It was a totally new Pierce-Arrow that was unveiled at 1929 auto shows, far superior to anything the company had offered since its very first automobile of 1901. Simply designated the Eight, it offered sleek, up-to-the-minute styling on two wheelbase lengths, plus what was arguably the finest L-head straight eight the industry had ever seen.
With 3.50 × 4.75-inch bore/stroke and 366 cid, this superior new powerplant developed a conservative 125 horsepower at 3,200 rpm and featured nine large main bearings that ensured vibration-free running at any speed.
The new models were also better looking, better handling, faster, lower slung, and lower priced than their six-cylinder predecessors, and deserved to be enthusiastically received. They were: Pierce-Arrow had the greatest year ever in its history with 9,700 unit sales, double those of 1928.
Pierce-Arrow’s famous “archer” mascot was a remarkably delicate and artistic piece of automotive ornamentation.
But as the $4,000-to-$10,000-plus market dwindled, so, too, did the ranks of companies catering to it. McFarlan, Loco-mobile, and Stearns-Knight were some of the early casualties, and other patrician names were teetering on the brink of oblivion.
Competition was fierce as the survivors strove in near desperation to best their competitors by offering still larger and more powerful engines -- including 12- and 16-cylinder units -- longer wheelbases, custom-built bodywork, and the most luxurious accoutrements since the dawn of the automobile.
In the end, this rivalry became a dance of death that killed the very thing it created: the great cars of what we now call the Classic era.
But at least Pierce would last long enough to be part of this golden age, which also witnessed the finest flowering of Cadillac, Duesenberg, Lincoln, Marmon, Packard, Peerless, Stutz, and the Springfield Rolls-Royce.
Peerless, like the American Rolls, was only a shadow of its former self by 1930 and of little importance as a competitor. So were Duesenberg, Marmon, and Stutz.
Cadillac and Lincoln were bankrolled by big corporations, and thus had the best chance of survival in this rarefied group, Pierce's closest rival in the financially perilous 1930s was Packard. They were the last of the great independents. Though each make had its own distinctive appearance, they were remarkably similar in engineering.
Pierce's eight arrived five years after Packard's, but it was technically superior and offered more performance. Packard, of course, was stronger, reflecting the inherent advantages of its Detroit location and a more forward-looking management team. By the time Pierce introduced its straight eight, Packard's lead was too great to overcome.
Yet Pierces of the early 1930s showed the marque still had potential for greatness. In engineering, styling, quality, refinement, and prestige, Pierce-Arrow and Packard marked the summit of American classic-car achievement. They acknowledged few rivals. They had no superiors.
Many people had previously counted the Pierce-Arrow among life's finer possessions and had always held its traditional craftsmanship in reverent esteem. Now these customers found themselves increasingly accused of poor taste by a growing mass of the unemployed who echoed the popular song, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"
Check out the next page for details on the 1931 and 1932 Pierce-Arrow.
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