1921 Pierce-Arrow Model 36 - Model 32
Pierce-Arrow’s origins go well back to the middle 1800s when the company was known as Heintz, Pierce, and Munchauer. Based in Buffalo, New York, the firm produced household goods such as birdcages and iceboxes, all to a very high standard of quality. In 1872, George N. Pierce bought out his partners, and renamed it the George N. Pierce Company, shifting focus to bicycles and, by 1900, a steam-powered automobile. The steam car was a failure, so Pierce and his team returned to the drawing board and designed a small buggy with a French De Dion petrol engine. The “Motorette” proved to be a success, selling 150 examples. In just a few short years, Pierce would join the ranks of the most exclusive luxury automobile manufacturers in America. The “Three Ps” of Packard, Pierce-Arrow, and Peerless built the finest motorcars of the era, known for their grand scale and locomotive-like quality. These automobiles were the choice for any wealthy industrialist or socialite looking to make a bold statement.
Much of Pierce-Arrow’s success lies with David Fergusson who served as the company’s chief engineer for nearly two decades, leading the firm to the pinnacle of luxury car manufacturing in the teens and twenties. By 1909 the company was officially known as Pierce-Arrow, and they proved their worth by winning five Glidden Tours in a row. Their cars grew in scale and prestige, with the list of innovations including cast aluminum coachwork, hydraulic tappets, and later, power-assisted braking. 1913 saw the introduction of Pierce-Arrow’s most notable design element – the fender-mounted electric headlamps. This patented design by Herbert Dawley allowed for more effective lighting while also giving Pierce one of their most distinguishing features. On the mechanical side, Fergusson continually developed his six-cylinder engines, with the big Models 48 and 66 being the most powerful cars on the market.
After Fergusson’s departure and the arrival of new management, Pierce-Arrow remained committed to quality, and in 1920 they introduced an entirely new model, designed to simplify the line while still delivering the quality and prestige customers demanded. The Model 32 shared one chassis across the entire range, with a manageable selection of ten body styles, all made in-house of cast aluminum. Before the Model 32, there were some sixty possible combinations of body and chassis available. Pierce-Arrow finally moved away from right-hand-drive, and the 414 cubic-inch dual-valve inline-six was now of Monobloc construction. The Model 32 and its successor (Model 33) continued Pierce Arrow’s impeccable reputation for quality and prestige in American motorcars into the 1920s.
Sitting proudly near the top of Pierce-Arrow’s 1921 lineup, this magnificent Model 32 Vestibule Suburban was one of the most expensive, prestigious automobiles available in its day. As the name implies, the intended use was to shuttle wealthy owners between their city and country dwellings, and the eye-watering $9,000 price tag ensured exclusivity. This car has enjoyed long-term ownership with a Brass and Nickel Era enthusiast, and it presents in marvelous condition, with a beautifully detailed restoration.
Finished in dark blue with a complimentary dark blue interior, this beautiful Pierce-Arrow has a commanding presence, riding on an impressive 138” wheelbase chassis. The coachwork is indicative of the quality and precision Pierce-Arrow, with beautifully fitted panels and superb nickel plated fittings. The dark blue paintwork is understated yet elegant, suiting the car’s intended purpose. Paint quality is excellent, with deep gloss on all surfaces and only a few minor imperfections found that are appropriate for the age of the restoration. Details such as the Pierce mascot, nickel-plated radiator shell, and correct fluted headlamps point to a high-quality restoration.
The cabin restoration is up to the same high standards, with beautiful navy blue leather and carpets presenting in excellent condition. The seats show very little in the way of wear and creasing, consistent with the car’s limited recent use. Rear passengers enjoy fabric roller blinds on all windows and fold-away opera seats which allow for up to seven passengers to ride in comfort. The quality of the upholstery is exemplary, with high-grade materials used throughout the interior. Pierce-Arrow designed the instrument panel with the chauffeur in mind. Clearly labeled switches and simple, bold instruments sit neatly arranged in the center of the dash for simple operation on the go, and this is one of Pierce-Arrows earliest models with left-hand drive and center shifting.
Under the hood rests the mighty 414 cubic-inch “Dual Valve” inline-six. The engine features twin ignition, and a single-casting for the cylinder block, in place of the traditional cast pairs of earlier T-head engines. The big six is rated at 32 horsepower and revered for its superior refinement and effortless torque. Following a period of disuse, the car received a light recommissioning with new fluids and complete chassis lubrication. Under-hood presentation is excellent, with period-correct fittings, wiring, and paint finishes.
In 2011, this car earned a class award at the Concours d’Elegance of America, and it remains in superb condition, worthy of further enjoyment as a beautiful tour car, or for use in concours events and shows. In its day, few cars could match Pierce-Arrow for their presence, quality, and unmistakable styling, and the Model 32 stands among the greatest motorcars of the era.
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