Monday, July 31, 2017

The Gilmore Car Museum, Hickory Corners, Michigan, July 31, 2017--Part 11: Pierce-Arrow

Once upon a time America boasted "the Three Ps"--leading brands of luxury cars as good as anything made in the world.  Peerless, Packard and Pierce-Arrow are long gone but the cars remaining conjure up the Golden Age of Coachbuilding and that most stylish era of cars that existed before World War II.  In 1957 the Pierce-Arrow Society as founded to promote the preservation of Pierce-Arrow products and a Pierce-Arrow Foundation was established by the group in 1999 to organize a museum.  The Pierce-Arrow Museum was originally housed in one of the barn-like buildings at the Gilmore Museum but a purpose-built museum was officially opened in 2004.

In 1872 George N. Pierce bought out his partners in the Buffalo, New York, firm of Heinz, Pierce and Munschauer, manufacturers of household items including gilded birdcages, and renamed the company the George N. Pierce Company.

George N. Pierce Company Icebox, 1880s
In 1896 Pierce added bicycles to the firm's line and soon after began to look into automobile manufacturing.  After a steam-powered car failed in 1900, Pierce moved onto to internal combustion and then came the rather simple one cylinder Motorette of 1901, using a de Dion motor built under license.  The company spent the year testing the car and then demonstrating its new vehicle to existing Pierce bicycle dealers.

1903 Pierce Stanhope
One of three models offered in 1903, the single cylinder 6.5 hp Stanhope was simple but reliable and was Pierce's big seller that year, with 149 cars built.  It offered twice the power of the original Motorette, and other styles that year included a Runabout and 5 Passenger Tourer.  The first two cylinder car (the Tourer with 15 hp) was produced in 1903 and named "Arrow" the next year.  

1905 Pierce Bicycle

1899 Pierce Bicycle, with shaft drive

1935 and 1936 Pierce Bicycles made by Emblem Manufacturing
The Pierce Company was split into two parts in 1907, with the Pierce Cycle Company producing bicycles and, starting in 1909, motorcycles. This company was run by George Pierce's son, Percy, and would remain in operation only until 1914 although Pierce-branded bicycles were built by the Emblem Manufacturing Company of Angola, New York, until the 1930s using Pierce tooling.  In 1908 the car company became the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company and in 1909 the brand name of the cars became Pierce-Arrow, in recognition of the success of a Great Arrow model in the Glidden Tour endurance events between 1905 and 1909.  George N. Pierce left the company in 1908 and passed away two years later.

1912 Pierce Motorcycle
Between 1909 and 1914 the Pierce Cycle Company built motorcycles, in four cylinder and, later, one cylinder versions.  Each motorcycle, with direct-drive driveshafts to the rear wheel and a friction clutch for the two-speed transmission, was meticulously built by hand.  Capable of 60 mph, these were the first inline four cylinder motorcycles offered in the United States and were very expensive.  Originally priced at $325, Pierce Cycle lost money on each one and even raising the price to $400, when a nice automobile could be bought for $1,000, did not save the company.  Very few were built and are known to exist today.

From its modest beginning, Pierce-Arrow quickly established a reputation for high-quality (and expensive) cars.  The first six cylinder Great Arrow had arrived in 1907 and the company would be noted for its use of advanced technologies, notably in aluminum and in power-assisted braking.  One of the most distinctive features of the Pierce-Arrow was the headlights faired into the fenders, introduced in 1913--although the more typical drum headlights were available until 1932.  Pierce-Arrow retained right-hand steering until 1920, which was not unusual for high-end cars of the period.

1911 Pierce-Arrow 48-SS 7 Passenger Touring Car
Pierce-Arrow produced 1,200 cars in 1911 and this mid-size 48-SS was one of three chassis available, with the smaller 36-UU and huge 66-QQ rounding out the line.  This car, which cost an eye-watering $5,000, featured a 48 hp (in reality 92 hp) six cylinder engine of 525 cu. in. The car had a four speed transmission and rear wheel drum brakes.

