1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow Sedan. Collection of Academy of Art University Automobile Museum, San Francisco. Photograph © 2013 Peter Harholdt

1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow Sedan
Collection of the Academy of Art University Automobile Museum, San Francisco, CA

With its dignified advertising, elegant styling, and respectable dealers, Buffalo, New York-based Pierce-Arrow rivaled Packard for prestige. The staunchly conservative Pierce-Arrow clung to six-cylinders long after Packard and Cadillac introduced V-8s. Facing tough competition, sales slumped and Pierce merged with Studebaker in 1926.

In 1932, Phillip O. Wright designed a streamlined fastback coupe on the Pierce-Arrow V-12 chassis. He moved to Studebaker headquarters in South Bend, Indiana, where his rakish design evolved into a sporty sedan with a low roofline, envelope front and skirted rear fenders, and faired-in headlamp nacelles. With its 175-brake horsepower V-12, a Silver Arrow could top 115 mph.

In a sea of boxy sedans, the sleek Pierce-Arrow show car was the height of modernity. Five hand-built Silver Arrows toured 1933 auto shows, where they caused a sensation. At the Chicago Century of Progress, the Silver Arrow upstaged Cadillac’s Aero-Dynamic coupe, Duesenberg’s “Twenty Grand,” and Packard’s “Car of the Dome,” with its audacious, aircraft-like shape.

Priced at a then-expensive $10,000, the Silver Arrow was one of thirty-eight different 1933 Pierce-Arrow models. Sales slipped to just 2,152 units in total. After succumbing in mid-1938, Pierce-Arrow is best remembered for its magnificent Silver Arrow. This is one of three survivors.

faired-in headlamp nacelles: a fairing, primarily found on aircraft, is a streamlined structure used to create a more aerodynamic outline; a nacelle refers to any streamlined housing or enclosure; in this instance, the forward facing headlamps are enclosed within a housing and placed with a fairing that does not extend beyond the curvilinear profile of the overall design

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