Historic Car Brands



In 1896, the George N Pierce Company added bicycles to its product line and, after an unsuccessful steam-powered car in 1900, built its first two-speed, no-reverse-gear Motorette, designed by Yorkshireman David Ferguson and powered by a single-cylinder, de Dion engine. 


1904 Pierce Motorette Stanhope – The Supermat


In 1903, the company produced a de Dion powered, 15hp, two-cylinder car, the Arrow. In 1904, Pierce decided to concentrate on making the larger, more luxurious Great Arrow that was powered by a Mercedes-inspired 24/28hp, 3.8-litre four-cylinder, Pierce engine. This car had cast-aluminium body panels.


1905 Pierce Great Arrow – Seal Cove Auto Museum


The bodies built by Pierce-Arrow used proprietary technology from its Buffalo neighbour, Aluminum Company of America, to cast its body parts in very thin 1/8-inch-thick, flanged aluminium panels that were carefully fitted together and fastened with rivets, to create light-weight, stiff, dent-resistant bodywork.

The Great Arrow range was supplemented by 28/32 and 40/45 models in 1905.

A standard Great Arrow 28/32 won the Glidden Tour in 1905, driven by George’s son, Percy Pierce. Thirty-three cars entered the 350-mile race from New York City to Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. 

The noted industrial architect Albert Kahn designed the Pierce Factory Complex at Elmwood Avenue and Great Arrow Avenue in about 1906. (It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.) 


George Pierce sold all rights in the company in 1907 and died three years later. In 1908, Pierce Motor Company was renamed the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company.


In 1909, USA President William Howard Taft ordered two Pierce-Arrows to be used for state occasions, among the first official cars of the White House.

In 1910, Pierce-Arrow dropped its four-cylinder models and focussed exclusively on six-cylinder cars until 1929. The 6-36, 6-48 and 6-66 models continued for the next decade.


The Pierce-Arrow’s six-cylinder engine displacement started at 7.4 litres, then 11.7 litres, before a final 13.5 litres’ capacity in the 85hp 6-66 – by far the largest Otto engine offered in any production automobile in the world. 

The Pierce-Arrow testing procedure was exhaustive, including repeated gauge checks, visual and tactile inspections and three separate dynamometer runs. The first dyno run ‘bedded-in’  the engine over a 15-hour test cycle, after which it was torn down and inspected. Reassembled, it went to a quiet room, where it ran for two hours and was checked for noises, fuel consumption and power output. 

After being installed in its chassis, it was run for an equivalent 100 miles on a chassis dynamometer, after which the valves were ground and an internal inspection done. 


Next, the chassis was loaded with bodywork-equivalent weight and driven over a variety of ordinary roads for a further check of operation and noise, before being given to another tester for a short, final road test. 

Only then was the coachwork installed before final approval was given for it to be cleaned, adjusted and shipped. 


1914 Pierce-Arrow – Harry Shipler


In 1912, Herbert M Dawley, who later became a Broadway actor-director,  joined Pierce-Arrow and designed almost every model until 1938. Until 1914, Pierce-Arrow also made a line of motorcycles, including the Pierce Four.

In 1913, Pierce-Arrow introduced its trademarked headlights position, faired into the front mudguards. Buyers had the option of conventional, free-standing headlights, but most took the faired-in style.

A Pierce-Arrow was a status symbol, owned by many Hollywood stars and tycoons, and a favourite was the Pierce-Arrow Town Car. Most of the royalty of the world had at least one Pierce-Arrow in its collection. 


Pierce-Arrow Dual Valve Six engine – Bonhams


In 1918, Pierce-Arrow adopted a four-valve-per-cylinder, side-valve, T-head in-line, six engine called the Dual Valve Six. It had two spark plugs per cylinder and was one of the few multi-valve, flat-head design engines ever made. The sixes were initially pair-cast, but then became monobloc a year later.

In 1920, Pierce-Arrow finally accepted the left hand drive steering position and steel panels replaced the aluminium ones on some models.


1925 Pierce-Arrow 80 – Bonhams


In 1925 a ‘cheap’ Pierce Arrow was developed and sold as the 80. This vehicle was power by an L-head, side-valve (two per cylinder) six-cylinder engine that displaced 4.7 litres and developed 70hp. Although less powerful than its larger siblings, it retained aluminium body work and was more than a ton lighter, so performance was judged very good for the time.


1929 Pierce-Arrow – Michael Lo Cascio


However, even with the increase in sales volume provided by the 80 and not so successful, short-lived 81 model, Pierce-Arrow was in trouble in 1928 and its shareholders voted for a ‘merger’ with the Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, Indiana. The association was to last for five years, with benefits to both companies’ engineering departments, which continued to function as separate entities.


