Hello to all. Have long been a Pierce-Arrow enthusiast and recently pondered what the company, had it survived, might have looked like post-war. Have expressed my thoughts in fictitious story form and with an image work-up. I hope you enjoy.
It was late 1947 and the world was at peace. My dad, a kind, intelligent and creative gentleman and very much a self-made man, had during the war developed an innovation that helped fighter planes fly faster, and soon started his own company that designed and produced components purchased by the U.S. Army. At war’s end his contracts continued unabated and he did very well financially, though he was forever careful with his money and set high standards for everything he purchased. By 1947 the Buick he had been driving for many years was beginning to show its age and he was ready to “step up to something special,” as he described it, and could afford anything he wanted. Of course, being 13 years old, I wanted to “help” even if it meant being relegated to the cheering section.
My first question to him was, “What are you gonna get, Dad? Are you gonna get a Cadillac?”
“I don’t know, son. There are a lot of interesting designs this year. Why don’t we go down to the Cadillac dealer in town and take a look at that new Sixty Special.”
“Yippee!” I said. He knew exactly which car I wanted him to get!
When we got to the dealer a nice man greeted us. The lot didn’t have many cars – I guess they were hard to come by then. But inside the showroom was a glistening new Sixty Special, burgundy in color with a grey interior. Dad talked to the dealer while I walked around it, amazed at how different it looked compared to the cars that I was used to. It was fabulous! As I peaked into the window, the dealer said: “Wanna get in?” “Sure!” I gushed. Dad sat in the front behind the steering wheel while the dealer sat next to him in the passenger seat. I jumped in the rear and couldn’t believe the legroom and how cushy the seats were. I don’t know what they were talking about up front but the next thing I knew, the dealer escorted us out back to another Sixty, this one a blue car. “Wanna go for a drive?” he asked me. “Sure!” I yelled. And so we went, dad driving with me happily beside him. The car had an automatic transmission, the first I had ever seen. No shifting, just step on the gas and go. Dad liked that. In fact, he was impressed with the whole car.
After returning to the dealership he chatted a bit with the dealer then said goodbye. The dealer’s last words were, “Don’t wait too long, both cars will be gone soon!”
That night at the dinner table my mother asked Dad how the car shopping went. “Fine,” he said. “Are we gonna get a Cadillac?” I blurted out excitedly. “We just might,” he said. “What’s the hold up?” Mom inquired. “There’s one more car I’d like to learn more about. It’s a long shot and the car is not even out yet, won’t be for another month.”
“A month!” I thought. “That’s an eternity! What did Dad want to look at?” I was very curious but also confident that we would get the Cadillac. I mean, what could be better than a Cadillac?
An eternity finally passed (it actually took two months) when Dad finally asked me if I wanted to go check out “the other car” with him. Now, I had been thinking about what this car might be for weeks. Was it a Lincoln? Couldn’t be, that car is the same this year as it was last, and dad said this was a completely new car. A Chrysler Imperial? Again, couldn’t be, and thankfully so since it wasn’t as good a car as the Cadillac either. How about a Packard? Man, that was one wild car this year, a bit odd looking though and for some reason it sort of resembled the same car as last year. What other car could it possibly be? The only other car I could think of was that one from Buffalo, but I had never seen one and am not sure they even made them anymore. Most of those old companies went out of business before the war. “Oh well,” I thought. “Today is the day I will find out.”
We drove to a part of town that I was not familiar with and pulled up to a dealership with a name I had heard before but knew very little about. “Are we going to get a Hudson, Dad? Aren’t they kind of like your Buick?” “Kind of, son. But they are brand new this year. And no, we are not getting a Hudson. I just want to talk to the dealer.”
About what? Now he really had me wondering. While I looked around on the lot, Dad went inside and spoke to the dealer. I was amazed at the new Hudsons. They kind of looked like the new Packards only racier. In fact, I could see the tops of the roofs standing next to them! This was first time THAT had ever happened. Maybe I was getting taller. Or maybe the Hudsons had gotten lower? I still thought the Cadillac the best car on the road, but I kind of liked the Hudson anyway.
