By Brian Earnest
Joanne and Brando Pistorius both insist they never planned to become Peerless experts. They didn’t even have any particular interest in owning one of the classic pre-war machines that were part of the “Three P” trio that also included Packard and Pierce-Arrow.
But when the Tampa, Fla., couple became one of the country’s most prominent collectors of the marque in one fell swoop, well, their learning curve and level of expertise became accelerated just a bit.
Prior to their annual trip north to Hershey, Pa., in 2013 for the big AACA East Region Meet, the couple had owned one Peerless — a 1931 model. After that trip, the couple wound up with five more. That meant that they had owned a half-dozen of the 327 Peerlesses that were known to exist through the registry kept by Peerless enthusiasts.
“That made us one of the larger single collectors of Peerlesses around,” laughs Joanna. “Peerlesses are cool, though. We just thought, this is a pretty good deal, and not too many people will know Peerlesses as good as we do, so we figured it would kind of make us the local experts on them.”
The husband-and-wife duo runs their own collector car restoration and sales operation — Pistorius Collectible Autos and Carriages — and they are always on the lookout for prewar cars that they can fix up and re-sell. The deal for five Peerlesses was a blockbuster move they hadn’t planned on, but it proved too tempting to turn down.
“Every year we go to Hershey and my husband usually buys a car and works on it all year and we take it back to Hershey and sell it the next year,” Joanne says. “That year we had a ‘29 Pierce-Arrow, and when we sold it, the guy wanted it delivered to Buffalo, so we delivered the Pierce-Arrow up in Buffalo.”
During the trip, Joanna used her time to chase down some leads on cars that might be for sale. After making a bunch of calls that didn’t yield much, she cold-called a man from Valparaiso, Ind., who had a collection of about eight cars, including five Peerlesses, that he wanted to sell off. That meant a detour to the Hoosier state on the way home to Florida.
“Long story short, eventually Brando made a deal to buy all five Peerlesses. None of them ran, but they were all in pretty decent shape," Joanne said. "Brando’s very good at seeing what’s a serous problem and what’s not a serious problem … He does all his own work — electric, mechanical. He does pretty much everything. With these cars, the bodies were all in good shape. The upholstery was in good shape. I think only two of the five needed upholstery.”
The cars had been parked in a barn together in Indiana for the past 23 years. Prior to that they had been kept in Pound, Va., as part of the Dexter Dotson Collection for over 30 years, meaning the quintet had been together for at least 50 years.
One of the stunning cars in the group was a wonderful 1929 Model Six-81 sedan. The car is one of only eight known to exist, according to the couple, and still resides in their collection after many hours of TLC and restoration work from Brando over the past year.
“It’s very cool,” Joanne says. “It’s very roomy. In the back you can stretch your legs straight out and not touch the seat. It’s also roomy in the front seat. A lot of cars from that era do not have a lot of room in the driver’s compartment … Peerless really has two things. One is all that the name implies, but the other is silence and comfort. This is a very silent and comfortable car to drive.”
The car was one of 8,318 automobiles built by the famed company for the model year, making 1929 one of the best years on record for Peerless. But for all its wonderful design, craftsmanship, aura and reputation, Peerless — like so many car builders of the time — was not able to endure. Building high-priced cars was a precarious business as the Depression tightened its grip on the nation, and despite the company’s efforts to offer some lower-priced cars that would appeal to more of the masses, Peerless lasted only two more years. In 1931, the company changed courses and turned its Cleveland, Ohio, plant into a brewing facility. Instead of turning out stately sedans and touring cars, the plant cranked out Carling Black Label Beer.
The Pistorius’ four-door sedan features a Continental six-cylinder engine that displaced 248.3 cubic inches and produced 66 hp. The car rides on a 116-inch wheel base and features four-wheel hydraulic brakes, which was still a rarity at the time. There is a footrest in the back, a handrail, pull-down shades for privacy and a rear-mounted spare tire.
“It had been restored, we believe somewhere between the late ‘60s and early '90s. We’re not exactly sure when,” Brando said. “But the car was never used … It stayed in one barn all that time until the guy I bought it from bought it in 1991. He also put it in barn and let it sit. It wasn’t running, and he couldn’t tell me when the last time it was running… If it had been outside for 10 years, I don’t think I would buy it. Then the elements take over, but because we know this car had been in storage all its life in a barn in an enclosed environment, that was definitely a plus point.”
Brando said the car didn’t need another complete remake, but it needed plenty of attention. That basically meant tearing the car down, cleaning and reinstalling everything, doing a bit of re-chroming, and painting the car Cream and Cinnamon, which were not its original colors but was a factory color combination in 1929.
Getting the car to look good was only half the battle. Getting it to run right was the other.
“You can guarantee every time you have a car like this you will have a fuel tank problem. You just start by taking the fuel tank out,” Brando said. “As far as the engine compartment, nothing had been restored. I believe it was in original condition. There were little signs. You could see it had been driven, but never rebuilt. I did have to find another carburetor. That’s probably the only item that I had to find for the car.
“This particular car has steel wheels, which is very unusual for a Peerless. I’ve never seen another one with steel wheels. I believe it is original because the steering brackets only fit this drum. It’s very unusual for those days.”
The olive mohair upholstery had been redone at least once in the past, but was still in good condition. After the re-chroming and repaint of the car’s body were complete, a green pinstripe finished things off.
A year later, the car was back at Hershey as the couple’s main source of transportation during the week. “It was the first time we drove it,” Brando said. “We drove around and went to places like the hotel and lodge and drove around sight seeing … Needless to say, there was lot of attention paid to it.
“Peerless is a car with distinction,” he concluded. “The guys that sat behind desks and engineered this car, they thought outside the box. I’ve had six of them, and now I’m finding more [laughs]. There will probably be more in the years to come.”