Peerless Motor Car Club


Member Bill Knight's 1912 Peerless

President Dick Lichtfeld's "barn find"

Listen to an interesting YouTube on the history of Peerless.

One of the Greatest American Automobiles

The three P's were: Peerless, Pierce Arrow and Packard. Peerless set the standards for engineering in the Auto Industry and had many firsts in design, such as: an engine under the hood; a drive shaft with floating rear axle; a stamped steel frame; the first side entrance touneau; a tilting steering wheel; an accelerator pedal; the use of aluminum to save weight; and the first enclosed body. The first starters and electric lights, and the list goes on and on.

In 1900, Peerless secured a license to make machines under the French De Dion patents. They used to De Dion chassis and built their own body. The first Peerless Motorette was displayed at the New York auto show in Nov. 1900 and advertised as the 1901. In October 1901, Peerless displayed the first "Peerless" built. This was a 2 cylinder, featuring sliding speed gears and a real muffler. Louis Moores was hired in 1902 and set out to design and build a 4 cylinder racing car (see Racing), for the Gordon Bennett race in Ireland. In August 1903, the engine that was developed for the race car was put into their production automobiles with a price range from $2,800 to $11,000 for the 60 h.p. limousine.

Barney Oldfield was hired in 1904 to race the Peerless Green Dragon. For two years Barney and the Green Dragon broke track speed records all over the USA and made Peerless a name to reconcile with. In August 1905, Peerless dropped out of racing and began competing in reliability runs called the Glidden Tours (see Glidden Tours). With three cars competing, the Peerless's finished with perfect scores, again putting the Peerless name above all other marques in automobile reliability.

In 1908 Peerless produced their first six cylinder engine. The 4 and 6 cylinder engines were used through the 1915 models. In 1911, Peerless brought out a full line of trucks (see Trucks). Peerless had been using an air starter on the big six, but in 1912, they introduced a successful electric starter. Electric starters and electric lights were standard equipment on the 1913 models. Peerless again set the pace for American automobiles.

In 1915, Peerless and Hershel-Spillman engineers worked together to develop a V~8 engine. Hershel-Spillman was famous for their carousels, but they also designed and built gasoline engines. In 1916, the 4 and 6 cylinder engines were no longer available. All Peerless cars had the model 57~80 hp, V~8 series 1 engine.

At this point, I have to explain some of the internal happenings at Peerless and why major changes took place at this time. Peerless was a unique company in the fact that they didn't use borrowed money to expand their operation over the years. They used profits and as a result they had large assets and no debts. They were a stock company and this made them very susceptible to being taken over by stock trading with people manipulating for control. The first take-over was in 1913 and another occurred in 1915. This meant a change in management both times. This disruption caused Peerless to fall behind in the auto industry.

In 1914 and 1915, Peerless was still using the old "T" head 4 & 6 cylinder engines while other luxury cars were going to the V~8 and V~12 engines. The 1915 Peerless was basically the same as the 1913 & 1914 only with less body styles offered. The 1916 offered only the Roadster-touring and the Limousine; to add to their problems the series 1 V~8 was a poorly designed engine. It was not counter balanced and it was timed like two 4 cylinder engines turning a common crank. The vibration was high and at 40 mph, the whole car would start to shake. The Peerless engineers re-designed this engine and in late summer, 1916 they produced the series two V~8. This was a good engine. It was counter balanced and timed like the Kettering V-8, the vibration was gone and this engine became one of Peerless' great engines. It was even used in several race cars built in the late teens and early twenties.

In 1917, Peerless brought out a full line of bodies and started to reclaim some of the market they had lost in 1914 through 1916. The model 57 V~8 with the dual power range was powerful, fast, economical and reliable. In 1916 Peerless had many firsts. The cut out fan so you wouldn't loose engine horse power at higher speeds, the four barrel-two stage carburetor with accelerator pump; this was the dual stage they advertised "Purr like a kitten or Punch like a race car", the aluminum crank block, pan and transmission.

By the early 20's, Peerless had the mechanical systems well developed, but they made another crucial mistake. Peerless cars could be driven well over 200,000 miles without any major repairs. They decided to come out with a full line of luxury bodies and then not change their designs for several years. Their ploy was that you could buy a Peerless today and it would last you for 5 to 10 years mechanically and not go out of style. Unfortunately for Peerless, this was the Roaring Twenties and style was the name of the game. People didn't care about how long the car lasted as long as it was stylish. Peerless lost a major part of the market. They then started cutting prices in order to sell cars.

