The Pierson Coupe Story

In early 1980, I was approached by Dick Schell, a "Shade Tree Mechanic and Street Rod Enthusiast" in the Redding area, who told me he had purchased an old Bonneville Coupe that had been stored, for about fifteen years, in a barn on "Old 44" highway east of Redding. He knew that I had a Bonneville roadster and came to me for a copy of the rules, so he could properly prepare the coupe for Bonneville. I am always thrilled when new people show an interest in Bonneville, so naturally, I gave him the latest rule book and offered to put an engine it, since I had a spare motor, when he got the car ready.

A few months passed and one day he came to our shop, telling me that he was getting discouraged with the project (we all know how much work, and expense is involved in preparing a car to run). There was a Street Rod Event in the San Francisco area that he wanted to attend, needing to raise some money, he asked if I knew anyone who wanted to buy it. I told him that I didn't. However, after he left, I couldn't get the coupe idea out of my mind, so I made a trip out to his place to see the car.

When I saw the car, it was really ugly, but I saw something different in my mind's eye. I set out to convince my wife that I should purchase the coupe. Unfortunately, she saw the same ugly car that I saw, but didn't have my vision. It was difficult, but through convincing argument, and some bribery, I suppose, I really don't remember, she relented. So, I called Dick and made an offer. My offer was $600 less than he paid, but he finally concurred, if he could keep the engine, (a basically stock Pontiac) and the early Ford transmission. That suited me since I really had no need of those items.

When I purchased the car it came without engine or transmission. It still had the original closed driveline and a mediocre roll cage, but otherwise was in decent condition. Dick had sandblasted the car to remove several coats of paint, a mistake which slightly damaged some of the aluminum panels, and applied a red primer paint job. The original firewall had been remove to allow a 25% engine setback. The grill opening had been covered with a piece of aluminum, it still had the original type Ford shock absorbers, a Halibrand Quick Change rear axle and Knock-off type Halibrand Magnesium rear wheels and spindle mount Halibrand Magnesium front wheels. The steering was a Ross, which steered a 1937 Ford "60" tube front axle and the driver was seated on the original left side position. The cooling for the engine was provided by an aluminum, twenty gallon water tank mounted in the rear of the car.

It was mid-June. Speedweek was only about two months in the future and I had lots of work to do if I would make the meet. You have to remember that I was only fifty years young and had considerable more energy than I do at present. Overall, the car was really in reasonably good condition, however, it was in need of a better roll cage. I got busy and put in an order for parts needed to convert the quick-change to an open driveline. Most everything else was just "grunt work."

We did get the car ready, the changes I made were few. I went to an open driveline, installed an aluminum Powerglide transmission, and a 302 cu. in. Chevrolet. We remove the original roll cage, which appeared to be water pipe, and installed a new one. Of course, safety equipment, fire extinguisher system, five point seat belts, new lexan windshield and window coverings and necessary gauges were installed.

Since we ran an automatic transmission, we started the engine with the original type starter. In the early years we ran a torque converter so it was normally driven on and off the trailer under its own power. Later, I went to a direct drive setup, (no converter) which I still use today. We start the engine, push the car up to about 40 MPH and drop the trans into low gear and away we go. I like this setup because the speed is more predictable by tach readings, and there is no worry about a converter exploding under my feet.

I borrowed a trailer, and we headed to Bonneville with two cars, a D/FR and a D/GCC. Since I had been unable to come up with a rear drive shaft yoke that I needed, I manufactured one. Unfortunately, after a couple of runs, which yielded times in the mid-170's, I was up to the starting line just at dusk, when I put the car in gear and found that I had lost connection to the rear axle. As we were pushing it off to the side, a photographer came up and wanted to take a picture of us, the coupe and an enormous moon that was just rising. Naturally, as all other racers, I have an giant ego, so gladly agreed to be photographed.

This picture appeared in Sports Illustrated a couple of years later, along with a short story about the Salt. This was my first indication that I had purchased a car that would draw lots of attention over the next ten years.

Through the rest of the week, while the car was residing in the pits, people were constantly stopping to take pictures of the car. A few asked, "Is this the Pierson Coupe?" I had no idea since I had not yet become aware of the Pierson Coupe. Phil Fruediger, while walking through the pits, stopped and looked the car over and said, "This is the Pierson Coupe, I recognize the clutch and brake assembly 

I made while partners with, and driving for Tom Cobb." They were the last to run the car at Bonneville before I brought it to the Salt in 1980.