After a little while Dad motioned for me to come inside. The dealer gave Dad a cup of coffee and me a Coke. “What are we waiting for, Dad?” I asked. “A truck is due in soon,” he casually responded. “What’s on it?” I wondered aloud. “A hunch, son. Just a hunch.”
What in the world did that mean? There were plenty of Hudsons outside but Dad didn’t seem too interested in them. Soon enough, I saw a big truck pull into the lot with a single car on it. It was covered in cloth so I couldn’t tell what it was, only that it was long, very long in fact. And wide and low, like the Hudson. But it wasn’t a Hudson, I could tell that much from its shape.
The truck pulled to an open area and the driver got out and talked to the dealer and Dad for a few moments. What were they talking about? And what was this mystery car that Dad had been so willing to wait two months to see?
After a short conversation, the driver and dealer climbed up onto the bed while my dad and I looked on. I’ll never forget what happened next. As they carefully pulled off the cover, there emerged a beautiful car unlike any I had ever seen! It was two-toned with long flowing lines, tail lights that seemed to creep up the rear fenders, and shockingly straight sides. Yet there was something familiar about it. I looked it over stem to stern, then looked at the Hudsons on the lot. Hmm, I thought. Why do they seem to have something in common? I know, they are both low! But there was more to it than just that. Oh well, it didn’t matter. For now I just wanted to gaze at it.
The driver got back in the truck and began tilting the bed so that its back end touched the ground. Then he got out and climbed back up onto the bed, unlocked the front door and opened it. He was about to get in, then stopped. “Maybe you should back it down,” he hollered to the dealer. “I am not dressed for it.”
Not dressed for it? It must have been pretty special that he didn’t feel comfortable sitting in it.
The dealer, who was wearing dress pants and a white shirt and tie, immediately climbed in and started it up. “Is it running,” I asked my dad? “I can barely hear it.”
“Yep,” Dad remarked, consumed with his own curiosity and fascination. “It sure is.”
The driver unlatched the chains from the bottom of the mystery car and soon enough, the dealer was backing it down. We immediately walked over and studied it carefully. Normally that was my job but this time my dad was just as eager. He also had a funny grin on his face. It was the first time I ever saw him act like… me!
Before long the dealer opened the doors and invited us to sit inside. Now I know why my dad asked me if I was wearing clean clothes before we left home. As I made my way into the car I found myself stepping not up, as I had in all the other cars I had ever been in, but down and into a thickly carpeted floor well in front of the rear seat. When I sat down I immediately knew this was a very special car, even more magical than the Cadillac! The seat was not only cushy, it was comfortable, like it was shaped just for me! The material on the seat was soft and delicate, with a silky sheen and embroidery on it. There was a small amount of polished wood on the doors that was finished just like our piano in the living room. I felt like I was sitting not too far off the ground. Yes, indeed, THIS was exciting! And totally unexpected.
Up front, Dad sat behind the wheel and chatted with the dealer, who peered in through the driver’s window. They were talking about the engine. “What does it have, one eighty five?” my dad asked. ‘”No, this year it’s at an even two hundred,” the dealer responded. Two hundred what, I wondered. Could they be talking about horsepower? That couldn’t be – the Cadillac had 150 and the Packard had 165. There was no way an engine can make more power than that! “How can an eight cylinder make two hundred horsepower, Dad?” I questioned. “It’s not an eight, son. It’s a twelve.”
“Twelve!’ I blurted out. “A V12”, the dealer said. “They’ve been making them for years.”
Who were they, I wondered. Boy, did I have a lot of questions. But before I could even begin asking them, Dad closed the door and off he and I went. I immediately noticed two things: Dad wasn’t shifting, and the engine was so smooth and quiet that I could barely feel or hear it. I quickly surmised that the mystery car, like the Cadillac, had an automatic. I also concluded that its engine, unlike the Cadillac, was in a league of its own.
When we got to an open road with no one around, Dad “opened it up.” In an instant I felt myself pushed to the seat back with my neck struggling to stay level. “Whoa!” I yelled. “Sorry, son, just wanted to see what it would do in a straight line. Now, let’s check out the turns.”
