How Pierce-Arrow Cars Work

1934, 1935, 1936 and 1937 Pierce-Arrows

The 1934 Pierce-Arrow fastback coupe featured a stronger engine than previous models but few exterior improvements.

Somehow, Pierce managed a total restyle for 1934, adopting a more-streamlined look that would continue for '35. Offerings were trimmed, but not drastically. The standard 1934 Eight offered four models with a 136-inch wheelbase and 135-bhp 366 engine in the $2500-$2700 range.

A new long-stroke 385 eight with 140 bhp powered a more-extensive DeLuxe Eight line on 139- and 144-inch chassis shared with Salon Twelves. Both Salons and that year's 147-inch Custom Twelves carried an unchanged 462 engine. The DeLuxe Eight covered a $2800-$5000 price range.

Twelves sold for $3200-$4500 with standard bodywork; six long-wheelbase Brunn "town" models listed for as high as $7000. A notable newcomer was a 144-inch-wheelbase two-door fastback in the image of the Silver Arrow, available as a DeLuxe Eight or Salon Twelve. Other closed bodies sported draft-free ventwing front-door windows, adjustable rear seats, and more head room.

Yet for all this, sales refused to improve, and Pierce kept bleeding cash: $861,000 for the first half of 1934, another $176,000 in July alone. The very next month, Pierce filed for bankruptcy after futile merger talks with Auburn and Reo.

Though Chanter managed to raise $1 million from the Buffalo community and New York banks, Pierce had to slash its work-force some 70 percent. With the new capital, a leaner, reorganized company called Pierce-Arrow Motor Corporation began operations in May 1935.

Despite a threadbare budget, Pierce managed an attractive redesign for 1936. Advertised as "The World's Safest Car," it boasted over 30 significant improvements: more fashionably rounded lines with built-in trunks on sedans; standard vacuum brake booster; added cruciform frame member; engines and radiators moved farther forward; and a steering box mounted ahead of the front axle with a trailing drag link.

Pierces had always been surprisingly easy to drive, but improved steering, brakes, suspension, and weight distribution gave the 1936s outstanding roadability despite the near three-ton bulk of some models. The previous three wheelbases returned for a reduced line of Eights and Twelves downpriced to $3100-$5600. The 366 eight was dropped, but new high-compression aluminum cylinder heads added ten horsepower to the other two engines.

Registrations climbed 25 percent in the first four months of 1936, suggesting Pierce had finally turned the corner, but ­production came to just 770. Pierce bravely carried on with little-changed 1937 models, but built only 191 before suspending production.

Though new financing was simply unavailable now, the company announced 1938 models in October '37, but built only 40. Their only visual changes were a plastic-rim "banjo" steering wheel, new license-plate lamp, and relocated emergency brake handle.

The success of medium-priced cars at Packard and Lincoln prompted a final reorganization attempt, Pierce announcing a $10.7-million stock issue in August 1937 to produce 25,000 medium-priced cars, 1200 luxury models, and 4800 trailers.

It also planned to tap Postmaster General James A. Farley, then about to leave the Roosevelt Administration, as new general manager. But none of this came to pass. Farley had received similar offers from Studebaker and Willys that he also rejected because they meant using his Washington connections, presumably to obtain contract work or federal loans.

The 1936 Pierce-Arrow Model 1601 featured control innovations that provided a safe and secure driving experience despite the car's three-ton curb weight.

Thus, Pierce again filed for bankruptcy in December 1937 after losing nearly $250,000 in the 17 months that followed July 1936. The firm was declared insolvent the following April; a month later, it was summarily liquidated. It was a sad end for a once-great American marque. However, the V-12 engine design was bought by Seagrave and lived on in fire engines until 1970.

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