In 1919, few cars could touch the Pierce-Arrow Model 66 for its sheer power and road presence. For years, Pierce-Arrow were fervent supporters of the inline six-cylinder engine. They felt the layout provided the best balance of power and refinement, even as competitors like Packard and Cadillac experimented with V12 and V8 engines, respectively. Choosing to stick with what they knew, Pierce developed increasingly larger and more potent versions of their T-Head six, culminating with the Model 66 of 1910. Initially named for its power output, the Model 66 was the flagship of the range, and one of the biggest and most powerful cars of the era. The ultimate version of the series was the 66 A-4. Particularly in the era of the Model 66, very few Pierce-Arrows received coachwork from outside firms. The quality and style of the firm’s cast aluminum bodies were such that most buyers found it unnecessary to look elsewhere. However, in 1919, one notable Pierce-Arrow customer would go against convention to create one of the most memorable, spectacular motorcars of the early twentieth century.
Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle, best known by the moniker “Fatty”, was one of the most famous silent film stars of the period. He was a gifted physical comedian, actor, and singer, as well as a director, screenwriter, and mentor to the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Bob Hope. Arbuckle was a true superstar of his time, and in 1920, he signed a 3-year contract with Paramount Pictures for $1,000,000 per year, making him the highest paid actor in Hollywood in his day. As a man of exceptional means, Fatty Arbuckle indulged in a series of increasingly spectacular custom-bodied automobiles. Of course, no movie star would be content with an off-the-floor model, and Arbuckle developed a relationship with J.W. Earl Automobile Works in downtown Los Angeles, who supplied him with a series of tailored motorcars. In early 1919, Southern California Cadillac distributor Don Lee acquired J.W. Earl to create Don Lee Coachbuilders. Along with the coachbuilding shop came the firm’s greatest asset, a gifted young designer named Harley Earl. Harley Earl designed cars for the likes of Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Tom Mix, and other Hollywood elites. Within the next decade, he would go on to become the first head of General Motors’ Art and Color Department, and today he is considered to be America’s most influential automobile designer. Before GM, however, he was free to hone his craft.
In 1919, after owning custom-bodied Renaults and Cadillacs, Fatty Arbuckle ordered the largest, most powerful automobile he could buy: The massive Pierce-Arrow Model 66-A-4. As with his other cars, Arbuckle handed the chassis over to Harley Earl to design the flamboyant coachwork, and the resulting “Arbuckle Pierce” is perhaps Earl’s most significant early work. The spectacular Pierce-Arrow was completed early in 1920, and on May 2 of that year, the Los Angeles Times reported that upwards of 10,000 people filed through Don Lee’s L.A. showroom to get a glimpse of the car that cost $30,000 – more than ten times what an average American made in a year. Arbuckle clearly enjoyed his Pierce-Arrow, as seen in numerous period photos of him posing with his pride and joy.
Unfortunately, a scandal and ensuing tabloid frenzy derailed his career, and soon Fatty was charged with manslaughter and tried three times. Despite an acquittal and a public apology by the jury, the damage had been done, and Arbuckle was forced to sell the Pierce 66 to cover legal bills. It was purchased by his friend and movie mogul Joseph Schenck, then chairman of 20th Century Fox studios. Years later, it became a part of Jim Brucker’s Movie World Collection, the Rick Carroll Collection, as well as the Blackhawk Collection.