1917 Pierce-Arrow 38-C-4 7-Passenger Touring
Chassis no. 38645
Engine no. C4-4183
The first Pierce automobiles were light Stanhopes designed by David Fergusson, who would be Pierces chief engineer until 1921, powered by single-cylinder deDion engines purchased from the French company. The lightweight Pierces were a natural progression from Pierces long experience building and marketing bicycles. Pierces bicycle dealer network and distribution system distributed the earliest Pierce four-wheelers, giving the company a natural advantage over its competitors.
The first multi-cylinder Pierce appeared in 1903, a front-mounted inline vertical twin with rear wheel shaft drive and a 3-speed transmission with an extremely early Pierce innovation steering column mounted shift controls. The four-cylinder Great Arrow followed in 1904 with power from a 231 cubic inch 24/28hp engine with 3-speed sliding gear transmission and rear wheel drive.
Three years later, in 1907, Pierce entered the six-cylinder era that would so effectively define the company. A massive 5 bore x 5 1/2 stroke monster of 648 cubic inches with individually cast cylinders, a 60hp ALAM rating and 65hp according to Pierce, they cost $6,500 with catalog coachwork. Even in the first year Pierce sold a hundred of them.
The business was expanding so rapidly and its high quality standards required so much hand work that it outgrew its extensive existing facilities and in 1906 it acquired a 16-acre parcel which had been the site of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition where it erected a massive manufacturing facility that was for years the pride of Buffalo, New York. Designed by Albert Kahn, the Pierce-Arrow plant was one of the first large-scale uses of reinforced concrete construction. When it had expanded to its maximum there were more than 1,500,000 square feet of office, engineering and manufacturing space in 3- and 4-storey buildings. It was not only one of the most complete automobile manufacturing facilities in the world, it was also one of the most progressive in attending to the needs of its workers.
In just five years the George N. Pierce Company, which had started out making birdcages and iceboxes and just ten years before had been building bicycles, had reached the pinnacle of automobile size, prestige, luxury, performance and cost. Two years later the company adopted the identity of its premier product, becoming the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company. Two Pierce-Arrows were delivered to the U.S. government in Washington in 1909 for the use of President Taft.
One of Pierce-Arrows most notable achievements was its unbroken record of success in the Glidden Tour, set up by Charles Glidden as a complement to racings Vanderbilt Cup to reward automobiles which performed well and consistently over a long distance tour. The first Glidden Tour was held in 1905, an 1,100 mile epic from New York through New England and back. Driving a Great Arrow Percy Pierce, accompanied by his wife, parents and a factory mechanic, scored 996 out of possible 1,000 points. The Great Arrow also was chosen by fifteen of the 30-some competitors as the best performing automobile and won the hillclimb up Mt. Washington. Pierce-Arrows competed four more times in the Glidden Tour, winning each year with perfect scores, a performance which retired the Glidden Trophy in effect if not in fact.
From 1910 on Pierce-Arrow was exclusively powered by six-cylinder engines of 36, 48 and 66 horsepower. In 1913 the smallest model was uprated to 38 horsepower with a capacity increase from 386 cubic inches to 415 cubic inches achieved with an increase in stroke from 5 1/8 to 5 1/2 while retaining the 4 bore which defined its 38hp ALAM rating. Engine development was rapidly outdating the horsepower formula (bore in inches squared times the number of cylinders divided by 2.5) which had been developed for taxation purposes in Europe at the turn of the century and the small Pierce-Arrow was now making well in excess of 70 horsepower on the dynamometer brake, where each Pierce-Arrow engine was run in and tested before being shipped.
The Pierce-Arrow testing procedure was exhaustive, not only involving repeated measurements, gage checks, visual and tactile inspections but three separate dynamometer runs. The first broke in the engine over a 15 hour test cycle after which it was torn down and inspected. Reassembled, it went to a silent room where it ran for two hours and was carefully checked for noises, fuel consumption and power output. After being installed in its chassis it put on another 100 miles on a chassis dynamometer after which the valves were ground and an internal inspection done, and it still wasnt done.