In 1923, there was another stock takeover of Peerless by the Vice President of Cadillac. Many of Peerless' management were replaced by former Cadillac employees. In 1924, Peerless had the equipoised V~8 and Collins 6 cylinder engines. By the mid 20's, they realized their mistake and re-styled their line of cars. By the late 20's, Peerless again had some of the most stylish cars built in the U.S. Unfortunately, the stock market crash came and the market for luxury cars was drying up.

In 1930-31, the Peerless engineers designed and built two all-aluminum V-12 and one V-16 overhead valve engines. This was going to be the 1933 line of luxury Peerless’. The frames, axles, wheels, everything was aluminum. The cars were sent to the Murphy Body Works, to be fitted with the latest design modern all aluminum bodies. In 1931, the Peerless board of directors met again, and it was decided that luxury cars were not going to be a good business to be in. On November 4th, 1931; Peerless stopped production. A few 1932 models were made from parts left over. The Board looked for something else to get into. The V-16 was completed by Murphy and brought back to Cleveland, where Bohananan (The President of Peerless), used the car for a couple of years.

No one knows what happened to the two V-12 cars. Prohibition was coming to an end and the Peerless Board decided to become a brewery. They brought the rights from Carlings of Canada, and in 1933 remodeled the car factory into one of the larger brewery's in the United States. Carling Redcap Ale and Carling Black label Beer. The Peerless name was dropped and they became the American Brewing Corporation; with the same President, Board of Directors and stock holders as the Peerless Motor Car Company. There were two other Brewery's in the U.S. making Peerless Beer and this is probably why they didn't use the Peerless name.

You seldom see a Peerless car today. They are very rare. They were a limited production luxury car and were one of the more expensive cars sold in the USA. Peerless used a lot of aluminum in their cars and during the Second World War scrap drives, a Peerless brought twice as much money as any other car. As a result, the scrap dealers where on the lookout for Peerless's...few survived. When you see a Peerless today, take a good look because it is “All that the Name Implies”

The final Peerless Motor Car produced in

1932

 V-16 All-aluminum body.

Currently located at the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum, Ohio

The final Peerless Motor Car produced in

1932


Currently located at the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum, Ohio

One of the Greatest American Automobiles

The three P's were: Peerless, Pierce Arrow and Packard. Peerless set the standards for engineering in the Auto Industry and had many firsts in design, such as: an engine under the hood; a drive shaft with floating rear axle; a stamped steel frame; the first side entrance touneau; a tilting steering wheel; an accelerator pedal; the use of aluminum to save weight; and the first enclosed body. The first starters and electric lights, and the list goes on and on.

In 1900, Peerless secured a license to make machines under the French De Dion patents. They used to De Dion chassis and built their own body. The first Peerless Motorette was displayed at the New York auto show in Nov. 1900 and advertised as the 1901. In October 1901, Peerless displayed the first "Peerless" built. This was a 2 cylinder, featuring sliding speed gears and a real muffler. Louis Moores was hired in 1902 and set out to design and build a 4 cylinder racing car (see Racing), for the Gordon Bennett race in Ireland. In August 1903, the engine that was developed for the race car was put into their production automobiles with a price range from $2,800 to $11,000 for the 60 h.p. limousine.

Barney Oldfield was hired in 1904 to race the Peerless Green Dragon. For two years Barney and the Green Dragon broke track speed records all over the USA and made Peerless a name to reconcile with. In August 1905, Peerless dropped out of racing and began competing in reliability runs called the Glidden Tours (see Glidden Tours). With three cars competing, the Peerless's finished with perfect scores, again putting the Peerless name above all other marques in automobile reliability.

In 1908 Peerless produced their first six cylinder engine. The 4 and 6 cylinder engines were used through the 1915 models. In 1911, Peerless brought out a full line of trucks (see Trucks). Peerless had been using an air starter on the big six, but in 1912, they introduced a successful electric starter. Electric starters and electric lights were standard equipment on the 1913 models. Peerless again set the pace for American automobiles.

In 1915, Peerless and Hershel-Spillman engineers worked together to develop a V~8 engine. Hershel-Spillman was famous for their carousels, but they also designed and built gasoline engines. In 1916, the 4 and 6 cylinder engines were no longer available. All Peerless cars had the model 57~80 hp, V~8 series 1 engine.

At this point, I have to explain some of the internal happenings at Peerless and why major changes took place at this time. Peerless was a unique company in the fact that they didn't use borrowed money to expand their operation over the years. They used profits and as a result they had large assets and no debts. They were a stock company and this made them very susceptible to being taken over by stock trading with people manipulating for control. The first take-over was in 1913 and another occurred in 1915. This meant a change in management both times. This disruption caused Peerless to fall behind in the auto industry.