1917 Pierce-Arrow Model R8 5 Ton Motor Truck
In addition to luxury cars, Pierce-Arrow also produced heavy trucks, manufacturing designs based on the British Halford and Dennis types.  Strong demand to supply the US military in World War I saw the company produce around 7,000 trucks in 1917.  As well as the 5 Ton R, there was a 2 Ton X, as well as standard US Army Liberty-type trucks.  Truck production after the war saw the line expanded to six types, from  2 1/2 to 7 tons, and eventually the introduction of a lighter line of trucks, the Fleet Arrow, using components from the Series 80 passenger car.  Pierce-Arrow also produced buses and fire trucks.  Truck manufacturing ended in Buffalo in 1932 when this part of the business was transferred to the White Motor Company in Cleveland, Ohio.

1919 Pierce-Arrow Series 51 Limousine used by President Woodrow Wilson
Pierce-Arrows (along with a pair of White steam cars) were the first official cars to be used at the White House, serving every President from William Howard Taft to Franklin Roosevelt.  The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton, Virginia, has the 1919 Limousine used by Woodrow Wilson after he returned from Paris and the Versailles Peace Conference until the end of his Presidency.  Friends of Wilson, knowing how much he admired the car, arranged to purchase it for his use after leaving office.  Wilson did not allow his driver to exceed 25 mph and there is no evidence that Wilson ever learned to drive himself.  The Wilson car does not feature the famous Pierce-Arrow "Archer" hood ornament but rather has the Princeton Tiger as Wilson had been President of the university.

1920 Pierce-Arrow Series 48 7 Passenger Touring Car
This Series 48 car would have cost over $7,000 in 1920.  It is the first vintage car to come into the hands of Donald Gilmore when his wife gave it to him as a "project car" in 1963.  With the help of friends, he restored the Pierce-Arrow under a tent in his driveway.  His new hobby took hold quickly and soon he had 30 cars, at which point he and his wife purchased the 90 acre parcel of land and bought and reassembled a number of historic barns in which to display the cars.  This was the beginning of the current non-profit foundation that owns and operates the Gilmore Car Museum.

Left to right: 1926 Pierce-Arrow Series 80 Derham Town Car; 1927 Pierce-Arrow Series 80 Salamander Sedan; 1927 Pierce-Arrow 4-Passenger Touring Car

1925 Pierce-Arrow Series 80 Roadster
This very handsome car represented Pierce-Arrow's attempt to introduce a lower-priced car into its lineup with the introduction of the Series 80 in 1925.  This example was built with the same attention as the more expensive models, reflected in its price of $2,895 for the roadster.  It used a six cylinder engine of 70 hp and rode on a 130 inch wheelbase.  This body style offered storage for golf clubs and a rumble seat.

1929 Pierce-Arrow Series 125 Roadster
In 1928 the Studebaker Corporation purchased controlling interest in Pierce-Arrow and while the companies remained separate to a large degree, with different engineering departments and manufacturing locations, it provided a necessary injection of capital to the luxury brand.  In 1929 Pierce-Arrow was able to enter a new era as its classic six cylinder engine was supplanted by a more modern 125 hp straight eight.  The new Pierce-Arrow was capable of 85 mph and in 1929 the company produced 10,000 cars, a record it was not to match again.  This roadster, priced at $2,895, rode on a 133 inch wheelbase.

1930 Pierce-Arrow Model B Club Sedan
One of Pierce-Arrow's most popular styles, the short-coupled Club Sedan was meant to be driven by its owner.  With the new straight-eight engine, Pierce-Arrow saw excellent sales as the only luxury brand to defy the onset of the Depression, producing nearly 7,000 cars in 1930.  This beautiful example, which cost $4,600 new, was rescued from a junk yard in 1963 and restored.  It has been donated to the museum.

