1905 George N. Pierce Great Arrow 28/32 Roi Des Belges  Chassis no. 1268 Engine no. 1268
Lot 330
1905 George N. Pierce "Great Arrow" 28/32 Five-passenger Roi Des Belges Chassis no. 1268 Engine no. 1268
Sold for US$ 243,100 inc. premium
Lot Details
Ex-Henry Austin Clark
1905 George N. Pierce "Great Arrow" 28/32 Five-passenger Roi Des Belges
Chassis no. 1268
Engine no. 1268
302ci T-head inline four-cylinder engine
Single updraft carburetor
Three-speed sliding-gear transmission
Solid axles with semi-elliptic front and rear leaf springs
Two-wheel mechanical brakes with internal foot and external hand brake

-One of the most historic and important early Pierce Arrows
-Long term ownership by Henry Austin Clark
-Recent engine rebuild
-Beautiful cast aluminum bodywork

The Great Arrow

The first Pierce automobiles were light Stanhopes designed by David Fergusson, Pierce's chief engineer until 1921. These vehicles were powered by single-cylinder De Dion engines purchased from the French company. The lightweight Pierces were a natural progression from Pierce's long experience in building and marketing bicycles. Pierce's own bicycle dealer network and distribution system distributed the earliest Pierce four-wheelers, giving the company a natural advantage over its competitors.

The first multi-cylinder Pierce appeared in 1903, a front-mounted inline vertical twin with rear wheel shaft drive and a 3-speed transmission with steering column mounted shift controls – an extremely early Pierce innovation. The four-cylinder Great Arrow followed in 1904 with power from a 231 cubic inch 24/28hp engine with 3-speed sliding gear transmission and rear wheel drive.

Three years later, in 1907, Pierce entered the six-cylinder era that would so effectively define the company. A massive 5" bore x 5½" stroke monster of 648 cubic inches with individually cast cylinders, a 60hp ALAM rating and 65hp according to Pierce, each car cost $6,500 with catalog coachwork. Even in the first year, Pierce sold a hundred of them.

The business was expanding so rapidly and its high quality standards required so much hand work that it outgrew its extensive existing facilities. In 1906 the company acquired a 16-acre parcel that had been the site of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. There it erected a massive manufacturing facility that was for years the pride of Buffalo, New York. Designed by Albert Kahn, the Pierce-Arrow plant was one of the first large-scale uses of reinforced concrete construction. When it had expanded to its maximum there were more than 1,500,000 square feet of office, engineering and manufacturing space in 3- and 4-story buildings. It was not only one of the most complete automobile manufacturing facilities in the world, it was also one of the most progressive in attending to the needs of its workers.

The George N. Pierce Company, which had started out making birdcages and iceboxes and proceeded to building bicycles, had reached the pinnacle of automobile size, prestige, luxury, performance and cost. Two years later the company adopted the identity of its premier product, becoming the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company. Two Pierce-Arrows were delivered to the U.S. government in Washington in 1909 for the use of President Taft.

One of Pierce-Arrow's most notable achievements was its unbroken record of success in the Glidden Tour. This event was established by Charles Glidden as a complement to racing's Vanderbilt Cup to reward automobiles that performed well and consistently over a long distance tour. The first Glidden Tour was held in 1905, a 1,100 mile epic drive from New York through New England and back. Percy Pierce, driving a Great Arrow, scored a 996 out of possible 1,000 points, and was accompanied by his wife, parents and a factory mechanic. The Great Arrow was also chosen by fifteen of the 30-some competitors as the best performing automobile and won the hillclimb up Mt. Washington. Pierce-Arrows competed four more times in the Glidden Tour, winning each year with perfect scores, a performance that retired the Glidden Trophy in effect if not in fact.

The Pierce used in the Glidden Tours was the Great Arrow 28/32. This machine was arguably one of the most advanced and modern machines produced in America at the time. Powered by a large T-head four-cylinder motor and equipped with a three-speed transmission, the car was powerful and fast. Dressed in what would become Pierce Arrow's most famous feature, its cast aluminum bodywork, the resulting machine could easily be mistaken for a machine made five or six years later. These first Great Arrows were the first true Pierce-Arrows and would become the model of the legendary machines to come.

The Motorcar Offered

This magnificent machine is perhaps the most important early Pierce Arrow to survive. The car's existence was first brought to the attention of Henry Austin Clark before WWII. Since his services were required by the US Navy, he had to wait until after the War to pursue it. When the dust had settled Austie tracked down the Pierce on Long Island and bought it. What he found was a car that today no one would restore. Though the paint had flaked off in many spots, the car was original and complete. The car was handed over to the best restorer of the time, Ralph Buckley. Buckley did a careful recommissioning of the car, including a repaint, all of which work was documented in receipts from the 1950s and is included in the car's history file.

Austie owned the car for decades, featuring it on tours as well as in his Long Island Auto Museum. He did extensive research on the car, gathering strong evidence that the car was used by Charles Glidden on the 1905 tour – though not the winning car.

In the 1990s the car passed from Austin Clark to its current owner by way of the Imperial Palace Collection. The car is now being offered publicly for the first time in its life.

Today the car still wears Buckley's restoration, though upon close examination it appears that much of the upholstery is original. In recent years, the current owner hired David Greenlees of Brattleboro, VT to overhaul the motor. Mr. Greenlees is one of the most respected rebuilders of this type of motor and as a result the car runs exquisitely. It is smooth, quiet and starts effortlessly. Receipts documenting all the work done on this car in the last 65 years are included in the file.

The car was used at the Pierce-Arrow Centennial celebrations in Buffalo, NY in 2001.

By great luck, the current owner found an original Pierce basket for the rear trunk rack a few years ago: a beautiful finishing touch for this fine machine.

This is a car of great historical importance with a rich and documented history. With long term ownership by one of the great luminaries of the hobby, it is offered today in well sorted condition with a fresh motor.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note that the title for this vehicle is in transit
Auction information

This auction is now finished.

If you are interested in consigning in future auctions, please contact the motorcars department or request a complimentary motorcar appraisal.

If you have queries about lots purchased in this auction, please contact customer services.

Buyers' Obligations


If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

For all Sales categories excluding Arms & Armor, Coins & Medals, Motor Cars, Motorcycles, and Wine & Whisky:

Buyer's Premium Rates
25% on the first $100,000 of the Hammer Price
20% from $100,001 to $2,000,000 of the Hammer Price
12% on the excess over $2,000,000 of the Hammer Price

Payment Notices

Payment for purchases may be made in or by (a) cash, (b) cashier's check or money order, (c) personal check with approved credit drawn on a U.S. bank, (d) wire transfer or other immediate bank transfer, or (e) Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover credit, charge or debit card. A processing fee will be assessed on any returned checks. Please note that the amount of cash notes and cash equivalents that can be accepted from a given purchaser may be limited.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licences please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.

  1. Samantha Hamill
    Auction Administration - Motor Cars
    580 Madison Avenue
    New York, United States 10022
    Work +1 212 461 6514
    FaxFax: +1 917 206 1669
  2. Eric Minoff
    Specialist - Motor Cars
    580 Madison Avenue
    New York, United States 10022
    Work +1 917 206 1630
    FaxFax: +1 917 206 1669
  3. Evan Ide
    Specialist - Motor Cars
    Work Boston, United States
    Work +1 917 340 4657
  4. Rupert Banner
    Specialist - Motor Cars
    580 Madison Avenue
    New York, United States 10022
    Work +1 212 461 6515
    FaxFax: +1 917 206 1669