1912 Pierce-Arrow Model 36 Vestibule Town Car  Engine no. 32986
Lot 518
1912 Pierce-Arrow Model 36 Vestibule Town Car
Engine no. 32986
US$ 250,000 - 275,000
£150,000 - 160,000
Lot Details
1912 Pierce-Arrow Model 36 Vestibule Town Car
Engine no. 32986
475ci T-head inline 6-cylinder engine
40bhp (rated)
4-speed transmission
Solid axle suspension with semi-elliptical leaf springs
Rear-wheel mechanical drum brakes

*Incredibly rare formal car from Pierce-Arrow
*Highly original condition
*Untouched for decades
*All cast aluminum body construction
*The most beautiful era for Pierce coachwork

The Model 36

Pierce-Arrow's rise to the pinnacle of the automotive industry was a rapid one. The bicycle and bird cage manufacturer had dipped its toe into motorcar production in 1901 but didn't truly flexed its muscles until 1904 when it introduced the Great Arrow, a large, four-cylinder machine. The next year the Great Arrow would sweep the Glidden Tour and would ultimately win the trophy four more consecutive years.

By 1910 Pierce had moved toward all six-cylinder chassis. Three different sizes were offered: a 36, a 48 and a 66. The smallest is a relative term for Pierce-Arrow as it was 475ci and rated at nearly 40hp – bigger than the largest offering for most manufacturers. The Model 66 measured 825ci making it the largest production car engine ever.

By 1912 Pierce-Arrow had firmly established its reputation as the highest quality car made in America, if not the world. From their precision-made, gasketless engines to their extensive catalog of cast aluminum coachwork, they built their reputation on quality at all costs. No other manufacturer went to the lengths Pierce-Arrow did to make the vast offering of chassis and body combinations. The dozens of cast aluminum bodies offered had almost no panel interchangeability. The same exacting standards that today signal incredible quality must have made for a boardroom nightmare in the period. One cannot accuse Pierce-Arrow during their "Golden Age" of ever compromising for the sake of price.

The Motorcar Offered

Of all the early Pierce-Arrows that survive today, the formal cars are by far the scarcest; the tremendous amount of aluminum used in the construction and its high scrap value led to the demise of many examples, especially during the war years. To find such an untouched example of an early Pierce-Arrow formal car like this one is truly special. A study of the styling of the bodywork quickly reveals Pierce's mastery of body design. There is not one disproportioned aspect to the body – every curve is harmonious and every panel is exquisitely shaped. The body was specifically designed for this chassis and it becomes a truly cohesive design where coach-built cars usually fall short.

As is to be expected, the details are superb. The windshield reveals its use of wood and metal with hardware that is both straightforward and marvelously complex. The striking feature of this body style is the "vestibule" door with its arched top providing precious extra headroom for its hat wearing occupants. The vestibule town car was a distinct model that shared little with the standard town-car body style and was the most expensive model offered.

In keeping with the true function of a town car – city and formal social use – the majority of cars produced were built on the 36 chassis. The 36 was powerful but far more maneuverable in urban settings.

By studying the cars being made in Europe, Pierce borrowed and stole elements and combined them with innovative materials and techniques into a uniquely American design. The radiator shape is taken right from Mercedes, the engine design is influenced by Napier, and the body styling is influenced by both French coach builders and classical architecture. The end result is a cohesive design that could only be American and could only be a Pierce-Arrow.

This 36 has spent the majority of its life in the Maryland area. It was discovered in the 1940s and used in the old car hobby in successive years—a number of tour badges and stickers from 1940s old car tour are still evident. The car all but disappeared from the hobby in the 1950s and was not rediscovered until recently when it was unearthed from a Maryland barn.

Although it was used in the 40s, the owners were sympathetic enough to leave most of it alone. None of the wool interior has been changed and Maryland proved to be an area without a moth problem. It likely that some of the original nickel has been chromium plated; but this is an easy process to reverse and the nickel is often beautifully preserved under the chrome. The car was also likely painted at some point but appears to have been done pre-war when the car was still in service.

Opening the hood reveals the untouched and unaltered engine compartment. Virtually nothing is out of place, right down to the leather Bosch magneto cover. The car is equipped with a period correct Kellogg air self-starting system. This ingenious system uses compressed air fed into the cylinders to start the engine and the engine mounted compressor replenishes the air supply when the engine is running.

Mechanically the motor is free and entirely intact and the rest of the mechanical components look to be in fine order. The car has all of its original and unique-to-Pierce-Arrow lighting equipment. Upon examination, the leading Pierce-Arrow expert and mechanic described it as remarkable and a car that would require very little make roadworthy again.

It is on rare occasions that truly special cars come on the market. These cars transcend being just automobiles—they are examples of some of the finest objects ever made by the people of that time. A Pierce-Arrow of this period was arguably the finest motorcar built at the time and to a standard of quality that has never been surpassed.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note that this vehicle is titled under its engine number and its title is in transit.
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