The first motor car produced by the Peerless Manufacturing Company, of Cleveland, Ohio, was a typical 'horseless carriage' and was fitted with bicycle wheels and a single-cylinder De Dion-Bouton engine. Prior to this, the company had been makers of clothes wringers and bicycles, but, like so many turn-of-the century companies, it was quick to see the potential of the automobile.
The Type C Motorette
From this inauspicious start, the company developed and eventually became known as 'One of the three Ps', the other two being Packard
. Peerless followed up their original prototype with a 3.5 hp single-cylinder, water-cooled model known as the Type C Motorette, which, in those days (1901), sold for $1300. This was augmented later in the year by the cheaper and smaller Type B.
Louis P. Mooers
The arrival, during 1901, of Louis P. Mooers as Chief Designer was to have an important bearing upon the history of Peerless, which, up to that time, had had little impact upon the motoring scene in America. It was Mooers who was to shape company policy during its early years, and it was he who designed the 1902 Peerless range. These cars were shaft driven and had their engines mounted vertically in the front.
Although this layout was later to become almost universally accepted, it was, in those days, a great innovation and immediately drew the public's attention to the Peerless name. The models also used selective sliding-gear transmission and side-entrance tonneaus. It is thought that Peerless were perhaps the first company to market their cars with this type of tonneau.
Although the prototypes of the 1902 model range used single-cylinder Mooer-designed engines, the actual production models appeared with twin-cylinder power units. For 1903, Louis P. Mooers designed an 80 hp four-cylinder engine for use in a lightweight racing car. The engine was designed with a T-head, and lubrication was fully pressurised. The car was entered in the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup
, where it was driven by Mooers. Its competition debut, however, was far from encouraging and the car retired on lap two after averaging only 19.8 mph.
The Green Dragon
Undaunted, Mooers returned to production cars and produced two new machines, a 24 hp and a 35 hp, both with T-head four-cylinder engines. That year also saw Peerless introduce their Limousine, a car which is widely considered to be America's first non-custom-built closed car. In 1904, Mooers, determined to improve on his poor showing the previous year, designed another racing car. It was, in fact, the 1903 Gordon Bennett car, rebuilt and fitted with a 6 in bore x 6 in stroke engine. Christened the Green Dragon by its owner, Barney Oldfield, to whom the car had passed after failing to qualify for the 1904 Gordon Bennett, it was to establish the Peerless name in no uncertain manner.
Barney Oldfield - the "Boy in Green"
Oldfield, nicknamed the 'Boy in Green', acted as test driver for t::he company's racing cars. He was a natural showman and was soon attracting attention at race tracks all over America. Time and again he set new lap records and, in so doing, established both his name and that of the Peerless Green Dragon in the history books of American motor sport. He crashed Green Dragon in 1905, but a new car was soon built and, once again, Oldfield continued on his winning way. The publicity gained by Oldfield and Green Dragon did wonders for the Peerless company. By this time, Peerless was rapidly expanding and it soon began to increase production.
With the new-found fame came a new image. The Peerless became regarded as a prestige vehicle and was given a price tag to match. In 1907, the model range was boosted with the introduction of a six-cylinder model, although the faithful four-cylinder models continued in production for a few more years, and changes were limited to perfection of details. By 1912, the Peerless model range contained vehicles priced from $4200 to $7200 and the following year saw the introduction of Peerless-designed self starters to all models.
The Peerless V8
The next big step in the company's history took place in 1915 with the arrival of a Peerless V8. Because the V8 was so reasonably priced, Peerless decided to drop the six-cylinder models from its range. In appearance, the V8 resembled the Cadiliac
which had appeared on the market a year before. The V8 was a strong and well made engine capable of producing 80 bhp at 2700 rpm. It continued in production until 1922, by which time the car's body design had become outdated. In the interim,Peerless continued to establish themselves as makers of top-quality cars and their products were enjoying steady if unspectacular success.
