Among the vast collection of glossy vehicles showcased at last April’s Festival of Speed in St. Petersburg, Florida, one of these cars was not like the others and really pulled some attention away from the more polished rides. A recently unearthed land speed record car stood out in all its beautiful decay. While the current owner believes it was a land speed record car based on an early 1930’s Pierce Arrow, very little documentation can be found to back that claim up. Regardless of its possible racing heritage, this car was loaded with some fascinating vintage, home-brewed technology and it is a testament to the rich, grass-roots American racing history.
You might recognize this car from a quick mention of it on a 2011 episode of the television show American Pickers. Addresses of the locations featured on the show are kept private and in the episode the show’s stars decided not to buy the car after considering the $20,000 asking price from the original seller to be too steep. So the car sat after that episode, until it was apparently tracked down and purchased by Tampa, Florida resident, James McLynas. According to the owner, the car had just been rediscovered one day prior to the Festival of Speed event, still in the same condition as it was in American Pickers, with the local wild life crawling around on it, and still an interesting glimpse into the past.
The exact year of this car is still in question, with some commenters on the Antique Automobile Club of America forum speculating that the body and equipment may be based on either a 1929 Pierce Arrow or a 1931 series 43. Compared to a stock factory Pierce Arrow, the engine on this modified version was repositioned so low that it “almost scrapes the ground,” as noted by McLynas (karguy12). I thought it strange that the car had a wooden firewall, because it doesn’t really convey a strong sense of safety.
Where nowadays, land speed records are set on the Bonneville Salt Flats, this car evidently pre-dates the earliest of the Utah runs, when such records where set on the sandy beaches of Daytona, Florida. This makes sense considering the suspension is only 4 inches high from the bottom of the car (if air were in the tires) to the ground, which would have likely been insufficient for the road conditions of that time.
To shed the weight of the stock body and improve its aerodynamics, a fully custom lightweight, racing version was made from fabric, like an airplane from the early 20th century. The dash appears to be fabricated out of repurposed aeronautical gauges. As McLynas elaborated in a different A.A.C.A. thread, the 300 mph speedometer was identified as originating from a P-40 aircraft, however upon pondering how the unit worked considering this was now in a car instead of a plane, “apparently there was a wind speed indicator or opening on the car somewhere because the guage [sic] is hooked up to air hoses.” The seats are also out of a later model car, which is still to be determined.
So far, no solid proof other than hearsay has been found to support that this really was a land speed record car, but I don’t think that that devalues it because it’s still a remarkable and thought-provoking piece to be marveled over. Even if no further information is ever brought to light, this possible weekend racer with which someone tinkered in their garage, is an automotive wonder of the world as it is.
What would you do if you found such a vehicle? Would you leave it as is, or attempt to restore it? Does racing prominence outweigh novelty or is novelty a prominence all its own?
Re-published from Hooniverse, text and photography by Bryce Womeldurf
Copyright 2013 HOONART/Bryce Womeldurf