In 1914 and 1915, Peerless was still using the old "T" head 4 & 6 cylinder engines while other luxury cars were going to the V~8 and V~12 engines. The 1915 Peerless was basically the same as the 1913 & 1914 only with less body styles offered. The 1916 offered only the Roadster-touring and the Limousine; to add to their problems the series 1 V~8 was a poorly designed engine. It was not counter balanced and it was timed like two 4 cylinder engines turning a common crank. The vibration was high and at 40 mph, the whole car would start to shake. The Peerless engineers re-designed this engine and in late summer, 1916 they produced the series two V~8. This was a good engine. It was counter balanced and timed like the Kettering V-8, the vibration was gone and this engine became one of Peerless' great engines. It was even used in several race cars built in the late teens and early twenties.

In 1917, Peerless brought out a full line of bodies and started to reclaim some of the market they had lost in 1914 through 1916. The model 57 V~8 with the dual power range was powerful, fast, economical and reliable. In 1916 Peerless had many firsts. The cut out fan so you wouldn't loose engine horse power at higher speeds, the four barrel-two stage carburetor with accelerator pump; this was the dual stage they advertised "Purr like a kitten or Punch like a race car", the aluminum crank block, pan and transmission.

By the early 20's, Peerless had the mechanical systems well developed, but they made another crucial mistake. Peerless cars could be driven well over 200,000 miles without any major repairs. They decided to come out with a full line of luxury bodies and then not change their designs for several years. Their ploy was that you could buy a Peerless today and it would last you for 5 to 10 years mechanically and not go out of style. Unfortunately for Peerless, this was the Roaring Twenties and style was the name of the game. People didn't care about how long the car lasted as long as it was stylish. Peerless lost a major part of the market. They then started cutting prices in order to sell cars.

In 1923, there was another stock takeover of Peerless by the Vice President of Cadillac. Many of Peerless' management were replaced by former Cadillac employees. In 1924, Peerless had the equipoised V~8 and Collins 6 cylinder engines. By the mid 20's, they realized their mistake and re-styled their line of cars. By the late 20's, Peerless again had some of the most stylish cars built in the U.S. Unfortunately, the stock market crash came and the market for luxury cars was drying up.

In 1930-31, the Peerless engineers designed and built two all-aluminum V-12 and one V-16 overhead valve engines. This was going to be the 1933 line of luxury Peerless’. The frames, axles, wheels, everything was aluminum. The cars were sent to the Murphy Body Works, to be fitted with the latest design modern all aluminum bodies. In 1931, the Peerless board of directors met again, and it was decided that luxury cars were not going to be a good business to be in. On November 4th, 1931; Peerless stopped production. A few 1932 models were made from parts left over. The Board looked for something else to get into. The V-16 was completed by Murphy and brought back to Cleveland, where Bohananan (The President of Peerless), used the car for a couple of years.

No one knows what happened to the two V-12 cars. Prohibition was coming to an end and the Peerless Board decided to become a brewery. They brought the rights from Carlings of Canada, and in 1933 remodeled the car factory into one of the larger brewery's in the United States. Carling Redcap Ale and Carling Black label Beer. The Peerless name was dropped and they became the American Brewing Corporation; with the same President, Board of Directors and stock holders as the Peerless Motor Car Company. There were two other Brewery's in the U.S. making Peerless Beer and this is probably why they didn't use the Peerless name.

You seldom see a Peerless car today. They are very rare. They were a limited production luxury car and were one of the more expensive cars sold in the USA. Peerless used a lot of aluminum in their cars and during the Second World War scrap drives, a Peerless brought twice as much money as any other car. As a result, the scrap dealers where on the lookout for Peerless's...few survived. When you see a Peerless today, take a good look because it is “All that the Name Implies”

                                    The Last Peerless 

by Jefferson Melland Brown 

 

It would be pretty easy to find out what was the last 1953 Chevrolet Corvette made, the last Oldsmobile, or the last Duesenberg. What was the last Peerless? The last bottle of Carling Black Label beer to come out of the Cleveland factory in 1979? The last bottle of Carling Red Cap Ale to bear the words “Wholly Owned by the Peerless Corporation” in 1934? The V-16 Prototype in the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum?  

 

Most books and magazine articles say the beautiful black car in Cleveland. Though it is one of the last of 107,000 Peerlesses[1] made, in my opinion it is another. Many times in these publications, and in auction catalog blurbs, a writer is asked to describe the Peerless Company and everything they did in the last 151 years. Usually they get it more than half right. The date of company founding(1865) is always wrong in the auction pieces. I guess the auction guys haven’t read Richard Lichtfeld’s book The History of the Peerless Automobile Company. [2]

 
A typical piece was in the May 7th Auctions America Auburn Spring catalogue, in which a really nice 1920 Peerless Model 56 Sedan or Limousine was sold[3]. In addition to 2 pictures, people were told that Peerless:

built wringers, bicycles, and auto parts before cars(right)

catered to the luxury market(right)
produced an 80 h.p. V-8 used in this car(right)
was founded in 1889(wrong)
following the Great Depression built less expensive models(wrong)
built its last car on June 30th, 1931(wrong)

 
The surviving V-16 car was completed in the summer of 1931, after road testing[4] and fitting of a new aluminum body at Murphy. Reportedly, some extra cars were completed from leftover parts as late as October, 1931, with the car plant shutting down November 7th, 1931. According to an article Don Bettes sent me, the last car was a custom order for Cleveland Chief of Polce George J. Motowitz. Chief Motowitz served from 1932-1952, some of that time under Department of Public Safety Officer Elliot Ness.

