Pierce-Arrow Society Feature Article 

The Pierce-Arrow 8-Cylinder Engine
submitted by Roger Sherman

It is easy to argue that the most important series of cars ever developed by Pierce-Arrow were its 8-cylinder models. Without them it is very likely that the company would have collapsed even before the Stock Market did in 1929. However, very little hard information remains about the details of their development in the eventful months of the summer and fall of 1928. Even the exact date when Pierce-Arrow ordered the first block castings from Studebaker is unknown. Almost all such information seems to have been discarded in 1938 when bankrupt Pierce-Arrow cleaned out its files.

Among the few hard facts are the dates during which the development took place. The start was, probably, sometime after the Studebaker Corporation put out the hard cash necessary to fund the project. Pierce-Arrow executives had been trying frantically to save their company all through the spring of 1928. Studebaker offered to take control of Pierce-Arrow, not to buy it out. Pierce-Arrow’s board of directors met on Wednesday, June 13, 1928 to discuss preliminary consolidation plans with Studebaker and end talks they had been conducting with the Jordan Motor Car Company. That Pierce-Arrow and Studebaker were negotiating some sort of financial agreement was admitted by Albert R. Erskine, the president of Studebaker on June 14, and confirmed the same day by Myron Forbes, Pierce-Arrow president, who disclosed that plans for Pierce to merge with Jordan had been definitely abandoned. It was stressed to reporters that the plan was for a “stockholder partnership” not a merger. By June 28, 1928 the final plans had been agreed to, but Studebaker insisted that it would take a vote of 90% of voting Pierce-Arrow stock to obligate them to actually go ahead. A special meeting of Pierce-Arrow shareholders was scheduled for July 25 to vote on the proposal.

The control of the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Co. would pass to Studebaker by exchange of Pierce-Arrow shares for shares of a new company called PAS Motor Corp., capitalized by Studebaker at $2-million. The old company would then be consolidated with PAS Motor into a new Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Co., which would issue new stock. This plan was approved by the Studebaker Corporation board on June 26, 1928 and by the Pierce-Arrow board on June 28.

Gaining the support needed from Pierce-Arrow’s stockholders took quite a bit longer than expected--until August 7, 1928. Even then it was approved by a vote of “substantially more than two-thirds of the issued and outstanding stock” instead of the hoped for 90%. However, Studebaker went ahead as planned. PAS Motor Corp. authorized the consolidation on August 8, and the transfer books for trading old Pierce-Arrow shares were scheduled to close August 21, 1928, after which those shares would no longer be of value. The certificate of consolidation was filed on August 22, 1928, and stock in the consolidated company was issued.

Meanwhile, a high-speed, high-pressure program to bring forth an eight cylinder Pierce-Arrow was underway in Buffalo, New York, South Bend, Indiana and Detroit. The very first completed straight eight Pierce was completed on December 19, 1928, shortly before the first Auto Shows of 1929 opened.

One piece of solid evidence from this period of development does exist in the Pierce-Arrow Society archives. It is the casing date on a cylinder bloc for a 1929 Pierce-Arrow straight eight motor of I-7-9. The date corresponds to July 7, 1928. It would mean that blocks were being cast at Studebaker before the Pierce-Arrow stockholders had even voted to trade their shares for PAS Motor Corp. stock. The date on this bloc remains mysterious. It suggests that the basic configuration of this radically new engine was already decided by early July 1928, less than a month after the consolidation with Studebaker was agreed upon.

The speed with which Pierce-Arrow developed its new cars has always bemused historians. Studebaker’s first in-line eight took over a year to develop for introduction in 1928. Pierce-Arrow seems to have accomplished the feat in less than half the time. There is no documentary evidence that Pierce had an eight-cylinder design under consideration before joining Studebaker, nor are there recorded recollections of such developments from Pierce-Arrow employees of 1927-28. It is known that Pierce-Arrow’s engineering staff was greatly augmented by such Studebaker personnel as Karl Wise, Maurice Thorne and LeRoy Maurer during 1928. Otto Klausmeyer, a production engineer at Studebaker during this period, recalled that Studebaker production men worked with engineers at Continental Motors on the problems machining the new Pierce crankshaft. At the time, he explains “Pierce was overloaded in Buffalo.” Klausmeyer gave the credit for the eight-cylinder Pierce-Arrow “line of cars” to Karl Wise. Others suggest the design originated with John Talcott, Pierce-Arrow’s chief engineer, who died during or shortly after this development activity.

Whoever designed the Pierce-Arrow straight eight line of cars did it very well. Over the next several years the cars mounted on them remained quite competitive in their steadily shrinking market, but the mysteries of exactly who was responsible and when the conception was finalized remain.