We veered left on a twisty section of road, then right, then quickly left again. I had never been in a car driven that fast in a turn! I asked Dad how it felt. “Almost like a race car,” he beamed. “The new Hudson unibody seems to work as advertised.” “Uni-what?” I thought. And what was this talk about Hudson?
“Is it a Hudson, Dad?” I inquired. “No, but the body was designed with Hudson’s help” he responded knowledgeably. “They worked together to make the car.” That must have been why I thought the car looked familiar. And yet it was quite different than the Hudson, and miles different than the Sixty Special. Suddenly I no longer felt the same attachment to the Sixty. My outlook was changing.
We returned to the dealer’s lot and Dad parked the car around the back of the building, almost as if he was hiding it, which I thought was odd. The he and I walked to the front and entered the showroom, where the dealer awaited. “Did it meet your expectations?” he politely asked. “Indeed it did,” my dad replied confidently. Then they both began to talk details while I wandered about the showroom. The only Hudson on the floor was a sedan. It sort of looked like what we had just driven but it wasn’t nearly as long or as fancy and the front and rear looked totally different. And yet, I could see a resemblance to the car we had just driven in the doors and glass. The interior was also quite nice, though not nearly as nice as the mystery car.
Soon Dad and the dealer were finished talking, only this time it was my dad who gave the familiar parting words: “I won’t wait too long, the car will be gone soon.” “You’re probably right,” confirmed the dealer. And with that my dad said something I hadn’t heard since he came up with his invention during the war: “I know what I want to do, and now is the time to act.” And with that, he wrote a check for a downpayment on the car. “I’ll be back on Monday with the balance. Can you have my car ready by then?” he asked directly. “The factory,” the dealer carefully explained, “requires that we do an extensive inspection upon delivery. Normally with our Hudsons this is fairly straightforward but the maker of this car provides us a checklist that is much longer and we received special training to do it. Being that today is Saturday, I will need a full day to complete the required inspections. How about the end of Monday, say 4 pm?”
“Fine,” my dad enthusiastically responded. “I am buying the car because of attention to details such as this. I saw the same attention when looking at the car earlier and felt the same attention when driving it.”
“I am glad you approve and we look forward to servicing your car in the future, though it will likely need very little attention for quite some time. Good day, sir,” the dealer said.
“Good afternoon,” my dad replied.
On our way home I asked my dad what we had just bought.
“A Pierce-Arrow,” he announced. “It’s the best car made today.”
I wholeheartedly agreed.
Nicely written Paul, thank you.
Well done Paul!
As the owner of two Pierce-Arrows and four Hudsons, I view your story and visual as a wonderful description of what might have been. Both companies focused on quality, tended to over-engineer, were conservative in making changes, yet periodically introduced innovations that were later adopted by the entire automotive industry. They would have made good partners…and perhaps the disastrous ‘Hash’ could have been avoided.
Very well done, thanks for sharing. Life is full of “what ifs”, and of course with Pierce it’s “what if they could have held on three more years”, then the PAMCC would have been into wartime production, and the company’s history may very well have followed something similar to Packard’s history.
This is an outstanding story, if it were only true!
Even though I anticipated how the story would end, it sent chills up my spine with the last statements from the Dad
“It’s a Pierce-Arrow. It’s the best car made today.””
Thank you all for your kind remarks, am so glad you enjoyed the story! It was both fun and, I must admit, somewhat cathartic. We lost Pierce-Arrow way too soon.
Must thank my wife for helping with editing (after a long day at work, no less) and offering many valuable suggestions. Is more proof that collaboration improves the breed, which also could have been the outcome of a P-A/H tie-up, each pushing the other to go beyond what was thought possible or necessary. Certainly Hudson would have woken Pierce up to the benefits of unit construction while Pierce might have helped Hudson in matters aesthetic.
Dave (Stevens) – has been a while since we chatted at Gilmore, hope all is well. Didn’t know you owned Hudsons! Yours is truly a unique perspective and what you stated is compelling. You may have noticed that I took a few design liberties such as lowering the beltline, which some Hudson designers had advocated unsuccessfully. Perhaps if Hudson’s brass had heard the plea from Pierce-Arrow they might have acquiesced.
David – your comment “what if they could have held on three more years” got me thinking, came up with this news article and image work-up.
