The Story of Piedmont Auto in Lynchburg

The only automobile company ever chartered in Virginia was located in Lynchburg.

“It is believed that the establishment here of a factory for the manufacture of motor vehicles at this time presents an attractive proposition, both to the city of Lynchburg as a whole and to the investors in the enterprise”…The News, November 28, 1915. Within the year, Piedmont Motor was formed and granted permission by the State Corporation Commission to issue up to one million dollars in stock. In 1916 the company began taking orders and delivered their first vehicles in the spring of the following year.

From 1917-1923 Piedmont Motor operated in Lynchburg, Virginia. The company was located on Hollins Mill Road where Flowers Bakery stands today. Parts purchased from top manufacturers arrived by rail and were assembled into a finished product at the facility. Multiple companies then purchased the cars and sold them under their own label.  In Texas the car was known as the Lone Star, in Chicago it was the Bush, and in Europe it was the Alsace. This European partnership proved to be the most profitable.

 

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While the company produced both cars and trucks, the best-selling Piedmont was the touring car. Available as a 6-cylinder or 4-cylinder, it carried five passengers and was modeled after the Hudson. At its peak, plant capacity was six cars per day. All were painted forest green and reached speeds of 55 mph.

In an attempt to demonstrate its superiority, the car was driven on a 424 mile journey from Lynchburg to Richmond then back through Charlottesville, on to Staunton, Lexington, and Roanoke, before returning to Lynchburg. The goal was to establish the Piedmont as faster and more reliable than the Essex, its primary competition. Total trip time was 20 hours and 47 minutes beating the Essex by three hours and four minutes! The actual run time was 17 hours and 17 minutes. Three hours and twenty minutes were lost due to a blowout and repair work. Today that same trip is estimated to take six hours and forty-seven minutes.

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Priced higher than its competition, the Piedmont sold for $1,200-$2,000. The higher price, along with European demand for the car, is credited with its downfall. Sales were so brisk in Europe that Piedmont ignored local dealerships. When the European market slowed, the company faced difficulty recapturing the local market.  In an attempt to gain back their local audience the following advertisement was placed in the December 20, 1920 issue of The News, " We have set aside 20 of our latest model automobiles — to be sold between tomorrow and January 15, 1921, only to residents of Lynchburg, Campbell, Bedford, Amherst and Appomattox at the  prices being $500 below usual.”  The company even convinced the local police to use their car in hopes of boosting their popularity. In the end, that was not enough to salvage the company.  In 1922 the company was forced into bankruptcy and later sold at auction.  After five short years and approximately 3000 cars, Piedmont Motors disappeared.  It is estimated that only three of these cars exist today.  Two vehicles are owned by private collectors and other is in the Virginia Museum of Transportation’s collection.

 

Written by Wanda Carpenter, staff of the Lynchburg Musuem

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