The photo above is from a newspaper article[5], and captioned “This car owned by Cleveland’s chief of police, a 1931 Peerless, was the last passenger car model to be built in the city.” The picture’s black & white, but it looks like a big black sedan: a Custom Eight with a police siren mounted behind the front bumper, and dual spotlights. My sources tell me the last serial number for a Custom Eight Series, Model C Peerless was  70,555 in a run of just 555 (1930, 1931, 1932). Chief Motowitz’s Custom Eight would have set him back $2,945 + options at 1931 prices, or $1,095 for a “new 1932”.[6] Too bad the car isn’t still around. However, about 2009, I found a Peerless car serial number plate for sale on eBay. I was curious, because I only see a couple of these come up for sale each year. Looking up the number, which I believe was “C 555”, I realized it was probably the last of that model. Alerting PMCC member Matt Lynch about it, he snagged it off of eBay for a small sum. It’s not impressive-looking by itself, and doesn’t say “Official Last Automobile Produced by America’s Oldest Maker of Fine Cars”, but it should. In my opinion, this represents the last of 32 years of car production.

 Calling the V-16 Prototype a 1932 is what  everyone does….but I like to think of it as a 1931. Sometimes it’s referred to as an “XP-31” or “XD-31” model, suggesting a 1931 project more than a 1930 or 1932. Development for the V-12 and V-16 engines began in 1926, predating even James Bohannon’s move from Marmon to Peerless in 1929. The company used “XD #3” to denote the surviving V-16, according to Schneider’s article in Car Classics. So, we’re discussing the merits of two 1931 Peerlesses as the last one. The V-16 was definitely tha last word in Peerless technology and would have given the Cadillacs and Marmons a run for their money if it was a production car in 1933. The police chief’s car was built in 1931, too, but so late it would have titled a 1932 by the company. I just think Chief Motowitz’s 1932 came out of the factory later than the 1932 V-16 did, and that may have even been later than completion of the V-16 car at Murphy’s shop in Pasadena, CA . I don’t know the exact dates the V-16 was driven from the factory in Ohio to California, or even when & where George picked up his Custom Eight. The V-16 had to have left the shop in Pasadena in ‘31, because Murphy folded that year.

 Maybe someday the stolen Peerless archives willl reappear from whatever library, archive, or storage unit they’re in and we can find all of this out. Note to the guy “holding” it for us...if it still exists...look around the 770 volumes { the Smithsonian states that was the count for the Peerless Library when it was donated to the Cleveland Public Library by company president James Bohannon in 1946 }, and see if you have a notebook on the V-12/V-16 project. Coachbuilding records would be nice……...I’ve only been able to scrape together 42 coachbuilders for Peerless so far. Oh yeah, the 107,000 owners enrolled in the registration records would be cool to look at, too.

[1] When I write about Peerless cars plural, I use “Peerlesses” (“Only six survive, but 1,164 Model 8-125 Peerlesses were built.”) and in the case of possessive, “Peerless’ “(“Peerless’ use of aluminum in bodies started in 1900.”). 

[2] Lichtfeld, Richard, The History of the Peerless Automobile Company, 2009, pg 1.

[3] Sold May 7th, 2016. This is the car on exhibit for decades at the Smoky Mountain Antique Car Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. It sold for $9,625.

[4] Schneider, Roy, Peerless V-16”, Car Classics, January, 1979, pp 41-45. This was a 2,350-mile drive of one V-12 and three V-16 Peerlesses from Cleveland to Pasadena, Temporary bodies from the 1931 Peerless straight-8 line were attached to these V-12 and V-16 chassis’, to be replaced by Roadster, Coupe, Convertible Coupe, and Sedan bodies, according to some sources.

[5] Prizinsky, David, “Peerless In It’s Field”, Crain’s Cleveland Business, Business & The Bicentennial, Cleveland 1897-1946, pp B-49-50, 12/4/1995. Photo: Bruce Young Collection.

[6] Lichtfeld, Richard, The History of the Peerless Autombile Company, 2009, pg 28.