Car History Year 1933
Date: Sunday, September 26 @ 23:12:07 UTC
Most truly great automobiles have an exclusive styling feature that makes them instantly identifiable. For Fierce-Arrow, it was having the head lamps incorporated into the fenders. Designed at the Buffalo, New York, factory by Herbert Dawley and patented in 1913, ordinary head lights were an option until 1932, yet without head lamps on the fender, it just wasn't a Fierce-Arrow.
Famed for producing cars in the luxury car market, by 1915 Fierce-Arrow could count 12,000 automobiles that had found satisfied wealthy customers since the company's start in 1901. But, in the following years, things weren't to run nearly as smoothly as the silky six cylinder engines used in their cars. In fact, their insistence on staying with the six was the start of their problems, as most other prestige makers soon offered eights, or even twelves, and so Fierce-Arrow soon fell behind; it took until 1920 for Fierce-Arrow to shift the steering wheel from the right-hand side to the left to conform with the standard used by the rest of the industry for years.
In the early Twenties, a merry-go-round of management changes exacerbated the situation and, by 1926, Fierce-Arrow was in trouble. By 1928 company president, Myron Forbes, could see that Fierce-Arrow needed help and negotiated a merger with Studebaker. Things perked up considerably and in 1929 came a new eight cylinder engine. Sales doubled to 10,000 units that year, but this was not to last.
1933 proved to be the crunch year, although it might not have seemed so right at the outset. First there was the superb V12 engine. Designed by Karl Wise and introduced in '31, it was equal to any other twelve cylinder powerplant, with seven main bearings instead of four, as was used by Packard and Cadillac. Then there was the pioneering use of hydraulic tappets -another first for Fierce-Arrow, and ranking alongside its power braking system for technical innovation. Sales increased in early '33, but a crippling strike by tool and die makers soon interrupted the recovery.
Studebaker protected Pierce from the worst effects of the Depression, but it had over-extended itself and went bankrupt in the spring of '33. Albert E. Erskine, president of Studebaker (and Fierce-Arrow too, following Forbes' resignation in '29) committed suicide in July and, in August, Pierce was sold off to a group of bankers and businessmen.
In the midst of all this upheaval, came Philip Wright's streamlined masterpiece -the Pierce Silver Arrow. Promising "in 1933 the car of 1940," this tapered-tail fastback 4-door sedan caused a sensation when it appeared at the New York Automobile Show. Said to be capable of 120mph, with a cruising speed of 80mph thanks to the 175bhp 462 cu.in. V12 engine, the wind-cheating shape foretold many future styling features. There were no running boards, the fenders were smoothly integrated into the body and every joint was precise.
Priced at $10,000, the Silver Arrow was the most expensive US car on the market, apart from Duesenberg, and only five were made. Some of its features were later incorporated in '34 models, but sales were in decline.
After Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated as the 32nd President of the United States at the start of '33, he had set in motion his 100 Days program to boost the economy. Prohibition was abolished, but Fierce-Arrow had little to celebrate as, despite the first small signs of economic recovery, the days of such an expensive hand-made car were numbered. After several more attempts at reorganization, the company finally folded in 1938.
PIERCE SILVER ARROW
V12 - cast iron block
462 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
3.50 x 4.0 ins.
No. of seats
5 Silver Arrows 2,152 (all models)
67 degree V12 - cast iron block
381.7 cu. ins
Bore and stroke
3 x 4 1/2ins.
Numerous - both in-house & custom
No. of seats
c. 6,000 lbs
< c. $7,000
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