The Pierce-Arrow “Phantom,” the car that stumped the Internet
Fans of the show “American Pickers” may recall an episode where hosts Mike and Frank happened upon an old car thought to be a land speed record Pierce-Arrow from the late 1920s. A few months after the show aired, Tampa resident James McLynas stumbled upon the dilapidated machine and bought it. He's since posted the car throughout the Internet, started a Facebook page, and offered a reward, desperate to unearth the car’s origins. While some historical tidbits have surfaced, the “phantom” Pierce Arrow has stumped the Internet so far.
The previous owner originally purchased the machine with his father in 1988 from a warehouse in Ormond Beach, Fla., the center of high-speed racing in the early 20th century. From there, it sat in a muddy yard, neglected, for 25 years. When McLynas bought the car, the owner knew little of its historical roots. There's rumors that the machine was shown at the Chicago World’s Fair and the PanAmerican Show in the late 1930s, and it supposedly ran multiple times on the sand at Ormond and Daytona Beach – prior to the salt flats at Bonneville becoming the preferred destination for ultimate speed.
Less than 24 hours after McLynas extracted the machine from the mud, he took it to the St. Petersburg Festival of Speed. The leaves, dirt, and grime hadn’t even been removed, and yet it won the coveted American Classic Spirit Award, “much to the dismay of many a polished Ferrari owner,” says McLynas.
Still, despite this attention and the incessant updates posted to relevant forums world wide, no substantial information has come forth. This led to McLynas naming the unknown machine the “Pierce Arrow Phantom.”
Here’s what we know so far:
The running gear dates from 1929, but heavy modifications are evident throughout, marking the car with a construction date possibly in the mid to late 1930s. McLynas considers the likelihood of this car being a “street speedster” or movie prop unlikely given the details already unearthed. For instance, there were never any lights, rear window, or even mirrors. The spark plugs were also welded to the heads, presumably to withstand the high engine compression during speed runs.
Additionally, with the air out of the tires, the transmission touches the ground; even with inflated rubber, the ground clearance is around four inches, making general usability difficult with the rough roads of the 1930s. This drastic ride-height reduction was accomplished by lowering blocks and modified springs.