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Lot 340: 1933 Pierce-Arrow Series 836 Limousine

Exceptional Motor Cars, Bonhams & Butterfields (15 August 2008)

George N. Pierce, who founded the company bearing his name, was committed to manufacturing quality products from the very first. After starting out with household items such as birdcages and iceboxes, by the 1870s, he had expanded into bicycle. As the 20th century dawned, Pierce, like so many other manufacturers, found the lure of the horseless carriage irresistible.

The first Pierce automobile was produced in 1901. The diminutive single-cylinder, 600lb Pierce “Motorette,” was the automotive acorn from which the mighty Pierce-Arrow would grow.

By 1907, Pierce was producing a large six-cylinder car called the Great Arrow. During 1908, the company was renamed the Pierce-Arrow Motorcar Company and its products became Pierce-Arrow automobiles. U.S. President William Howard Taft ordered two of the Buffalo-built machines in 1909; they were the first automobiles to join the official White House fleet.

Both company and cars continued to grow. By 1912, the largest Pierce was a leviathan. The $8,000 Model 66 was powered by an 824-cubic inch T-head six and its 147-inch wheelbase chassis rolled on tires standing four feet high!

In 1913, Pierce-Arrow introduced its patented fender-mounted headlamps. The design feature became a powerful brand signature for every subsequent Pierce-Arrow model produced during the remainder of the firm’s existence.

With its prestige and identity firmly established, Pierce-Arrow prospered into the ‘teens and early 1920s. But, the company would soon begin to slip. It clung to its large six-cylinder engines, some of which still used the by now antiquated T-head design, even as competitors almost universally adopted eight-cylinder powerplants. At the same time, Pierce-Arrow styling remained stiffly formal and overly conservative, while other prestige nameplates pursued the art deco flamboyance that was increasingly coming into style as the Roaring ’20s sped on.

Pierce-Arrow was already developing an eight-cylinder engine by the time its directors voted to accept a merger offer from Studebaker Corp. in 1928. At first, it seemed to be a marriage made in heaven. The 1929 eight-cylinder Pierce-Arrows that soon issued forth were affordable, stylish and fast—and they sold like the proverbial hotcakes.

With 1929 sales soaring, an ambitious custom-body program was planned for the 1930 Pierce-Arrow chassis. The classically proportioned 1931 Pierce-Arrows had longer wheelbases than earlier models. In 1932, Pierce-Arrow announced production of two new 80-degree V-12 engines, to compete with similar multi-cylinder offerings from rivals Lincoln, Packard and Cadillac.

In 1933, Pierce-Arrow debuted the Pierce Silver Arrow, one of the most advanced and dramatic concept cars ever shown publicly. Meanwhile, that year’s production models featured valanced fenders, the only major visual change distinguishing them from their 1932 counterparts.

Behind the scenes, though, things had been going wrong for the Pierce-Arrow/Studebaker combine almost from the first. Studebaker management had painted the firm into a financial corner and, in March 1933, the venerable company went into receivership. A group of Buffalo businessmen returned ownership of Pierce-Arrow to its hometown, paying $1,000,000 for the privilege.

After 1933, Pierce-Arrow continued to refine its eight- and twelve-cylinder lines, but the company’s run was coming to an end. By 1937, production dwindled to only 200 cars and the handful of 1938 Pierce-Arrows that followed would be the last of their kind.

The 1933 eight-cylinder Pierce-Arrow Series 836 was offered in regular and extended wheelbase sub-series. A full range of body styles was offered on the 136” wheelbase, while the extended 139-inch wheelbase chassis offered only special sedan and limousine styles. These bodies for these models were specially lengthened and equipped with jump seats to comfortably accommodate seven passengers.

The offered car is an example of the 139” extended wheelbase 836. Based on its serial number, it is a very late 1933 car, having been produced only 12 units before the last of the 2,152 Pierce-Arrows built for 1933 left the line.

A 135hp Pierce-Arrow straight-eight powered all 836 models. The 1933 Pierce-Arrow engines were the first in the industry to feature hydraulic valve tappets, which promoted quiet operation and reduced maintenance.

According to information provided by the consignor, this 139” wheelbase Pierce-Arrow Limousine was delivered new to a Korean Prince, during the period when that nation was under Japanese colonial rule. He later lived in Japan, making his home at the location where the Akasaka Prince hotel is now located. The Pierce-Arrow was transferred to Japan with the Prince, who reportedly used it there until 1945, when the royal limousine was hidden away in a garage. It remained in storage until 1980, when it was discovered, and subsequently obtained, by one of the most prestigious private motor museums in Japan.

After coming into museum ownership, the Pierce-Arrow was sent to New Zealand, where its paint, chrome and interior were renewed while its chassis mechanicals were also overhauled. It was then put into the museum near Tokyo, where it remained until recently. The princely Pierce-Arrow has now been returned to its country of origin, for the first time in 75 years, to be offered for sale at this auction.

Lot Details
Auction Exceptional Motor Cars
Bonhams & Butterfields, Quail Lodge, Carmel
Lot Number340
Outcome NOT SOLD
Hammer Price-
Hammer Price (inc premium)-
Condition rating
Registration number
Chassis number1550247
Engine number239L1 137
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors