A 1911 Pierce Four sold for $225,500 at the Indy 2020 auction held by Mecum Auctions. The Pierce Four auctioned at Dana Mecum’s 33rd Original Spring Classic is unrestored and with the original paint, and considered to be one of the cleanest in existence. Produced from 1909 to 1913, fewer than 500 examples of the high-end motorcycle were built.
Although primarily known as a builder of luxury automobiles, the spinoff Pierce Motorcycle Company only lasted as long as the Pierce Four. It was the brainchild of racecar driver Percival Pierce, son of Pierce Arrow Motor Car Company founder George Pierce.
Percival became enamored with motorcycles, and went to Europe in 1908 to assess the state of the art of motorcycle technology. At that year’s Isle of Man meeting—the 2nd International Motorcycle Tourist Trophy—held on the St. Johns Short Course, a Belgian-built FN did quite well. Finishing on the podium and earning £10 in prize money, pilot Ronald Clark finished the 10-lap, 158-mile race in four hours and 11 minutes—a 37.79 mph average.
Percival was impressed with the performance of the 410cc four-cylinder FN that put out five horsepower. He bought one and shipped it home to Buffalo to use as a model for a Pierce motorcycle. The goal was to make the Pierce Four the only American-built four-cylinder motorcycle on the market.
The Pierce Four debuted in 1909, with several fascinating features. The 696cc engine was not a knock-off of the FN, however. The Pierce Four’s motor had a T-head side-valve architecture, with a significant improvement over the FN—the intake valves were cam-driven, rather than using atmospheric pressure to open. The first Pierce Four was a clutchless single-speed design. The next year, Pierce went to a two-speed transmission with a clutch.
The frame was a large-tube design, with the motor acting as a stressed member. The frame housed the oil, gasoline, and control cables, giving the Pierce Four a clean design—something we still see in custom motorcycles. Shaft drive sent the power to the rear wheel from the motor, while the pedal-assist used a chain.
Alan Cathcart, a longtime friend and contributor to Ultimate Motorcycling, wrote an impressive and exhaustive road test of the 1910 Pierce Four for DriveMag Riders in Romania.
In advertisements, the company boasted that “Pierce motorcycles are not made to compete in price, but to surpass in quality. It is a deluxe motorcycle for discriminating riders.” Unfortunately, the Pierce Four cost more to build than the selling price—$325 ($9400 adjusted for inflation) to start, and going up to $400 by 1913 ($10,500 in current dollars).
Pierce soon faced competition from the all-new 1912 Henderson Four, which had a 934cc seven-horsepower powerplant. The end came quickly, as the Pierce Motorcycle Company went bankrupt in 1914.
The Pierce Four is a popular machine at leading motorcycle exhibits, including the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in Ohio, Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Atlanta, the Sammy Miller Museum in England, and the legendary Guggenheim’s The Art of the Motorcycle exhibition in Las Vegas from 2001 to 2003.
Photography courtesy of Mecum Auctions