to new.

After much thought and reflection by the owner, the car will most likely, for the last time in many of our lifetimes, be available for purchase soon. As automobile enthusiasts, this is a remarkable opportunity to acquire one of the most incredible original automobiles in existence.

The Peerless will be offered alongside a concours-restored 1912 Peerless Model 36 six-cylinder, 48-hp seven-passenger touring car. This high-horsepower Peerless is the only known 1912 on the long 137-inch wheelbase and retains its original engine, chassis and coachwork.

These cars will be sold as part of the Hilton Head Sports and Classic Car Auction presented by The Worldwide Group Nov. 3 as part of the Hilton Head Concours and Motoring Festival. For more information about these significant cars and the auction, go to www.WWGauctions.com. Contact the author with your barn find at john@newportconcours.org.

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