The late 1920s were proving to be a lucrative and highly competitive time for American luxury car manufacturers. A wealthy buyer was ripe with choice, with the market being led by Duesenberg, with others such as Cadillac, Packard, Pierce-Arrow and Cord following closely behind. Foreign marques also played a role in the market with demand for exotic machines from Hispano-Suiza, Rolls Royce and Bentley. Simultaneously, the American coachbuilding industry was experiencing a high, with strong demand for custom bodies coming from business moguls on the East Coast, and Hollywood stars on the West Coast.
In 1930, Cadillac’s V12 and V16 engines had spawned a multi-cylinder race among manufacturers, with Packard and Lincoln quick to respond with their own V12 engines, and Marmon matching Cadillac with a superb V16 of its own. Pierce-Arrow, once one of the largest luxury motorcar manufacturers in America, was working hard to keep up. They had earned a reputation for quality that was virtually unmatched and their clients remained loyal to the brand. The pace of development among competitors was rapid, and Pierce-Arrow reacted to Cadillac’s flagships in 1932 with the introduction of a line of V12 engines. Power output of 150 horsepower for the larger unit was very respectable, but for the following year, pierce dropped the smaller engine for a single, 462 cubic inch unit producing a full 175 horsepower to match the output of the mighty Cadillac Sixteen. More changes came in 1934, and as a result, the 1933 models are favored by enthusiasts today thanks to their power, poise and unmistakable styling.
This striking 1933 Pierce-Arrow 1242 Twelve wears rare and exquisitely styled convertible sedan coachwork by LeBaron. It is a beautiful example with a rich and fascinating history. Believed to be originally delivered to Hollywood starlet Carole Lombard in 1933, the luxurious twelve cylinder model was originally outfitted with this stylish LeBaron body. Ms. Lombard is best known for her roles in slapstick comedies of the 30s, but was also an accomplished dramatic actress. A natural beauty and talented woman, she famously married Clark Gable 1939, but was tragically killed in a plane crash in 1942.
Following her tragic death, the Pierce-Arrow disappeared for some time until, in the late 1940s, it was discovered in a Los Angeles used car lot by a Mr. Riggs. Mr. Riggs was a Pierce enthusiast who recognized it as a very special machine. He purchased the car and reportedly drove it to his home in Portland, Oregon where it then remained in storage for many years. It was then passed to his nephew, Mr. Samuel Merrell who then sold the car in 1998 to noted Pierce-Arrow historian, Pat Craig. Mr. Craig then embarked on an extensive, carefully researched restoration that saw this stunning automobile returned to its former glory. Following Mr. Craig’s time with the car, it became part of the prestigious John O’Quinn collection. Mr. Quinn’s passing saw the Pierce sold again, eventually ending in the hands of a passionate European collector who carefully and meticulously prepared the car for touring, ensuring it would be a reliable, thoroughly usable machine. As an enthusiast who enjoys putting his cars through their paces, he subsequently racked up several thousand kilometers in road events and arduous rallies around Europe.
Although it has seen a great deal of use, the Pierce-Arrow remains in beautiful condition, the restoration having held up exceptionally well. The color choice of light green with light gray-green feature lines, accents, and artillery wheels suits the LeBaron body. Subtle, well-judged orange coach lines bring some of the interior shade out to the body. The subdued but elegant exterior is contrasted by a magnificently finished tan ostrich leather interior. The quality of the restoration is impeccable and it remains lovely, showing only the slightest signs of use that do little to detract from the striking presence. Chrome accessories present in excellent condition, including a pair of Pilot Ray driving lamps and kneeling Archer mascot. Dual side-mount spares are fitted with body-color covers, topped with correct Pierce-Arrow mirrors.
Opening the door reveals the simply magnificent interior. Reddish-tan ostrich leather covers the seats and door cards, which have been artfully crafted by the renowned Ken Nemanic of Vintage Automotive Upholstery. The level of detail, particularly in the rear compartment, is remarkable. Beautifully finished woodwork graces the door caps, ashtray covers and dash, while the instrument panel features a full array of original, restored instruments. Chrome fittings and switchgear are all in excellent order. We can certainly appreciate why the previous owner enjoyed driving this car so much, the interior is a fabulous place to spend time.
Mechanically, this twelve-cylinder Pierce remains exceptional. The attentive maintenance and regular use performed by the most recent owner imparts the car with a fabulous feeling on the road. Riding on a 139-inch wheelbase, it has excellent proportions yet is a manageable size for easier use on the road. The 462 Cubic Inch V12 engine shows very well. Some of the enamel has worn off the manifolds, which is a natural occurrence of a car that sees regular use, but the finishes and fittings appear very correct. The engine is finished in correct colors and in spite of the road preparation, it is properly detailed with period correct hoses, fittings and hardware. Since the restoration, it has been shown at the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance where it received the prize for the Best American Open Car, as well as prizes at the Radnor Hunt Concours in Pennsylvania. Given the quality, lovely presentation and historical significance, it would be most welcome at similar events, yet is FIVA registered and ready for touring and rallies; prepared by a noted enthusiast to be enjoyed on the world’s best roads.