A good friend helped wake me up to the price and body style opportunity and I chose Nash owing to George Walker’s gorgeous 1939 styling, and because George Mason seemed on a mission to shake up the industry and thus potentially open to such an arrangement. Added 7 inches to ’39 Ambassador wheelbase forward of firewall, making the front fenders and hood the extent of Pierce’s tooling commitment and opening it up to the full catalogue of Nash bodies. As with post-war Hudson, bodies would have been shipped to Buffalo. The 7-passenger cars could have either been carried over ’38 Pierces, or Nash-based with bodies lengthened in Buffalo. The ’39 Nash body was largely used through 1948 so Pierce’s initial investment would have paid off handsomely. Mason would not have been happy that Pierce jumped ship post-war but it would have been Hudson making the moves by then.
Would-have-been 1939 Pierce-Arrow Model 1900 (or 832).
Yes, Paul, very interesting take on the situation. We all know the old cliché that timing is everything, and in the situation of the PAMCC, timing was oh so slightly off. A mere three years of hanging on, get into the war years for WWII (a bad time for people, but a great time for a united country and for manufacturing),and we’d be collecting Pierce Arrows that aren’t on the Classic Car Club of America list. Yes, Studebaker owned for a while, and then there was more turmoil in the ranks, but there was a basic driving force to produce such a quality car and in the midst of the depression. No need to go further, some company’s figured out a way to survive, PAMCC didn’t, died.
David, your comments caused me to wonder how Pierce might have not only survived but kept its high standards up to the war and beyond. I pieced together a storyline with a level of plausibility that, well… others will have to be the judge, but it does connect to the Hudson story. The tale is quite different from the earlier “news article” in that there is no sharing with Nash, and this time is laid out as a chapter in a book. It’s probably fraught with historical errors about the company but was all just for fun anyway. Hope some folks find it of interest. Will post the images separately.
I like it! I can now cross off “Be a muse”” from my bucket list…thanks….”
Good one! And glad you like it. These stories are like a reversal of what happened to George Bailey… instead of a disastrous alternate past it’s the opposite. I need to ship the pages up to Clarence, maybe he can travel back and help.
Here’s a teaser of the chapter that would follow the war years. Connects nicely to the original tale about the kid. Image has been tweaked from the one I originally posted, tightening up the proportions and removing the lower cladding so it doesn’t look so much like a Hudson. The fireworks between the two companies that would have occurred as they fought over the Step-Down’s most controversial design elements would probably make for a good read. Perhaps some day…
Yes, if that had happened the step-down would have been a definite step-up! (Just kidding, Hudson folks, I know from my short stint as a member of the Hudson club that step-downs are prized, I have a 1910 Hudson project that I’ve had for sale so joined for a year).
It’s fun thinking about what-ifs, and, looking back, it sure seems that there should have been some way to keep that factory busy in 1938.
Paul, speaking of some sort of connection between Nash and Pierce-Arrow? I heard, years ago, there were at least five Nash automobiles-at the Pierce factory–having this work done.
At the Pierce factory? and WHY?
Agreed, better proportions might have given the Step-Down the 6-7 years of strong sales that Hudson had hoped for instead of the 3 that they got.
Bob – my guess is that Pierce in 1936 marveled at the success of Packard’s One Twenty and Cadillac’s 60, which used a widely shared body within GM. And so, with Nash’s tentative approval, proceeded to run out several copies of a “Nash-Arrow” to understand the build sequence and cost and maybe get the cars out in the field for feedback. I wouldn’t be surprised if they concluded that the car couldn’t command the price needed to make a profit. The Nash in those years wasn’t very good looking, maybe that’s why George Mason went outside to George Walker’s firm to restyle for ’39. It was a much better effort and would have made for a fairly nice batch of Pierces including a traditional long wheelbase car. Once the lengthened Pierce front fenders and unique hood, grill, lights etc had been tooled to fit all the standard Nash bodies, it would have been a straightforward matter to use the Nash coupe’s front doors together with new, longer rear doors and extensions to roof, floor and frame. See image work-up of 121 inch wheelbase Nash Six vs. 147 inch car.