Don Sommers American Arrow Corp
Taken from an article DAC News 1999
The American Arrow Corporation, tucked away just north of 14 Mile Road in Clawson is the parts and accessories Mecca for the nation’s classic car restorers and collectors. American Arrow is known around the world as the artisan supplier of vehicle pieces unavailable from any parts suppliers anywhere. It is the place restorers turn to when they need an exact duplicate 18-inch chrome wire wheel to complete the restoration of a $1,000,000 Duesenberg, a driver’s side outside door handle for a ’20s Buggati, or a Pierce-Arrow hood ornament.
American Arrow is the family business of brainchild Don Sommer, a former aerospace engineer, a vintage car collector (Founder of the Meadow Brook Concours d’ Elegance) and a recognized multi media artist. Sommer, a Davison, Michigan, native, started collecting old cars when, at age nine, he acquired a Model T Ford, which he still has. During his travels as a aero space engineer, Sommer found and acquired a priceless 1930 Packard Phaeton, an event that made him a serious antique car collector and, a necessity, a fabricator of exact duplicate classic car parts and accessories. What started as a basement operation soon grew into the enterprise that for 25 years has thrived, unnoticed by most people, here in the Detroit area.
Shown here are the major steps required to produce an exact copy of the intricately detailed Pierce-Arrow hood ornament utilizing the labor- intensive “lost wax” technique, a process used by Egyptians that can be traced back to 4000 B. C.
In most cases a silicone rubber mold is made from an original part. From this rubber mold, the lost wax process begins. The wax pattern is removed from the rubber mold, then trimmed and detailed. It is sent to the foundry along with other waxes and is mounted to a “mother” tree. The completed tree is coated with multiple layers of liquid ceramic, which is baked in an oven where the wax burns out, leaving the mold for the parts being cast. The metal is melted by an electric furnance, stainless steel to about 3,000 degrees farenhieght, and then poured into the ceramic mold. When things cool, the cermic is removed through a shot peening process and the raw castings are cut from the mother tree. The raw castings are machined and detailed with small grinders and then are subjected to a multi stage hand polishing process usually beginning with perhaps 80 grit and finishing with a cloth buffing wheel with special polishing compound. The stainless steel with it’s high nickle content has a soft slighty yellowish appearance, so in most cases it is flashed chromed. The only purpose of the flash chrome is to give the mascot the same color as the rest of the chrome on the car.