From George Pierce’s first single-cylinder Motorette in 1901 to the final twelve-cylinder car built for engineer Karl Wise in 1938, Pierce-Arrow stood proudly for quality, craftsmanship, and luxury. Along with Packard and Peerless, the Buffalo, New York firm build America’s finest luxury motorcars, earning a loyal clientele along the way. Despite the impeccable reputation, Pierce-Arrow, like many of its high-end contemporaries, struggled with limited dealer network and challenging economic conditions. Also, a takeover by bankers after World War I saw Pierce-Arrow slow to respond to buyer’s wishes, and their products soon became stale and dated. Help arrived in 1928 when Pierce Arrow’s president met with Albert Erskine of Studebaker in order to negotiate a merger. The partnership allowed Pierce-Arrow to operate independently, and it gave them the cash necessary to finally introduce their long-overdue L-Head inline eight-cylinder engine as well as vastly expand their dealer network. In 1931, chief engineer Karl Wise unveiled his entry into the hotly-contested multi-cylinder race happening in America – a pair of V12 engines of 398 or 429 cubic inches. Unfortunately, the partnership between Studebaker and Pierce-Arrow was short-lived, as Studebaker fell into receivership in 1933 and Pierce was cut loose, again left to struggle as an independent in the midst of the Great Depression.
Desperate to survive and to shake their conservative image, Pierce-Arrow management hired Phil Write as a consultant to design a new flagship that would show the world of what Pierce was capable of and the resulting twelve-cylinder Silver Arrow was a streamlined sensation. It made its grand debut at the 1933 New York Auto Show with the slogan “Suddenly it’s 1940!” The sensational machine featured fully enveloped front fenders, no running boards, and a distinct fastback roof treatment with a triangular rear window opening. The design was a marvel; however, the shocking $10,000 price tag kept even the wealthiest customers away during the austere early 1930s. Only five were built, although the highly advanced styling went on to influence Pierce-Arrow’s regular production cars later in the decade, and the Silver Arrow name appeared on a flagship coupe which drew heavily from the Phil Write-penned original.
This Pierce-Arrow 1245 Silver Arrow is one of only 875 cars produced in total by the company in 1935. It is one of only two known surviving twelve-cylinder Silver Arrow coupes out of an estimated four units originally built. This exceptional motorcar features an award-winning restoration, commissioned in the 1990s by Los Angeles based collector Harris Laskey. Finished in a striking yet understated two-tone maroon color scheme, this rare and breathtaking Silver Arrow remains in excellent condition, coming most recently from an extensive collection of significant automobiles. Finish quality on the factory coachwork is expectedly high, and the detailing is superb. The color scheme cleverly plays with the shapes and lines of the body, subtly highlighting the fastback shape. Accessories are kept to a minimum, with dual side-mount spare wheels, an Archer mascot, and twin chrome trumpet horns topped with driving lamps. The tall, canted-back radiator and unique fender-mounted headlights are distinct Pierce-Arrow characteristics. The Silver Arrow is a grand and imposing car, riding on a 144-inch wheelbase and standing over six feet tall at the roof. However, the styling does a marvelous job of masking the scale and even giving the car a sporting spirit. Beige steel artillery wheels with wide whitewall tires provide a well-judged contrast.
Inside, light brown broadcloth covers the large, softly sprung front seats, door panels, and the generous rear seats. Darker brown carpets and gorgeous woodwork provide a pleasing contrast to the seat upholstery. The quality and presentation are excellent and in keeping with the high standard set by the exterior. While it is a two-door coupe, the tall roofline and long wheelbase make for generous accommodations inside. The luxurious appointment includes opening rear windows, individual front seats, and a factory-equipped radio.
The big 462 cubic-inch V12 engine presents in good order, with slight mellowing since its meticulous restoration. The black enamel finish is in good condition, with some moderate cracking and “baking off” of the paint in places due to regular use and heat cycles. The presentation is otherwise tidy, with correct hardware, clamps, and fittings used throughout the engine bay. It runs with the smoothness and refinement expected of a multi-cylinder engine of the era. At an impressive 175 horsepower, Pierce’s V12 matched Cadillac’s complex and expensive V16 for output, giving even a large car like the model 1245 very respectable performance. The engine is paired with a three-speed manual transmission, with optional freewheeling.
Since the restoration was completed, this rare Silver Arrow appeared in numerous prestigious events. It is a CCCA National First Prize winner, it appeared at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and it won its class at the 1999 Palo Verdes Concours, and was awarded “Most Elegant” at the Silverado Concours d’Elegance. This Pierce remains in beautiful cosmetic condition and is ready to be enjoyed on CCCA CARavan tours, or with groups such as the AACA or the Pierce-Arrow Society. This is a rare opportunity to acquire one of just two known survivors of Pierce-Arrow’s most stylish and powerful offering from 1935.