From George Pierce’s first single-cylinder Motorette in 1901 to the final twelve-cylinder chassis built for Karl Wise in 1938, Pierce-Arrow stood proudly for quality, craftsmanship, and luxury. Along with Packard and Peerless, the Buffalo, New York firm produced some of America’s finest luxury motorcars. Despite an impeccable reputation for quality, Pierce-Arrow often struggled with financial instability and a limited dealer network. In 1928, Pierce-Arrow’s president met with Albert Erskine of Studebaker to negotiate a merger. The deal injected the much-needed cash Pierce required to produce their long-overdue L-Head eight-cylinder engine, gave Pierce access to Studebaker’s expansive dealer network, and allowed Pierce-Arrow to operate independently. Initially, at least, sales increased thanks to the superb new eight. In 1931, chief engineer Karl Wise proudly unveiled a pair of V-12 engines of 398 and 429 cubic inches, designed to take on Packard and Cadillac in the multi-cylinder race.
To promote its new 12-cylinder line, Pierce-Arrow hired the famous racing driver Ab Jenkins to pilot a 1932 Model 53 at the Bonneville Salt Flats. The factory prepared the car for the event simply by removing the fenders and windscreen, which Jenkins drove for 24 hours at an average speed of 112.91 miles per hour. He later obliterated his own record, achieving 127 mph over 24 hours in the V-12 Pierce.
Unfortunately, Jenkins’ success did not translate into sales. Pierce-Arrow sold just 2,692 cars in 1932 and, as a result, lost millions of dollars. Studebaker fell into receivership in 1933, and Pierce was cut loose to become an independent manufacturer again. Despite their superb quality and loyal client base, Pierce-Arrow continued its precipitous slide toward bankruptcy, and the company folded for good in 1938.
The 1932 Model 53 offered here is one of six short-wheelbase, twelve-cylinder Convertible Roadsters built and is one of only three known survivors. The Model 53 Roadster was the dark-horse performance car in the Pierce-Arrow catalog, and Jenkins used an identical model for his record-breaking runs at Bonneville in 1932. This car’s known history goes back to the 1960s when it belonged to the prolific collector Wally Rank. Mr. Rank sold it to a fellow collector, Al Freddendahl of Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 1979, Freddendahl sold the Pierce Roadster to Don Meyer, who enjoyed it and cared for it for the ensuing decade. Meyer sold the Pierce to his friend Tom Welch of Ohio in 1991 but missed it enough to buy it back in the late 1990s. During his tenure, Mr. Meyer added nearly 50,000 miles to the odometer! In 2014 it came into the care of the most recent owner, a collector of significant Classic Era motorcars.
As offered today, the Pierce-Arrow’s older restoration displays an appealing patina earned through years of care and enjoyment and is the ideal candidate for touring and vintage rallies. The two-tone silver and black livery is glossy and consistent, with age-related imperfections noted on inspection. Accessories include dual trumpet horns, a painted metal trunk, driving lamps, dual side-mount spares, chrome wire wheels, and the iconic Archer mascot. The light gray leather upholstery has a similar careworn character, yet it remains supple and in good condition overall. The door panels, rumble seat, and carpets are in fine order, and the black canvas top shows some slight wear in places but is otherwise sound. Proper details include Pierce-Arrow branded instruments and controls for the transmission freewheel.
At 150 horsepower, Pierce-Arrow’s V12 was on par with similar offerings from Packard and Cadillac. The 429 cubic-inch twelve in this car runs very well, with the velvety smooth power delivery expected of a large-displacement multi-cylinder engine. Recent road tests reveal it to have excellent road manners, no doubt a result of its history as a cherished and enthusiastically driven motorcar. The Pierce-Arrows of 1932 count among the most sought-after models in the marque’s illustrious history, and this appealing example stands above the ranks thanks to its exceptionally rare coachwork and desirable drivetrain. It is a fine selection for CCCA CARavan tours or similar events and will undoubtedly provide many years of enjoyable driving for its next custodian.
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