Pierce-Arrow Society Feature Article 

Bill & Wilma Hunter Morris
Bill & Wilma Hunter Morris
Driving Report
Long Distance Touring in a 1931 Model 42 Sedan
by Bill Morris

This summer Wilma and I decided to drive our 1931 Pierce-Arrow Model 42 sedan to the PAS Annual Meet in Williamstown, Mass and my sister’s wedding which happened the weekend prior to the Meet in nearby Pittsfield. This article is about both the preparation and the journey.

It is nearly 900 miles from Glen Ellyn to Pittsfield and we would be traveling alone. These two facts make trip preparations more serious than a simple hour long drive around the suburbs. Our approach was to identify the problems most likely to occur that could stop the trip and carry spare parts to remedy them. Here’s our list of spares:

  • Ignition: Rotor, contact point sets, condensers, distributor cap, ignition coil, complete distributor, five feet of 12 gauge wire, five feet of spark plug wire, set of spark plugs.
  • Electrical: Generator brushes, starter brushes, generator cutout, headlight and taillight bulbs
  • Fuel related: Electric fuel pump, mechanical fuel pump, complete carburetor, five feet of rubber fuel line, several small lengths of copper tubing and at least 6 fuel hose clamps, fuel filter.
  • Mechanical: Inner and outer wheel bearing sets, cooling fan bearing, two gallons of water, can of rust inhibitor, can of “Stop Leak”, four quarts of oil, one quart of shock absorber oil, one quart of 85/140 differential oil, water pump grease, Marvel Mystery Oil, 50w oil for the cooling fan hub, sheet of gasket material and a tube of RTV sealer, wheel bearing grease, assortment of clevis pins, cotter pins.
  • Tools: The normal assortment of standard tools plus; grease gun, rear hub puller and hub shims, compression checker, tubing cutter, distributor point synchronizer, battery charger, half a broomstick for listening to the engine.
Vintage fashions
Wilma & Joanne Burmeister model vintage fashions taken on trip.

Now that all of this was on board the car we could then load our clothes and everything we’d need for two weeks. This included an ample supply of vintage clothes because Wilma wore them for all activities at the Pierce-Arrow Meet. Are you beginning to understand why a big sedan is the ideal tour car?

We got up early the 20th of June and were on the road by 5:30. Our plan was to travel at 55 mph as long as it stayed below 80 degrees outside. We got a big break that day as it never got out of the seventies and we just kept at it. We took interstates all the way and 13 ˝ hours later we’d made 600 miles and stopped in Batavia, New York which is east of Buffalo. Everything seemed okay with the car except we’d used eight quarts of oil that day. That was a surprise and gave some indication that all was not well with the engine.

The next day’s trip was half the mileage so we decided to leave the interstates and cross New York via US Route 20. If you ever get the chance to drive this road by all means do it. The traffic is not heavy and it’s motoring much like the best paved roads in the 1930’s. There was even a hill just east of Skaneatales that I couldn’t carry in high gear! What fun! The oil consumption continued (another gallon used) and the engine began to knock slightly on uphill grades. I played with the spark control on the hills but had no effect on the knock.

We arrived in Pittsfield without incident and we made contact with my sister to set the plans for the upcoming wedding. With those plans made I could dig further into the engine to try to find where the oil was going. I pulled the spark plugs and found seven very good looking plugs and one really bad one. Cylinder #4 had such a heavy buildup of oil on the edges of the plug that the oil caked up and started to glow. That was the cause of the knock because the cylinder was firing before the spark occurred. It also explained why the spark control had no effect.

We now knew that we had a serious problem with the engine. The likely causes were either a stuck ring or a broken one. In either case, I knew that it was a high risk to try to drive the car back home as we still would have another 400 miles or so of driving while in Massachusetts. So, we decided to enjoy the car for the two weeks and have it transported back to Glen Ellyn once the Meet was over. We used Intercity Transport and we recommend them very highly.

Wedding party
Bill chauffers the wedding couple in the Pierce-Arrow.

The wedding was a great success and we provided the transportation to the reception party. There’s nothing like a big Classic to make a great impression. Chauffeur Bill was at the ready.

On to the Pierce Meet (conveniently only 20 miles away)! The Meet was based at the Williams Inn in Williamstown, MA and was very well attended. There were 63 cars on the show field including the super rare 1933 Silver Arrow and President Wilson’s 1919 Vestibule Sedan.

The primary activity at any Pierce meet (other than tire kicking) is touring in the cars. The tours usually range from 75 to 125 miles over back roads and scenic routes. On Wednesday, our first day out, we visited the Saratoga Downs race track in Saratoga Springs, NY and the Saratoga Auto Museum where they had a ’31 Pierce-Arrow Dual Cowl just like mine, except that mine’s a sedan. (Where have you heard that before?) The outside temp was in the 90’s so the owners boiled before the cars. That evening we had a tremendous thunderstorm, which was good for a twenty degree drop in daily temperatures and we had glorious weather the remainder of the meet.

Thursday’s drive was more challenging to the cars as there were several significant climbs going between Massachusetts and New York and we were grateful for the cooler weather. We all made it to the Hancock Shaker Village which is one of the largest historic sites depicting Shaker life. After lunch we were off for some antiquing on our way back to Williamstown. What a great dinner we had of lobsters and clams!

Friday, our last tour day featured a trip to Stockbridge for the Norman Rockwell Museum and lunch at the Cranwell Inn and Resort. On the return we stopped at “The Mount” which was Edith Wharton’s home. This is a beautiful home with large European style gardens and was the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine on the veranda. In the evening the ladies enjoyed a Victorian Tea and a flea market called the “Vintage Attic” where they brought their vintage clothing for swap or sale.

Loading for transport home
Loading the Pierce-Arrow for the trip back to Illinois.

Saturday is Show Day and sixty three cars were beautifully displayed on a huge lawn near Williamstown. The earliest car was a 1903 “Arrow” owned by John Hovey. Not only was the car immaculate, but it also ran well and John was taking people for rides around the show field! The cars were displayed in chronological order making it easy to see the progression from year to year.

At the awards banquet we won the “Longest Distance Driven” trophy for driving the 900 miles from Illinois, which brings me back to the oil consumption problem. Curiously, once we slowed down to cruising speeds of 40 to 45 mph, the oil consumption decreased dramatically. We still had to change the spark plug every 100 miles or so, but it seemed to be getting better. Can cars really fix themselves? We’d already decided to have it transported back and this didn’t change our minds. However, since we’ve been home, I’ve been treating the engine with Marvel Mystery Oil in hopes the ring is only stuck and will loosen with more driving. You can’t beat fun in an old car!