Somehow, Pierce-Arrow managed to lose $3 million in 1932, and the following year the company was sold to a new group of investors. Six years later, in the summer of 1938, the revered automaker went belly-up. But it seems hard to imagine that the company could have been struggling so mightily in the 1930s, even with the Depression gripping the country, when it was producing vehicles as nice as Joe Cyr’s 1932 Model 54 coupe.
Cyr was introduced to the refined and stately Pierce-Arrow at a very young age when his father carted the family around in a 1932 P-A convertible. “That car was basically the same thing as the one I have, except it was a convertible,” noted Cyr, a resident of Old Town, Maine. “He used it go on his honeymoon, and they only had four flat tires!
“We kept it for some time, and I don’t remember when it was let go, probably in the late-40s … I wanted a Pierce-Arrow, and I was looking for a convertible, but convertibles were probably out of my price range. When I saw this one, I went down and drove it and I really liked it.”
That purchase occurred back in the mid-1980s, and Cyr has had to do very little to his stunning two-seat closed car since then. He hasn’t had it out on the road much in the last few years, instead spending most of his free time behind the wheel of one of his Corvairs, Corvettes or his 1922 Paige, but Cyr admits he is getting the itch to drive the Pierce-Arrow again soon.
“The little that I have driven it on the road, it naturally gets quite a bit of reaction,” he said. “There is not too many of those things sitting around here — a little rural town of 8,000 [people].”
The big news for Pierce-Arrow in 1932 was the addition of two new 12-cylinder models to its menu — the Model 51 and 53. The carryover Model 54 lineup continued to use the 366-cubic inch straight eight that produced 125 hp. The cars also featured front and rear semi-elliptic leaf springs and four-wheel mechanical drum brakes. A three-speed synchromesh transmission was standard, as was “freewheeling” and adjustable “fingertip” hydraulic Delco shocks that could be controlled by a switch on the dash.
The 137-inch-wheelbase lineup included a convertible coupe roadster, five-passenger touring car, phaeton, Brougham, five-passenger sedan, club sedan, club Berlinetta, convertible sedan and Cyr’s car, a rumbleseat coupe. Three more Series 54 cars rode on a longer 142-inch wheelbase: a seven-passenger tourer, seven-passenger sedan and a limousine.
New body styling for the 1932 model year showed off a rounded roofline and V-shaped radiator shell. New sheet metal made the cars appear longer and sleeker than ever before.
Cyr’s coupe is really a small car stretched out on a big-car frame. It features a cozy two-person cockpit flanked by ample running boards that carry spare tires on both sides. The familiar “Archer” hood ornament adorns the front of the car, while a fold-down luggage rack is anchored to the rear, behind the rumbleseat. Out back is also a unique asymmetrical tail lamp arrangement that has all three round lights mounted horizontally to the driver’s side on a curved stem.
“It’s a big, heavy car,” Cyr said. “You know it when you go to stop. I don’t know what it weighs, to be honest … It rides pretty good, because it has a variable suspension — you can adjust the shocks. It’s got the straight eight and it has pretty good pickup, pretty good power.
“I don’t know if it’s ever been totally restored. I’m not smart enough to tell. The underneath looks to be pretty much original, and I think it might have been repainted probably once. It’s still got the good woodwork inside, and there’s very little corrosion on it. It wasn’t somebody’s main car, that’s for sure.”
Apparently, there weren’t enough buyers making the Model 54s their secondary cars, either. Financial hemorrhaging forced Studebaker, which had controlling stock interest in Pierce-Arrow, to sell out to a group in Buffalo, N.Y. The move brought temporary dividends to car lovers in 1933 when the company was able to unveil the legendary Silver Arrow — one of the great automotive designs of any era. The company was on borrowed time, however, and eventually folded in ’38, leaving behind a long history of fabulous automobiles, including Cyr’s beautiful ’32 coupe, a worthy “Car of the Week.”
Prewar automobiles, especially the Classics, still have a loyal following within the old car hobby. But based on the usual lineup of muscle cars, 1950s convertibles and European exotics at collector vehicle auctions you’d think most of these cars that were built before the 1940s have become out-of-sight, out-of-mind. The majority of the buying and selling of these early beauties has become a matter of private transaction or the few dealers of these vintage cars selling to their regular clientele. The other aspect effecting value of these early cars is their low survival rate — and, in most cases, this small number is based on a limited production number to begin withr. The value of most of these early cars is forged when the car’s seller and buyer come to some equitable agreement, which is a different sum in every deal.
1932 Model 54
8-cyl., 125 hp, 137″ wb
Condition 6 5 4 3 2 1
Conv Cpe Rds 2,650 14,400 28,800 48,000 76,000 96,000
5P Tr 2,750 14,100 28,200 57,000 74,000 94,000
Phae 3,050 14,400 28,800 48,000 76,000 96,000
Brgm 3,050 7,350 14,700 24,500 34,300 49,000
Cpe 2,485 8,250 16,500 27,500 38,500 55,000
5P Sed 2,485 7,200 14,400 24,000 33,600 48,000
Clb Sed 2,650 7,350 14,700 24,500 34,300 49,000
Clb Berl 2,850 7,500 15,000 25,000 35,000 50,000
Con Sed 2,950 14,400 28,800 48,000 76,000 96,000
Model 54 — 8-cyl., 125 hp, 142″ wb
7P Tr 2,850 15,000 30,000 50,000 80,000 100,000
7P Sed 2,750 7,500 15,000 25,000 35,000 50,000
Limo 2,950 8,250 16,500 27,500 38,500 55,000