The Equipoised Eight
The follow-up design to the original V8 first appeared in 1923 and, like its predecessor, looked not unlike the Cadiliac
of the day, an indication of the market at which Peerless were aiming their new creation. By 1923 Peerless were enjoying the fruits of their labour with some 5000 cars being sold. Twelve months later, the company began producing another six-cylinder model as a companion to the larger and more expensive 'V' model, which by now had been graced with the title of the 'Equipoised Eight'. Another new model was introduced in 1925 and it, too, was a six-cylinder: the engine was a Continental - the first time the company had used a non-Peerless-designed engine - and it was fitted to a 6-80 chassis.
By this time, the company was catering for a fairly wide section of the motoring market and prices ranged from $1400 for the least expensive six-cylinder model to more than $4000 for the most expensive eight. Sales, however, began to fall from 1926 until 1929. The reason for this was that Peerless bodies were beginning to look a little out of date. In fact, many critics considered them to be uninspired and downright unattractive. The company, however, were determined to stop the decline and in 1929 a completely redesigned model range was shown to the public. The old V8 engine had been dropped, and in its place was the more powerful and up-to-date Continental V8 power unit.
Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky
Considerable attention had also been paid to body design, and the new cars bore a passing resemblance to the then in-vogue Stutz
products. Within a few months, sales had once again begun to pick up and Peerless decided to capitalise on the situation by commissioning Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky to design their 1930 range. This he did and the result was the sleekest and best looking Peerless range ever produced. Three six-cylinder models and one eight were offered at prices ranging from $995 to $2195. But the cars came at the wrong time. By the early 1930s, America was gripped by the Depression and car sales began to plummet. The Peerless company slipped to 30th place in the US sales charts and the company was never really to recover from the damage done to its finances and its reputation during this period.
The Peerless V16
Nevertheless, Peerless were determined to stage a fightback and, in an attempt to recapture its former glory, the company introduced a fabulous new model designed to rival the Cadiliac and Marmon sixteen-cylinder models. This new car was the Peerless V16. Marmon and Cadillac were two of only three manufacturers to market sixteen-cylinder models (the other being, of course, Bugatti with its type 47) and Peerless were determined to enter this high-prestige market. Unfortunately, conditions were against it and only one prototype Peerless V16 was ever built. This car, in fact, still survives today. It was a pity that the V16 was never marketed because the car possessed tremendous potential. It was built almost entirely of aluminum and the frame weighed a mere 42 lb.
The giant 7.6-liter engine produced 173 bhp at 3300 rpm, and its body, coach built by Murphy, was one of the best looking ever to appear on an American car. The Depression, however, had destroyed any hope of putting the V16 on the market and it was also the cause of the eventual failure of the Peerless Motor Car Company which closed its doors on 30 June 1931. The factory then lay idle for some time. Thereafter, prohibition having been repealed, the company became the Peerless Corporation, brewers of CarIing's Ale. In exchange for 25,000 shares of Peerless stock, Carling's parent company provided Peerless with the rights to the formulas for Carling brews, their identifying labels, and trademarks. Technicians and brew masters were sent from Canada to convert the auto plant into a brewery and to train American personnel to operate it as the Brewing Corporation of America.
The Brewing Corporation of America
The Brewing Corporation of America tried at first to just brew Carling's Red Cap Ale, but sales were too slow to maintain the brewery and sales didn't climb until the introduction of Black Label . The philosophy behind Black Label was to have a high quality lager that was available nationwide, but with a locally brewed budget price. The strategy worked and the next several decades led to rapid growth and expansion for the brewery and the Carling Black Label brand. Meanwhile the Peerless name was revived briefly in Britain during the years 1957 to 1960. This came about when a sporty grand-touring car was marketed by a company, established in the mid 1920s, which had originally sold reconditioned Peerless trucks after World War 1. Like its American counterpart, this company also failed and so the Peerless name was added to the long list of manufacturers who became victims of circumstances they could not control.