When you think of the good ‘ole days of land speed racing, the height of the Southern California Timing Association, and some of the most well-known dry lake beds in the country (yes, we’re looking at you El Mirage and Bonneville), you probably think of hot rod racing at its peak, and a heck of a lot of roadsters that found their claim to fame running against the clock and the speedometer.
But there was one car in the late 1940s and early 1950s that turned the speed scene upside down, not only because it was a coupe (a fact that made it an untrue hot rod in some peoples’ minds), but also because it was recognized as the Fastest Closed Car in America for many years. Of course, we’re talking about the Pierson Brothers’ 1934 Ford.
Initially purchased by Dick Pierson in the early 1940s, the ’34 Ford 3-window started out as a mere means of transportation for he and brother Bob. Purchased for just $25, it wasn’t in good shape, so they took the car to Bobby Meeks for help in repairing what could be salvaged on the vehicle. What this transaction turned into, however, was not a mere fix-up of the ’34 Ford, but a recruitment of the Pierson boys to race for Vic Edelbrock.
You see, Meeks worked for Edelbrock and was a recruiter of potential racers, and the Pierson Brothers looked like they had what it would take to pilot winning race cars at the time. So, the ’34 quickly turned into a hot rod project rather than just another other car, gaining its extensive roof chop and famed laid-back windshield, which leaned in towards the passenger compartment on posts at a 50-degree angle — a first for its time.
After getting prepped and pampered at Meeks’ shop, the car was moved to T&T Engineering where Tommy Backe took on the task of transforming it into the fabricated masterpiece it became — in between engine work done at the Edelbrock shop, of course.
By the time it was finished, the coupe boasted a 9-inch chop, 3-inch channel, slanted windshield and posts, and custom race car nose by Harry Jones fitted with a Kurtis midget front grille. It also featured a new race fuel tank that was much smaller than factory, a rebuilt ’34 Ford frame, tube front axle, ’39 Ford cross-steering, Halibrand quick-change rearend, and a bored and stroked 267ci 1946 Mercury Flathead engine.
With the car set to take on the best of them, Bob set his heart on running it at the first Bonneville Nationals, but Vic wasn’t having it. Instead, the boys took the car to El Mirage where the car began breaking records at Russet Timing Association events as soon as they hit the ground running. With a few adjustments to the frame and the addition of a roll cage, the Pierson Brothers’ car was the car to beat, not only in speed, but also in the ongoing roadster versus coupe rivalry.
In 1950, the Pierson Brothers had made such a name for themselves and the car that the coupe was featured in the April issue of Hot Rod Magazine that same year. From there, the car went on to achieve a class top speed of 153.06 mph at the July Russet meet, as well as a class-record for the car’s 145.64 mph average speed. Under the Pierson brothers’ ownership, it also threw down substantial times at the Second Bonneville Nationals with both its engine, and the later swapped engine, from Bill Likes’ roadster.
In April 1951, the Pierson Brothers once again caused a commotion when they took home top honors in the D Class at the Russet season opener at El Mirage behind the wheel of the red, white, and blue machine. That same year, it ran in the newly added SCTA coupe class for dry lake speed trials, throwing down an impressive class record of 151.26 mph with Pat O’Brien behind the wheel.
Having bought Dawson out in 1953, Jim went on to race the coupe for another year, hitting an impressive personal best 165.23 mph in the car, who sold the car off to the next owner prior to the next race season.
Through a handful of new owners over the next few years, the coupe continued to race with a variety of engines and other upgrades, not to mention different paint schemes. After awhile, the coupe was lost in the shuffle, being torn down, beat up, and secured as a project by a few more owners over the next several years.
In 1980, Tom Bryant purchased the car only knowing it as “an old Bonneville car,” and returned the car to land speed racing after fixing it up from a disheveled state, and adding a number of required modern safety components. It was only through his 11 years of racing the car that he became aware of the fact that he was running the old Pierson Brothers car.
Tom made nearly 100 dry lake passes, per his own recollection, in the coupe and held numerous world records behind the wheel of the car from Bonneville and El Mirage. These records include the D/FCC class record at Bonneville for the fastest average speed (221.898 mph) over two miles running on fuel (nitrous and alcohol), which stood as the record from 1990 when Bryant set it, to 1998. It also recorded one of the fastest one-way speeds at Bonneville with an average of 224.679 mph, and an exit speed of upwards of 227 mph — a record Tom set at the end of the 1991 season. The coupe became famous as Tom raced it, and grew in popularity, rather than forgotten or forever lost like so many other race cars from the early years.
In 1991, the car was officially retired, destined for a life of less stress. As Tom has openly admitted, the car was running “too fast for its age and mostly vintage build construction.” Had he continued to campaign the car on the dry lake beds, it would have more than likely have been destroyed.
In 1992, the car was once again sold, this time to Bruce Meyer. Knowing its outstanding racing history and historical significance, he took it upon himself to return the car to its glory years, having it completely restored to its original 1950 “as-raced” specifications by So-Cal Speed Shop. With the likes of the Pierson’s and Meeks all helping to oversee the spot-on restoration — right down to a fresh Meeks-built Flathead engine — the famed Pierson Brothers’ 1934 coupe lives on, reincarnated in the original vision the Pierson Brothers had intended for generations to come!
Since its restoration, the car has made appearances at countless events and displayed at a handful of automotive museums, including the Los Angeles-based Petersen Automotive Museum. It has even been raced in England’s Goodwood Festival of Speed under Meyer’s ownership. Among a collection of other prestinely restored, historically-significant cars that Meyer owns, including the So-Cal Speedshop Belly Tank car, 1960 Briggs Cunningham II Corvette, and the first production Ford Cobra (CSX2001), the Pierson Brothers’ coupe now has a home where it can rightly be enjoyed for the rest of its days!