Jan 20, 2013
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This 1911 Pierce will be auctioned in April.
Rare, Original 1911 Pierce Four-Cylinder Motorcycle Will Cross Auction Block, Copake Antique & Classic Bicycle Auction, April 20, 2013
It's entirely appropriate that the best-known original Pierce four-cylinder motorcycle in existence should come to market at the 22nd Annual Copake Antique & Classic Bicycle Auction on April 20 in Copake, New York. The Pierce is a select addition to the second of three unreserved sales of the Buffalo Pedaling History Museum, which will include 200 bicycles and 400 memorabilia items from 1850-1950.
The fine old firm that would become the Pierce-Arrow Motor Company traces its origins back to Buffalo in 1865 as Heinz, Pierce and Munchauser. They were known for household goods, especially their gilded birdcages, which must have been spectacular, based on what the company went on to make. Those products included gigantic luxury cars (the Great Arrow boasted a 13.5-liter six-cylinder engine), heavy trucks, fire engines (the Pierce-Arrow V12 engine was in use until 1970!), bicycles and the first four-cylinder motorcycles in America, when most manufacturers built singles or twins.
George Pierce bought out his partners in 1872, started making bicycles in 1896, Pierce-Arrow cars in 1901 and entered the motorcycle market in 1907, through a separate Pierce company run by his son Percy. The bicycle company had been notable for its innovations: coaster brake in 1898, shaft drive in 1900 and sprung front fork in 1902. The quality of the work was reflected in the $40-$80 price, and Pierce's luxury principles were carried over to the new four-cylinder motorcycles.
The Belgian FN was the first mass-produced, four cylinder motorcycle built in Europe and was sold in the U.S. from 1906. While its principles may be reflected in the Pierce of 1909, almost every single aspect of the FN had been improved, as was reflected in the $325 price.
The Pierce four-cylinder motorcycle was introduced at the 1909 New York Show at Madison Square Garden, as recorded in volume 4 of Motorcycle Illustrated of that year, which said: "The Pierce Cycle Company, of Buffalo, N. Y., will have three of the Pierce four-cylinder, shaft drive machines at the New York Show at Madison Square Garden. One will be finished entirely in nickel, and the others in black and red. It is the Pierce Company's intention to give its dealers an option as to equipment. Any standard fittings will be furnished. On the show machines will be fitted Empire, M & W and G & J tires, and the saddles will be Mesinger, Troxel and Persons.
"The main features of the Pierce are: Large tubing of 3.54 inch diameter, which is utilized as the receptacle for the gasoline and oil. The motor is a four cylinder, and one of its special features is the automatic force feed lubricating system by which oil is forced directly on all the bearings by means of the gear pump. No attention need be paid to the matter of oiling except about once every four hundred miles. The machine carries sufficient oil to last two thousand miles. The drive is by means of a compensating friction clutch, engaging gears and drive shaft. A Corbin coaster brake is supplemented with a band brake on the rear hub, so that the Pierce has two brakes. One of the strong features of the Pierce is that the engine can be taken out with a very few minutes' work."
Percy Pierce improved on his new model without delay. For a start, he modified the inlet-over-exhaust design of the FN to a T-head configuration with mechanical valves a design that FN eventually employed. The Pierce's huge copper-coated top tube held gasoline and the down tube served as the oil reservoir. Marketed as "The Vibrationless Motorcycle", the four-horsepower, 700cc engine employed shaft drive through a casing that was part of the chassis. From 1910, a two-speed transmission and multidisc clutch were fitted. Control cables were concealed, and the front fork was sprung and pneumatic. With a 60 mph top speed, the Pierce proved fast and reliable and won a number of city-to-city endurance races.
Trouble was brewing at the factory, however. The motorcycle was the most expensive that you could buy in the U.S. and even then, the company lost money on each one. George Pierce died in 1911, there was a bankruptcy, Percy quit and then returned. Amid the turmoil, the motorcycle price was increased to $400 in 1913, but a Ford Model T cost only $525, and the writing was on the wall. The last Pierce motorcycle was built in 1914. Production numbers are unknown; it seems unlikely that more than a dozen exist today. For originality and overall condition, this must be considered among the best.
The bike on offer has been in long-term protected ownership and shows an appropriate patina for a 102 year-old vehicle. It is completely correct and original, and sits on new tires. The porcelain license plate dated 1914 is Pennsylvania first-year motorcycle issue. This Pierce is said to run well, but disassembly and inspection is suggested before any serious use. At that point the new owner can turn the clock back, feel the wind in his hair, and collect both admiring glances and trophies.