Impressive though the 1933 Pierces were, neither the public nor the motoring press was quite prepared for the revolutionary 1933 Silver Arrow, which made its unannounced debut at both the New York and Chicago Auto Shows in January of that year.
Designed by Philip Wright, a former stylist with the Murphy Body Company, it was the product of numerous wind tunnel experiments and a striking aesthetic success for those dark times. Proclaimed company literature: "It gives you in 1933 the car of 1940."
Pierce helped introduce streamlining to the American public with the rakish 1933 Silver Arrow show car. Only five were built.
There were no visible running boards, and the pronounced pontoon rear fenders set off a radically tapered fastback tail with a narrow slit cut into the roof for the rear window. This was no cut-down roadster or phaeton but a four-door, five-passenger sedan weighing 5,700 pounds with full road equipment.
Despite this heft, a surprising 115 mph was claimed for the Silver Arrow, which was not unlikely given its 175-horsepower V-12 and short 139-inch wheelbase.
The beautiful Silver Arrow was America's dream car, but an advertised $10,000 price prevented it from becoming anything more than that, and only five were built. One paced the 1933 Indianapolis 500; another astounded visitors to Chicago's Century of Progress Exposition in mid-summer.
Roy Faulkner, the dynamic former president of Auburn, took over as Pierce-Arrow sales manager in late 1932. His promotional efforts, including the Silver Arrow and Jenkins' speeds runs, were apparently successful -- at least initially.
Sales of the 12-cylinder models jumped by 200 percent in January 1933 and by 130 percent in February; through October of that year they were 55 percent better than the 1932 total.
But strikes at tool-and-die makers interfered with the fragile recovery, and 300 to 400 sales were lost in late 1933. Studebaker protected Pierce by bankrolling these losses, but the South Bend firm, now hopelessly overextended itself, was forced into receivership in February. Albert Erskine committed suicide the following July, leaving Pierce saddled with debt, largely due to his mismanagement.
Studebaker's receivers ordered the sale of Pierce-Arrow to bring in needed funds. In August a group of Buffalo-area businesspeople and bankers bought control of the firm for a mere $1 million, determined to give it a new lease on life. Faulkner returned to Indiana about a month later, thus ending the rumors of a possible merger with Auburn that had been whispered since his arrival.
Independent once more, Pierce was, ironically, more financially healthy than Studebaker. The new owners appointed former general manager Chanter, now 43, to take Erskine's place, and he began laying plans to expand sales.
Find out what happened in 1934 on the next page.
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