Designing the 1933 Pierce Silver Arrow
Designing the 1933 Pierce Silver Arrow was not an easy task because like so many other dream cars, the Silver Arrow had an impossibly short deadline; the New York Automobile Show of January 1933.
Get one car done by January 1, Hughes was told, and worry about the rest later. Ultimately, Pierce built five 1933 Silver Arrows.
Paul J. Auman, late of Fisher Body but then superintendent of Studebaker's body prototype department, wrote about the job 30 years ago: "Working with us were about 30 men and helpers, all skilled craftsmen with years of experience. Not only were they good, but they were fast. The work went on around the clock. By the last week in October, the full-size body draft was completed. Work on pine models for parts had already begun [which were] then translated into hardwood hammer forms upon which all steel body parts were made. The largest panel, the roof, was hand-hammered out over a maple form. All steel panels were welded together."
Aside from the traditional archer mascot and fender-headlamps, the Silver Arrow resembled no other Pierce. "Even the headlamps were a combination of tradition and innovation, being mounted high, their line flowing up and back past the doors and sweeping down to the tail."
Because the baggage compartment was small and the front fenders long, the latter housed the twin spare wheels in special lockers, opened by remote controls in the dash.
Aerodynamics was in its infancy then, but the engineers knew enough to hide the horns under the hood, set the parking lights into the headlamp and taillamp shells, and apply flush-fitting rear fender skirts. Even the door handles were recessed pull types, not unlike those on today's cars.
MacMinn thought the fenders and frame a bit high, but they dictated a floor set well below the frame side members, something Hudson would dub "Step-down Design" 15 years later.
A vee'd windshield led to a smooth, sharp roofline, which ended with a notched, slit-like rear window that almost seemed an afterthought and certainly obstructed visibility.
Paul Aumun added: "The side windows were framed in a metal molding which flowed from the outer edge of the windshield back along the entire length of the car, passing on either side of the trunk lid down to bumper level. This served both to stiffen the panels and to facilitate the separation of the two-tone paint treatment. The cars were originally painted a two-tone tan, the darker shade being above the beltline."
In overhead view, the Silver Arrow bears a certain resemblance to another ahead-of-its-time car, the famous Tucker "48." But Preston Tucker's dream was hopelessly impractical and forbiddingly expensive to build. The Silver Arrow was not, what with its conventional chassis and a production powerplant, albeit an exotic one.
Being a Pierce-Arrow, it was luxuriously trimmed inside, with diamond-pattern broadcloth set off by leather over heavy-wear surfaces and hand-finished curly maple. The rear compartment contained an auxiliary speedometer, a clock, a rear radio speaker, and Pierce's traditional fixed center armrest.
Evidence suggests that the 1933 Silver Arrow was as fast as its swoopy looks implied. Although curb weight was no less than 5,700 pounds, the factory claimed a top speed of 115 mph, and no one has suggested this was much of an exaggeration.
But with a price tag of $10,000 -- as much as three or four suburban bungalows in 1930 -- the Silver Arrow would clearly serve dealerships only as inspiration. It was Pierce-Arrow's contribution to the nationwide preoccupation with better times a-coming.
To learn more about the 1933-1934 Pierce Silver Arrow, continue on to the next page.