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  Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow      

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Country of origin:United States
Produced in:1933
Numbers built:5
Introduced at:1933 New York Motor Show
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:August 12, 2011
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Click here to download printer friendly versionAt the 1933 New York Automobile Show, Pierce-Arrow wowed the crowds with the ground-breaking Silver Arrow show car. The four-door sedan introduced streamlining to the market and showed the way ahead for modern car design. Unfortunately the effect on Pierce-Arrow sales the Silver Arrow's creators had hoped for did not last very long.

By the early 1930s, Pierce-Arrow not only had difficulties finding customers like so many of its competitors but also struggled with its brand identity. In the 1920s the Buffalo, New York based manufacturer produced some of the country's most advanced and luxurious cars. This changed when the company was acquired by Studebaker in 1928. More affordable models were introduced soon after. They, however, failed to impress existing customers or attract sufficient new clients.

To turn Pierce-Arrow's fortunes around, the company called in the services of marketing genius Roy Faulkner in 1931. As part of his strategy he introduced a process called 'Pierce-Arrow Pioneering' and he was also one of the first to discover the benefits of 'model years'. As a result each of the following years the eight and twelve cylinder engined models were updated every year with new bits of trim to signify a new model year.

In addition to this 'quick fix', the company also set out to relive some of its 1920s glory days and hired talented young designer Phil Wright. Wright had shot to stardom when a Cord L-29 Roadster of his design was an instant hit at all the motor shows. It was during this project that he first met with Faulkner, who at the time was president of the Cord cooperation. Faulkner convinced Wright to become chief stylist at Pierce-Arrow in 1932.

One of Wright's first assignments was to pen what is today known as a 'halo model' to be launched at the New York show in January of 1933. With the striking Cord 'LaGrande' Roadster he had already revealed his fascination with aerodynamic shapes but for the 'Silver Arrow' he went several steps further. In order to 'cheat the wind' most effectively, Wright not only relied on his own skill and intuition but also submitted the design to extensive wind tunnel tests.

The result was an overall shape that with some imagination resembled a 'tear drop'. The smooth front end featured an angled radiator cover and Pierce-Arrow's trademark fender mounted headlights. More than on any other car of the period, the front fenders formed an integral part of the body that ran flush from the headlights to the skirted rear fenders. The body's tail was tapered, necessitating the separate rear fenders. Running boards were absent altogether from the four-door sedan.

The Silver Arrow's body was an all-steel construction that was completely built in-house. It was mounted on the top-of-the-range '1236' model chassis. A wholly conventional design, it used a steel ladder frame, supported by solid axles with semi-elliptic leaf springs on both ends. Power came from a 7.6 litre V12 engine with a relatively wide V-angle to allow for lower bodies to be fitted. Although relatively compact in appearance, the completed Silver Arrow tipped the sales at 2,314 kg (5,102 lbs).

At the New York show, the Silver Arrow was introduced as the car that brought 1940 to 1933. The much publicised introduction had an immediate and very positive effect on Pierce-Arrow sales. Although intended mainly as a show car, a further four examples of the Silver Arrow were produced that year. To show that the design actually worked, it was submitted to numerous record attempts with considerable success. Ab Jenkins achieved a 185 km/h (115 mph) top speed in a Silver Arrow at Bonneville.

Following the initial spike in sales, Pierce-Arrow's figures gradually returned to normal in 1933 and to make matters worse parent company Studebaker was forced to declare bankruptcy that Spring. A group of Buffalo bankers and businessman acquired Pierce-Arrow. Banking on the Silver Arrow's fame, the company introduced a production model for the 1934 model year. Available with a variety of engines, it bore only a passing resemblance to the 1933 show car.

All of the valiant attempts to restore Pierce-Arrow to its former glory did eventually fail and the factory closed its doors for a final time in May of 1938. The Silver Arrow had promised 1940 in 1933 but unfortunately the company was no longer around to see this come true. Its styling proved a great influence, starting the aerodynamic craze of the mid-1930s and providing a look ahead to the integral body design that would become the norm after the War.

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  Article Image gallery (24) Chassis (2) Specifications