Pierce-Arrow Twelve – 1932

If only the Great Depression hadn’t happened, Pierce- Arrow might still be making great cars. As it is, anyone lucky enough to have one is sitting on (or preferably in) a true thoroughbred.

The company made prestigious cars that competed at the top end of the market, but lost focus after World War I and fell into the hands of the Studebaker Corporation in 1928.

This shotgun marriage was to mark Pierce-Arrow’s last great flowering. Outmoded models were dumped and new engines replaced the company’s venerable straight six. First came a powerful straight eight. Suddenly, demand picked up and production at the Buffalo, New York factory could hardly keep up with demand. But by 1932 sales slumped again as recession really took hold.

Next came VI2 power plants, allowing the bold launch of the splendid Pierce-Arrow Twelve, which proved well able to compete with the likes of Cadillac, Packard and Lincoln for well-heeled customers still able to afford the best. The Twelve offered plenty of choice. It had the option of two engine sizes (after the first V12 was quickly superseded by more powerful units) and three chassis lengths. This allowed for an almost infinite selection of custom bodies to suit any requirement. The most eye-catching version was the streamlined fastback Silver Arrow, which was a sensation at the 1933 New York Auto Show, but so great was the price tag that only five were made.

Studebaker went bust in 1933 and though Pierce-Arrow was bought by a group of optimistic investors the end was nigh. The company lacked a mid-range model to generate cash flow, and despite considerable efforts to further improve the Twelve, the company closed its doors in 1938, ending production of one of the finest automobiles made in the 1930s.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:

USA

FIRST MANUFACTURED:

1932 (until 1938)

ENGINE:

6.5 l (398 cid), 7.0 l (426 cid) sidevalve V12

PERFORMANCE:

The Twelve set many speed and endurance records, reaching 115 mph (185 km/h)

YOU SHOULD KNOW:

Build quality was so good that a number of Pierce-Arrows were converted into rail cars – effectively trucks or buses that ran on railway tracks – and the nickname for these strange hybrids was ‘Galloping Goose’ after their speedy progress and honking horns.

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