1930 Pierce-Arrow Model B – Jagvar


Also, Pierce-Arrow gained a larger dealer network, as the cars were sold through Studebaker dealerships and Studebaker acquired the same sort of prestige that GM had done with the Cadillac brand and Ford did with the Lincoln.

Pierce-Arrow retired its traditional ‘big-six’ engines and introduced its first eight-cylinder engine in 1929, in the Model 126. This L-head, side-valve engine displaced six litres and produced an impressive 125hp.

The new cars were not only better looking than their immediate predecessors, but were better handling, faster and had a lower profile. They were also less expensive and those factors let Pierce-Arrow enjoy its best sales year ever, selling 8000 units in the 1929 model year.


1931 Pierce-Arrow – Janderk 1968


Pierce-Arrow continued progress in 1930, offering an array of body styles that covered three series, four wheelbases and three different in-line eight engines.

A 7.5-litre, V-12 engine was offered in 1931, with 160hp that increased to 175hp by 1933. To publicise its new creation, the company sent the inaugural V12 to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.


1934 Pierce-Arrow 840A – Jagvar


Driven by Ab Jenkins, a stock Pierce-Arrow reached a cruising speed of 112.4mph, one mile per hour shy of the world record set by Marchand in a Voisin at Montlhery. In 1933 Pierce-Arrow sent yet another V12 to the Salt Flats, and this time it was slightly modified with an upgraded engine. Ab Jenkins managed to pilot the modified car to a record-breaking 117.77mph. 

By the time Jenkins had finished, he had broken 14 FIM and sixty-six AAA records in both class and overall divisions. 


1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow – James Emery


With the impressive results for the new V12 helping, Pierce-Arrow looked to hold its place among the elite in the dwindling post-depression automobile world. In 1933, Pierce-Arrow unveiled the radically streamlined Silver Arrow in a final attempt to appeal to the wealthy at the New York Auto Show. 

The car was well received and five were sold. The Pierce-Arrow 1242’s V12 ran quietly and smoothly, thanks in part to well-engineered, self-adjusting tappets. Quality of the appointments and overall construction of the car retained traditional Piere-Arrow standards.

1935 Pierce-Arrow 845 V12 Silver Arrow Coupe – Craig Howell


The bodies were built at Studebaker, which subsequently rolled out a lower-priced production model. This car lacked many luxury features of the show car and failed to generate enough sales.

When Studebaker went into receivership in 1933, Pierce-Arrow was discarded and found itself on its own again, although it was apparently making efforts to find partnerships of some sort. 

Sales for 1935 were down to 1000 cars, yet at the end of the year, three outstanding new models, which were advertised as ‘the safest cars in the world’, were launched. 


1936 Pierce-Arrow 1601 – Tony Hisgett


The Model 1601 eight and Models 1602 and 1603 twelves boasted large-diameter, vacuum-servo brakes, strong X-braced frames, anti-sway bars at the rear, quadruple headlights, reversing lights, dual tail-lights, tinted safety glass, overdrive, free-wheeling transmissions and crankcase emission control, freewheeling and many luxury items. 

However, the profit margin was tight, so the company began building Pierce-Arrow Travelodge caravans as a sideline, to bolster its finances. 

Pierce-Arrow struggled on through 1937 and into 1938, before a creditor demanded the US$200,000 he was owed. The firm was declared insolvent and its assets, worth nearly US$1 million, auctioned for a paltry US$40,000. 


1935 Pierce-Arrow V12 engine – St Louis Car Museum


The Seagrave Fire Apparatus Company purchased all the engine-making plant to produce Pierce-Arrow power for its fire engines and the last Pierce-Arrow to leave the plant was sold to the company’s chief engineer, Karl Wise.

When Pierce-Arrow was wound up, the Pierce-Arrow Buffalo Parts Company was formed to look after the sales of the company’s spares. When they decided to dispose of their remaining stock in 1941, the very last Pierce-Arrow was constructed out of a melange of 1930s components. The sum of its parts was averaged out as ‘1934’ for registration purposes.

Rio Grande Southern Railroad converted five Pierce-Arrow automobiles into motorised railcars and the nickname Galloping Goose was soon applied to these vehicles, reportedly based on their waddling motion and honking horn. 


Galloping Goose 7 at the Colorado Railroad Museum – Lytspeed


Stay informed and receive our updates

From Jim Gibson & Allan Whiting directly to your inbox

You have Successfully Subscribed!