When told “go try and break it,” I’ll always follow instructions

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Kyle Smith

It’s hard to say I don’t have it good. A garage full of cars and motorcycles to enjoy at my will, and tools to keep them in tip-top shape (or as close to it as I can get). However, I have now seen the other side. And it is glorious. This mythical enthusiast experience is one that that few truly get to enjoy—the pleasure of being given the keys to a car and then being told, “Go try and break it.”

That would be exciting with any car, but in this case I spent the morning putting miles on Hagerty’s 1917 Peerless speedster, known as the Green Dragon. It is driven hard whenever it leaves the Hagerty collection, since it is mainly logging miles preparing for or participating in The Great Race. I would go so far as to view it as a tool. It accomplishes a task—and it’s good at that task—so it’s important to keep it in tip-top shape to ensure that it is reliable.

1917 Peerless Green Dragon engine
This is the tidy 330ci V-8. Perfect for a luxury car in the early days of the automobile. Kyle Smith

To call the Green Dragon reliable is an understatement. It is the grinding stone, not the axe. The 330-cubic-inch V-8 has a rev ceiling that is likely lower than most modern diesel trucks, but churns out plenty of power through the unsynchronized three-speed transmission. That V-8 is rated at a paltry 80 horsepower, but as any person with a low horsepower engine will tell you, it’s all about the torque. Put the transmission in any gear and the car will just pull away while making a riotous bellow from the unmuffled dual exhaust.

With the delay of The Great Race due to the pandemic, the get-your-hands-dirty team over at the Hagerty Garage had a little extra time this year to make a few improvements and do some maintenance that wasn’t necessary but sure is appreciated. New kingpins and leaf spring bushings were just the tip of the repair iceberg that prepped the car for another 2000-mile time-speed-distance rally. It was work done over the last few weeks, and I was pretty excited to get a call earlier this week to come take it for a drive and see if the car is better now.

1917 Peerless Green Dragon rear three quarter
Mufflers need not apply. At idle, the sound is akin to a boat floating in lazy waves. Kyle Smith

After a quick look-over and discussion about what was done, I was told, literally, “Now go try and break it!” Which might be an odd instruction to those who don’t see cars as tools. The concept here is pretty simple however. We (meaning me, navigator Brett Lirones and mechanic Randy Clouse) want to find any weak points or items that need attention here at home, where tools and time are relatively abundant.

It is important to say this, in case the text between the lines is not clear: I am not actively attempting to break a 102-year-old car. I joked when I joined the editorial staff at Hagerty that I have too much mechanical sympathy to ever do instrumented tests on cars. Just the thought of the clutch drop required for a scalding 0–60 pass makes me wince. There is use, and there is abuse. The Peerless gets used—but not abused.

1917 Peerless Green Dragon Cockpit
Best be good friends with your navigator, because there isn’t room to get away from them! It’s a sparse cockpit, but still comfortable for logging big miles–if you’re a masochist. Kyle Smith

The improvements made this spring made the car better than ever. The front end no longer flops into corners but instead holds tight and directs the car without deflection. The steering effort went from noticeable effort to wow-I-should-really-do-more-pushups. This year will be the third time that Brett and I undertake the challenge of a cross-country rally. With one failure and one successful attempt under our belts, we’re looking to improve the success rate up to 66 percent when we hit the start line in August. Between now and then though, you’ll find me on the road trying to find weak spots. Or just enjoying the drive. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference.


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