With its established market in disarray as it introduced the 1931 and 1932 Pierce-Arrow lineups, the aristocratic company faced a future that seemed uncertain at best. Yet in 1931 there was no immediate concern in Buffalo, and though sales had been down for 1930 -- to 6,795 units -- it was still the second-best total in Pierce history. The firm simply couldn't see the darker days that lay ahead, and it again viewed the market with its old combination of arrogance and naivete.
This outlook was no doubt the result of the Studebaker takeover and the false sense of security it engendered, and it wouldn't last. Sales began dropping behind 1929 levels during the second quarter of 1930.
The 1931 line comprised four distinctive series on four different wheelbase lengths, and many cars were turned out with custom coachwork by such preeminent houses as LeBaron, Derham, Dietrich, and Brunn. But the '31s found only 4,522 buyers, a worrisome 46 percent decline compared to Pierce's high-water mark of just two years earlier.
In reaction to this situation -- and determined to prove that Pierce-Arrow prestige had a mechanical as well as a social basis -- the company pulled out all the stops for 1932 by announcing not one but two Twelves, plus an improved Eight.
From 1932, here is the straight-eight Model 54 rumble-seat coupe.
The second twelve, a 398-cid (3.25 × 4.00), 140-horsepower version of this same design, was used for the Model 53, offering a much broader array of body styles on 137- and 142-inch wheelbases and priced nearly $800 less than comparable 52s.
Unlike competing V-12s, both Pierce engines had an included cylinder bank angle of 80 degrees for smoother operation and easier valve accessibility, two downdraft carburetors for more efficient combustion and higher maximum performance, plus seven main bearings.
The Model 54 shared most body styles with the two 12-cylinder series but employed the 125-horsepower, 366-cid eight with minor improvements. All 1932 Pierce-Arrows featured eight-point rubber engine-mount bushings to ensure the utmost steadiness, plus a stronger frame that effectively stopped chassis deflection.
Standard equipment for all series included freewheeling, safety glass, "fingertip" adjustable shock absorbers, silent hypoid rear axle, and Startix automatic starting system. Closed models were fitted with multiple layers of thick felt and jute padding to isolate passengers from noise, heat, and cold. With justification, Pierce-Arrow claimed more hours of skilled labor went into its interiors than other firms put into their entire cars.
The 1932 Pierce-Arrows were superb machines, built to the same exacting standard as earlier models but priced substantially lower. Yet they brought no rewards to the beleaguered company. Sales continued to fall, totaling only 2,692 at the end of the model year, and Pierce posted a $3 million loss on a turnover of but $8 million.
It was painfully obvious that even more drastic measures would be required to stave off financial ruin, especially since Studebaker was also losing money, though it continued to pump funds into financially troubled Pierce-Arrow.
In an effort to cut costs, the two firms decided to standardize several manufacturing processes for their two vastly dissimilar product lines. This cooperation did not, as has been implied, lessen Pierce-Arrow's image nor the quality of its cars, but it was too little, too late in any case. Continuing dependence on costly luxury cars and a stubborn refusal to field more modestly priced models would, in time, bring about Pierce's demise.
Our story continues with the 1933 Pierce-Arrow on the next page.
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