1938 Pierce Arrow Twelve

Pierce-Arrow produced only a handful of 1938 models, its last cars. Most sources peg actual production at less than 40 units. Seen here is the Model 1803 limo.

┬ęDoug Mitchel

1932-1938 Pierce-Arrow Twelve Performance

Performance of the 398-cubic-inch V-12 proved to be disappointing, for it offered little discernible advantage over the 366-cid eight -- though it added $800 to the price tag. For 1933, that engine was dropped, so the smaller Twelves used the 429-cubic-inch block, now raised to 160 horsepower. The increase came compliments of a larger intake manifold, a new dual downdraft carburetor, and a compression ratio raised to 5.5:1.

For the larger cars, Pierce increased the bore, raising the displacement to 462 cubic inches and the output to an impressive 175 horsepower. By now, any of the 12-cylinder Pierce-Arrows was capable of cruising for extended periods at speeds as high as 80 miles an hour.

A major development for 1933 was the introduction of self-adjusting hydraulic tappets, an industry "first" developed by Pierce-Arrow engineer Carl Voorhies. Other new features included Stewart-Warner power brakes, a Stromberg automatic choke, and tinted glass. The Startix automatic starter was carried over from the previous year.

Meanwhile, out on Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats, over a two year period commencing in September 1932, modified Pierce-Arrow Twelves driven by Ab Jenkins had been racking up a number of new records for both speed and endurance.

The really big news for 1933, however, was the Silver Arrow. Phil Wright, formerly of the Murphy coachbuilding firm and by then a freelance stylist, had prepared a proposal for a streamlined luxury sedan. He presented his sketches along with a clay model to Pierce-Arrow vice-president Roy Faulkner, who took the matter up with Studebaker management. It was agreed that five of the cars would be built on the 139-inch chassis of the Model 1236 seven-passenger sedan and powered by the 175-bhp engine of the larger Model 1247.

By the time the decision was made to build the Silver Arrows, only three months remained before the New York Auto Show, posing an almost impossible deadline. Because more adequate facilities were available at South Bend, it was decided that the five cars would be built at the Studebaker plant, though the work was done by a hand-picked crew of Pierce-Arrow craftsmen. The first car was completed on schedule, with the others following by mid-February. Only the five hand-built cars were ever produced.

Learn more about Pierce-Arrow and its new owners on the next page.

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