Car show regulars may be accustomed to seeing immaculate roadsters with nary a speck of dust on their polished underbelly, but the auto buffs behind the wheel of luxury Pierce-Arrows dating from the early 20th century are of a more rugged variety.
“Some of those cars are show cars, but they’re being driven,” said David White, a collector and longtime driver of the short-lived but iconic automobile.
David and his wife, Donna White, are from Arcata, but for decades they’ve toured all over the country with the Pierce-Arrow Society—an international club of collectors and enthusiasts who enjoy traveling in their classic cars as much as they enjoy showing them off.
The Whites have a mocha brown 1928 touring model that was once owned by ragtime entertainer Al Jolson. You can still smell the authentic leather trim, which David treated prior to their drive down the Northern California coast.
Today, they will gather with other Pierce-Arrow owners and enthusiasts for a meetup in Rohnert Park, where members of the public are welcome.
On Thursday they parked their vehicles at Jack London State Historic Park, after visiting Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve the day before.
Last year, drivers met in St. Louis, the year before in Texas, and next year’s meeting is set for northeast Indiana.
“We try to move them back and forth across the country, so people all over the country are able to participate at least some of the time,” said David Stevens, executive director of the Pierce-Arrow Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan.
Collectors come from all over the country and as far away as England.
This year the society chose Wine Country as their destination, an area they’ve never toured before.
Bob Jacobson, who’s been a member of the group for 25 years, was the head organizer for this year’s event. Jacobson hails from Los Altos and bought his first Pierce Arrow in 1971.
“And he’s still bragging about it,” David White chided Thursday.
The Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Co. manufactured upscale autos from 1901 to 1938, when the austerity of the Depression years forced the company to fold. In their prime, the cars were symbols of status and power in 1920s Hollywood and the ride of choice for Presidents Taft, Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Unlike many manufacturers, the Pierce-Arrow company never turned to mass production. Each vehicle was handmade and custom-built. The collectors in the Pierce-Arrow Society aim to keep them that way.
“Most of us drive cars that are absolutely original, authentic, no modern engines, nothing like that, just as it came out of the factory,” Jacobson said.
The society has its own technical crew, including auto parts makers and mechanics who can design parts that have been out of production for decades. “And if something goes wrong you can usually fix it with a half-inch wrench,” said first-year attendee Don Benham, a middle school music teacher who drove north from Oakland to join the group.
“Unfortunately the next year’s meet is during my school year,” Benham said. “But I think Mr. Benham might be sick for a week next June.”