1931 Pierce Arrow Series 41 LeBaron Club Sedan
The LeBaron custom-bodied Pierce-Arrows were introduced in Chicago at the Drake Hotel in November 1930.  LeBaron, started by  Tom Hibbard and Raymond Dietrich in New York, was one of the nation's most renowned designers of coachwork for the luxury market.  In addition to bodies for Pierce-Arrow, the company also came up with designs for Duesenberg, Packard, Franklin, Lincoln and others.  Built on a 147 inch wheelbase, this Club Sedan is a superb example of LeBaron's artistry.  The firm offered five different body styles for Pierce-Arrows and the Club Sedan would have cost well over $5,000.

1931 Pierce-Arrow Series 42 Dual-Cowl Phaeton
In 1931 Pierce-Arrow introduced its three new model lines.  These were the entry level Series 43, the mid-level 42 and the top-of-the-line 41.  This extravagant Dual-Cowl Phaeton (or Sport Tourer) was available as a factory body style for $3,625 on its 147 inch wheelbase.  However, the worsening Great Depression saw Pierce-Arrow sales plummet in the early 1930s.  

1928 Pierce-Arrow Series 36 7 Passenger Touring Car
This six cylinder-powered Pierce-Arrow is identical to the touring car that carried Herbert Hoover to his Inauguration as US President in March 1929.  It was priced at $5,875, had 100 hp and was on a 138 inch wheelbase.  The last Presidential Pierce-Arrow was a customized car delivered for Franklin Roosevelt's use in 1936.

1931 Pierce-Arrow Model 41 Limousine
This car was ordered by an eccentric millionaire, Mr. Fred Beebe, of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, who bought a matched pair, one in red, the other blue.  Mr. Beebe wanted the car to resemble his 1913 Pierce-Arrow and not have the distinctive Pierce-Arrow headlights but normal drum-type units.  The car has numerous luxury features--including two passenger-to-chauffeur telephones.  The body, by Willoughby Auto Body Works of Utica, New York, is made from cast aluminium.  This 6,000 lb car, in original condition and purchased from Mr. Beebe's family, was $9,500 new.

1932 Pierce-Arrow Series 54 Convertible Sedan
Only 30 of these fine Convertible Sedans were built in 1932.  The car featured the new for 1932 429 cu. in. V12 engine from Pierce that produced 150 hp.  The body style allows for the top to be folded and then the supports at the door can be removed for the full convertible appearance.  Although not identified as such, this car appears to feature LeBaron coachwork.

1937 Pierce-Arrow 1702 7-Passenger Sedan
After Studebaker's bankruptcy in 1933 and the relaunch of Pierce-Arrow as an independent company, it soon became obvious that the market for luxury cars had evaporated with the effects of the Great Depression. Only 165 of the 1702 7-Passenger Sedans were built as Pierce-Arrow entered its final year as a going concern.  Priced at $4,000 and powered by a V12 of 462 cu. in and 185 hp, this was the swan song for Pierce although it appears a few cars were were assembled from parts in 1938.

The 1973 film "The Sting," starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman, used a beautiful 1935 Pierce-Arrow Model 1245 as the car of gangster Doyle Lonnegan (played by Robert Shaw).  The car was owned by Tony Bill, co-producer of the film.

The Pierce-Arrow factory was located at the corner of Elmwood and Great Arrow Avenues in Buffalo.  Designed by Albert Kahn and built starting in 1906, it was home to Pierce-Arrow car manufacturing until 1938 and eventually covered 1.5 million square feet on a 44 acre property which had been the site of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition.  The three-story 140,000 square foot Administration Building still exists and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It has been subdivided and houses many small businesses and organizations.  Buffalo also is host to the Buffalo Transportation Pierce Arrow Museum, which features not only Pierce-Arrow cars but vehicles of importance in the manufacturing history of the region.

Continue to Part 12 of the Gilmore Car Museum visit here

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