Over the next several years, just about ever time I appeared at an event, some one would give me more information about the car. The history of the car as best I can recount is as follows:

August 1949 it made its first appearance at the Russetta Lakes meet. Owners, Bob & Dick Pierson were also running a 1936 coupe at that time. The First time at Bonneville was 1950, and then 1951 under the same ownership. Dick went into the military service and in 1952 Dawson Hadley and Jim Evans purchased the car. (I have talked to Mr. Evans at the Muroc events). They ran the car for a year or two, then George Bentley (of Sadd, Bentley, & Teague) bought the car. Tom Cobb then borrowed (or bought) the car from George and ran at Bonneville setting the record in C/CC at 187.987 in 1956, using a blown Chevy for power. Eventually his best one-way time was 196+ MPH, last running the car in 1958.

Bob Joehnck purchased the car from Cobb and installed a Chrysler engine with plans to take it to Bonneville, but decided to scrap the idea after attending the Bakersfield National ¼ mile meet where he experienced handling problems. He then sold the car to one of his employees.

A gentleman was in our shop for some service one day when I was working on the car, I don't remember his name, however he told me that he was driving down the street in Santa Barbara, several years ago, and saw the coupe parked at the curb, he stopped and inquired about the possibility of purchasing it and was successful. He told me that he brought the car to Redding and put in storage. After many years, his son sold it to Dick Schell without his knowledge! He said that although he was terribly upset with his son, he was glad to see that it was in good hands.

I met Dick Pierson at the Lakes in 1984, I believe, and spent some time discussing the car and its history. I met Bob a couple of years later when he stopped by our shop and spent a few hours with me, catching up on what the car had been doing. Both Bob and Dick and their wives have become dear friends, following the car just about every where we ran until I sold the car the end of 1991. Bob says that I made him famous, which really isn't too far from the truth.

Both Bob and Dick have capitalized on the fame of the car and I am happy for them, they certainly are entitled, since they conceived and built the car, but very likely the car would have been forgotten by most of those who remember it, if we hadn't given it the exposure. Certainly, the younger generations would not have known of the car if it hadn't been for the press it received while we campaigned it. The car has appeared in most USA hot rod publications, and in at least two overseas (Italy and New Zealand) magazines.

Records we set with the Pierson Coupe:
Gasoline:11/81 El Mirage - D/GCC 184.420 MPH
                  08/91 Bonneville - D/GCC 206.409 MPH
Fuel: (alcohol & nitrous) 11/89 El Mirage - D/FCC 202.685 MPH
                                             10/90 Bonneville - D/FCC 221.898 MPH
*(Set the record at 217.236 MPH, gaining entry into the Bonneville 200 MPH  Club, raised it two more times and ended the meet with 221.898 MPH, which stood until 1998.)

08/22/91-Fastest one-way speed (Bonneville) - 224.679 MPH mile average with a 227+ MPH exit speed.

We made nearly 100 passes down the salt during the time that we campaigned the car, it was really a joy to run. It handled well most of the time, but we did have our moments, spinning at two separate meets. The first time I was running on the short course against a 205 MPH record. (Because the course was a bit wet, it was determined to open only the short course.) I was one of the first cars to run and was charging hard, running probably a little over the record in the middle of the quarter mile traps (at the end of two miles) when suddenly it lost traction and went around. It made six loops while traveling through the traps, averaging 184 MPH for the quarter. 

It wanted to wag its tail all week long and I gave the damp course conditions the credit until at the World of Speed the next month. There we had a dry course and at above 150 MPH I was experiencing the same conditions. After some pondering and head scratching, I determined that maybe the roof rails that had been installed that year could be the problem. I removed them and presto good handling again. Evidently I had installed them off center. I did carefully reinstall them at a later date and had no more problems. The second time I lost it, I pulled it into reverse shutting off at 195 MPH causing it to make a couple of rotations. In neither of the situations should the car be blamed.

The restored Pierson Coupe   is now safely in good hands. If I had continued to run the coupe, it is likely that it would have eventually been destroyed, resulting in possible serious injury or death to the driver. The car was going too fast for its age and the quality of its construction. After all the car had been a race car for forty-two years when I sold it. The new owner, Bruce Meyer, is a super person and his joy is received from restoring and preserving various vintage vehicles and race cars for future generations. The Pierson Coupe is one of his most prized possessions. A real 

tribute when you see his collection of cars, several race cars of various venues, the Agajanian #98 Indy car, the Greer, Black, and Purdhomme Dragster, the So-Cal Speed Shop Belly Tank, some motorcycles, and various Classic Cars, including a Dusenberg touring car that is said to be valued at more than million dollars.

I am very thankful to the Piersons for having built such a great car. I am proud to have been a part of its history. The only regret I have is, it was never MY car, it was always, and always will be, the Pierson Coupe. Although, I do occasionally get a mention as being the last owner before the restoration. I guess that is the main reason for staying with the '34 coupe when I built the new car. When I look at it, I see the Pierson Coupe with streamlining and it is known as Tom Bryant's car! 



Webmaster - Tom Bryant, to make comments Click here   

Last Updated: 09/09/2010