Next the chassis was loaded equivalent to the planned coachwork and driven over a variety of ordinary roads for a further check of operation and silence before being given to another tester for yet another short final road test. Only then was the coachwork installed before final approval was given for it to be cleaned up, adjusted and shipped.
The 38hp six was the smallest Pierce-Arrow offered. Its prices started at $4,300 in 1917 with catalog coachwork of which Pierce-Arrow cataloged fourteen different styles from Touring Cars and Runabouts to the elaborate Vestibule Brougham Landaulette. Unusually among luxury marques at this time Pierce-Arrows were almost always delivered with Pierce-Arrow coachwork. The bodies built by Pierce-Arrow used proprietary technology from its Buffalo neighbor Aluminum Company of America to cast its body parts in very thin 1/8 thick flanged aluminum panels which were carefully fitted together and fastened with rivets to create lightweight, stiff, dent resistant bodywork. It was unique and helped ensure Pierce-Arrow customers satisfaction with their automobiles.
Herbert Dawley, who in 1912 patented the fender mounted headlights which became a Pierce-Arrow hallmark, not only did the companys body designs but also coordinated paint colors, finishes, accessories and upholstery which also contributed to the unified Pierce-Arrow look of refinement and elegance. Dawley was quoted as saying, We spend a great deal of time on things that might be considered
minor details [b]ut they go to make up the Pierce-Arrow car as a whole; and they please the owner of the car.
Pierce-Arrow kept expanding the state of the art in manufacturing luxury automobiles, extensively testing, refining and adopting new materials, techniques and processes, while staying true to its determination to build the best automobiles possible and regardless of cost. In the process it earned commercial success, great loyalty from its dealers and clients and the admiration of its competitors.
The Paine Collections 1917 Pierce-Arrow 38-C Fourth Series Touring Car is not only an outstanding example of the unsurpassed work of the Pierce-Arrow company but also a marvelously preserved and complete piece of history. Finished in maroon with black fenders, black leather upholstery, black cloth top and a tan cloth top boot, it is lavishly equipped and wonderfully original. In addition to its opening windshield, divided front seat, wind wings, jump seats, folding footrest, luggage rack and trunk, dual spares strapped to the right running board, Klaxon electric horn and bulb horn clamped to the steering column it has the very unusual feature on Pierce-Arrows of this period of optional standalone headlights in brass bell enclosures rather than Pierce-Arrows signature fender-mounted lights. Other than the radiator enclosure all the brightwork is brass.
The suspension is fitted with lever friction shock absorbers and 3/4 elliptical rear springs. The rear wheels have contracting band brakes. Like all Pierce-Arrows through 1920 it has righthand drive.
Inside the left front door pocket is a tool kit with screwdriver, pliers, starting crank and a set of open end wrenches much of which looks to be original to the car.
It was acquired by Richard C. Paine, Jr. in 1988 in a trade with a collector in Connecticut and appears to have had very little done to it over the years other than an old repaint, a top boot and rebuilt and revarnished wheels with replaced tires. The engine appears to have been out, worked on, mildly refreshed cosmetically and returned to an otherwise largely undisturbed engine compartment. The odometer shows 22,459 miles which may well be the only mileage it has covered. The upholstery on the rear seat and jump seats is hardly worn and even the front seat coverings are sound although all the leather will benefit from being carefully professionally treated to restore its luster and flexibility. The patina in the engine compartment, chassis and other working parts of the car are worth a look if only to see how sympathetic care can preserve even a car that gets used occasionally.
With over 70 brake horsepower the 1917 Pierce-Arrow 38-C-4 conceded little advantage to competitors outside its 38hp class such as the Packard Twin Six with 424 cubic inches and a 43hp ALAM rating. This superbly maintained and preserved example likewise concedes little to restored Pierce-Arrows. It is a lovely, highly desirable piece of history that will grace the most discriminating collection.