Thursday, September 3, 2015

Last of the Pierce-Arrows

Pierce-Arrow (1901-1938) of Buffalo, New York was a maker of luxury automobiles that failed to survive the Great Depression of the 1930s.  A brief history of the firm is here.

From 1928 into 1933 Pierce was owned by Studebaker, which did survive the Depression, but with difficulty.  Pierce-Arrow developed its final restyling towards the end of the Studebaker relationship with new lines introduced for the 1934 model year.

Pierce-Arrow was doomed no matter how good the redesign might have been.  This was  because sales probably could not have recovered to the point that a late-1930s restyling could have been afforded.  Unfortunately, the 1934 design had at least one flaw that limited its success, as we shall see below.


This advertising art shows a 1932 Pierce-Arrow sedan.  Headlights perched atop the fenders was a Pierce-Arrow visual trademark dating back to 1913, though buyers had the option of conventional headlights.  I never liked Pierce's headlight assembly because it looked awkward, as if the lamp was stuck on the end of a horn; their cars with ordinary headlamps looked nicer.  Also note the flat, one-piece windshield that was virtually universal that model year and how the A-pillar blends with the cowling and hood.

Shown here are sporty restyled 1934 Pierce-Arrows.  The upper photo is from Auctions America, the lower from RM Auctions.  Pierce also made large, bulky six-window sedans.  The redesigned fender top headlights no longer have the previous "trumpet" look, which was good.  The main feature that was out of step with the times is the high roofline curving upwards from the top of the windshield -- clumsy.  Retained is the A-pillar treatment noted above; for '34 it helps emphasize the unfortunate windshield treatment.

Pierce-Arrow's last grasp for survival was its 1936 model year facelift of the 1934 design.  The shape of the grille opening was slightly changed, but the main effort and expense was new fenders.

This Auctions America photo of what looks to be an unrestored 1936 Deluxe 8 Sedan reveals the same windshield-top combination from 1934.  The problem for Pierce was that competing cars were coming out with two-piece V'd windshields, making the already awkward design seen here seem old-fashioned.

Finally, a sporty V-12 Club Sedan from Mecum Auctions.  A taller V'd windshield here would have yielded a car with nearly-competitive styling.

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