|Vehicle:||1928 Pierce-Arrow Model 81 Four-door sedan|
|Original List Price:||$3,450|
|Tune Up Cost:||$250|
|Chassis Number Location:||Firewall Plate|
|Engine Number Location:||Firewall Plate|
|Club Info:||Classic Car Club of America, Pierce-Arrow Society|
|Alternatives:||1928 Packard 5260533, 1928 Chrysler Imperial, 1929 Jordan Model G|
This 1928 Pierce-Arrow, Lot 440, sold for $28,050, including buyer’s premium, at Leake’s Tulsa, OK, auction on June 8–9, 2012.
From building birdcages and bicycles, the company George N. Pierce and his partners founded in the mid-19th century went on to become one of the dominant players in the early automotive industry. After Pierce bought out his partners and the company was reorganized as the George N. Pierce Company, he made his first venture into the automotive world in 1901.
His initial attempt ended in failure, but that was not a harbinger of things to come. Development continued with a one-cylinder Motorette, and by 1905, the 4-cylinder Great Arrow made its debut at the first of the famed Glidden Tours. Driven by George’s son Percy, the Great Arrow won the inaugural event as well as capturing the next four, putting the Pierce-Arrow name on the map.
Pierce-Arrows are known for their unique headlights mounted on top of each fender. But according to Pierce-Arrow lore, those famed headlights almost didn’t make it out of the design phase. The story goes that in 1907, an aspiring automotive artist by the name of Herbert Dawley was hired by Pierce-Arrow and assigned to the sales department, where he spent much of his time designing minor pieces of hardware. In time, however, he was given free rein and told to design something that would set the Pierce-Arrow apart from the others in the crowed luxury car field.
He came up with the fender headlights — they were not only unique, but also practical. The normal headlights of the era were mounted so low that every bump in the road was emphasized; the new lights would illuminate the road at a better angle as they were on top of the car’s fenders.
According to Automobile Quarterly, when he presented his idea to management, they responded by asking, “Who the hell would want a pair of frog’s eyes sticking up in front of them?” Eventually, he obviously prevailed, and they became a predominant Pierce-Arrow feature from 1913 until the end in 1938.
Interestingly enough, even though Pierce-Arrows were manufactured in Buffalo, NY, the company could not sell cars with the new headlights in New York, as the state, in its infinite wisdom, deemed them confusing to other motorists at night. Even though drum headlights were a no-cost option on all Pierce-Arrows until 1933, they are often referred to as “New York” headlights due to the ban.
Archers and eights
1928 was a watershed year for Pierce-Arrow. It was the first year the famed archer appeared as a hood ornament, and it was the year they developed an 8-cylinder engine, a move many people think saved the company from financial ruin. It was also the year they consolidated with the Studebaker Company.
It was also the first year for the Model 81, renamed from the Model 80, which had been introduced in 1924. Visually, it had smaller headlights that were used only for 1928, and it had a new Pierce-Arrow family crest on the radiator. That, however, was quickly changed when Mrs. Percy Pierce pointed out that what was used was not an actual Pierce crest.
An inexpensive Full Classic
The Classic Car Club of America was founded in 1952 and defines a Full Classic as a “fine” or “distinctive” automobile, American or foreign built, produced between 1925 and 1948. Generally they were high-priced when new and built in limited quantity. In other words, a Full Classic has a certain cachet that sets it apart in style as well as value in the marketplace. The CCCA is very active with several CARavans, Grand Classics and local regional events annually in which Full Classics are eligible to participate.
The Model 81 had a slightly shorter wheelbase and 25 fewer horsepower than the Model 36, although it is still accepted by the CCCA as a Full Classic.
Owing to their rarity, both now and when they were new, a large number of CCCA-defined Full Classics carry with them six-figure prices. But the 1928 Pierce-Arrow that Leake sold at their Tulsa auction represented an inexpensive entry point into the myriad of CCCA activities.
What can brown do for you?
But that brown paint scheme, a color only UPS appreciates on a vehicle, was a stumbling block for this car’s value, as it’s just not very appealing to modern sensibilities. In fact, although this car appears to be in fairly good condition throughout, the color combination does date the restoration, which was otherwise only described as “older.” But that doesn’t mean this wasn’t a deal.
RM sold a similar 1928 Model 81 sedan at its 2009 Amelia Island sale for $34,100, including buyer’s premium. That car had received a Junior National First at a 1999 AACA event and was presented in an appealing shade of Desert Sand with black fenders. In addition to that, Auctions America by RM sold a very similar all-brown unrestored 1928 Model 81 sedan at its Spring Carlisle event in April 2011 for $24,200. That car had mostly original paint and an all-original interior. Condition-wise, our feature car fell square in the middle of those two points of reference, as it had the less-appealing color combination but was overall in very good condition.
As such, I’ll call this one well bought to the tune of a couple grand — but only if you like brown, as the difference isn’t enough to cover the cost of a respray. But if the color didn’t turn you off, this car was a great buy at a reasonable price. All that’s left is to join the nearest CCCA CARavan and hit the open road.