In the late 1920s and early 1930s Pierce-Arrow shook up its offerings in an attempt to recapture market share that had been slowly ebbing during the Great Depression. Of no help was the fact that Pierce was strictly a luxury manufacturer and thus had no cushion of revenue from mass-produced cars. The Silver Arrow concept model was introduced at the New York Auto Show in January 1933; with a lofty price tag of $10,000, a mere five examples were produced, of which only three exist today. The brass at Pierce managed to effectively shock the entire world — including most of their employees, who were kept in the dark until the unveiling — by producing the Silver Arrow under a shroud of secrecy at the Studebaker plant.
The design for the Silver Arrow was penned by classic era designer Phillip Wright. He cut his teeth at the esteemed Walter M. Murphy Company of Pasadena, Calif. Wright-designed bodies ended up on some notable Cords, and Cord President Roy Faulkner took note. When Faulkner left Cord to work at Pierce-Arrow, he asked Wright to join the design team. Interestingly, Wright’s original concept for the Silver Arrow was done for Harley Earl’s Cars of the Future Contest. The Art & Color Section of GM did not embrace the design, so instead of ending up atop a Cadillac V16, the now-legendary design came with Wright to Pierce-Arrow and changed the course of automobile history.
According to car guy and owner of the esteemed Blackhawk Collection Don Williams, there is no doubt that Pierce-Arrow caught the world off guard since the competition scrambled. “The following year Cadillac had a V16 Aero Coupe, and Packard had a Twelve Aero Coupe.”
Williams recalls that the Silver Arrow was announced with the slogan “Suddenly it’s 1940!” What they did not realize, he says, is that the design reached even further out into the future than the 1940s. To back up Williams’ supposition, consider that the distinctive shape created between the sloped hood edge and the signature integrated Dawley headlights is amazingly similar to that found on the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III, which wasn’t introduced until 1955. Besides highly advanced styling, one notable innovation of the model is displayed in the spare tires hidden in the front fenders, a feature not picked up by other manufacturers until years later. The Silver Arrow was a great success in terms of accolades and helped bolster Pierce’s reputation among the motoring press and the general public.
Williams’ example, chassis 2575018, has an overwhelming file of correspondence and documentation going back several decades including a title from 1944. Also in the massive file is all the paperwork from when the car was part of the renowned William F. Harrah Collection. Harrah’s team was way ahead of its time in terms of quality of restoration and the amount of research and verification conducted. The type of paperwork in a Harrah file typically includes correspondence with roster keepers and historians as well as overwhelming research on the correct finishes for every vehicle component. Amazingly, much of this research was conducted prior to the car being touched by the restorer’s hand.
In the mid-1930s, Pierce spent a great deal of time improving its steering geometry, which is recognized by driving enthusiasts but was not necessarily known to showroom buyers at the time. According to Williams, although this car looks like it’s bigger than almost anything on the road at the time, it’s only a few pounds heavier than a limousine and still fast. “It drives like a Packard or a Lincoln or any of the best driving and handling cars of the period — Pierce had a fanaticism over quality control just like Packard did.”
The Silver Arrow embodies the finest in classic and Art Deco styling while its V12 engine and streamlined design allow for an impressive top speed of 115 miles per hour. It truly represents the pinnacle of luxury in the worst of economic times.
— By Jonathan Sierakowski