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1932-1938 Pierce-Arrow Twelve

The Sale of Pierce-Arrow

The Silver Arrow was, as Pierce authority Bernard J. Weis has commented, "a far cry from the stately and staid vehicles for which Pierce-Arrow had previously been noted. The traditional fender headlamps, of stock Multi-beam design, were retained but were mounted high in flush-sided front fenders which flowed past the doors and swept downward to an almost-pointed tail. Mounted in the front fender on each side, but concealed by a hinged panel, was a spare tire. The panel latch was released by pulling a handle located inside the car ... "

By anyone's standards, the Silver Arrow was a sensational automobile. Its price was likewise sensational: $10,000, more than three times the tab for the sedan on which it was based. Or, to put the matter in a different perspective, that figure would have covered the cost of 20 Ford V-8 Tudor sedans.

Since mid-1928, the venerable Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company had been owned by the Studebaker Corporation. The combination had appeared, initially, to be of enormous benefit to both organizations, providing the combined companies with coverage of the entire automobile market except for the lowest-priced field.

But Studebaker's aggressive president, Albert Russel Erskine, over-extended his organization's resources by paying huge dividends out of capital reserves during the Depression, while simultaneously attempting to acquire control of White Motors. As a result, Studebaker lapsed into receivership in 1933, and shortly thereafter Albert Erskine shot himself to death. The future of Pierce-Arrow, as well as that of Studebaker, hung in the balance.

In August of that year a group of Buffalo businessmen purchased Pierce-Arrow from Studebaker's receivers. The price was one million dollars. The new owners calculated that with a bit of belt-tightening they could make the company profitable on an annual production level of as few as 3,000 cars. A degree of optimism returned to Buffalo.

Sadly, however, that goal of 3,000 cars a year was never reached. Only 2,152 Pierce-Arrows were built during and after that it was downhill all the way. The cars were restyled for the line including a fastback model bearing the Silver Arrow name-but unfortunately not its panache. Production, including all models, totaled just 1,740 cars, dropping to 875 the following year.

There was one final effort. For 1936 the company produced what Bernie Weis has called "the finest Pierce-Arrow ever built." Styling, after the fashion of the times, was more streamlined than before. The box girder frame, reinforced by a massive X-member, was stout enough to support a railroad car. The V-12 engine, thanks to a higher 6.4:1 compression ratio, produced 185 horsepower. A Borg-Warner overdrive was fitted to the transmission, permitting speeds as high as 90 miles an hour without strain. From 40 miles per hour, the brakes-the largest of any car on the market-would stop the three-ton Pierce within 68 feet and 2.3 seconds.

But it was all to no avail. Sales that year came to just 787 units. No significant change was made for 1937, as sales continued to slip, this time to 167 cars. And of the nearly identical 1938 models, evidently only 17 were built before the factory was forced to close its doors. The company ceased to function in March 1938, and another great name in automotive lore became history. But at least it had produced great cars, right up to the very end.

Get 1932-1938 Pierce-Arrow Twelve Specifications on the next page.

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