Pierce cars

I’ve done two features on Pierce trucks, first on the rule of sticking with your niche, and second on the trend toward compressed air starters.

Pierce cars were stylistically unique. In the ’20s when all cars were basically the same shape, Pierce had the only headlights blended into fenders. You could spot a Pierce instantly. Pierce cornered the IP market with design patents on all possible ways to mix lights and fenders. Willys tried a different approach in 1933, then the Airflow and Hupp in 1934. In 1936, with Pierce bankrupt, Lincoln was able to mix properly. Most others followed in ’39. GM trailed behind, finally mixing in ’41.

Less obviously, Pierce bodies were also ahead of the curve in FOUR different ways. I’ve asked all of these questions. (1) Why did bodies continue using wood framing under the steel panels? (2) Even after the studs and rafters were metal, why did it take so long to cover the roof with metal? (3) Why no aluminum? (4) Why no unibody until 1941?

From 1906 to 1918 Pierce solved all four. It used a cast aluminum unibody with a solid roof. After 1918, for unknown reasons, Pierce dropped back to the industry defaults on all four. Moon in St Louis followed Pierce for a couple years, then returned to default sooner.

Here’s a 1915 Pierce coupe, seen in an appropriate upperclass neighborhood.

The faired-in headlights stand out immediately.

This was an asymmetrical coupe, a briefly popular style. The driver sat a half step in front of the passengers, with a box behind the driver that could be used as a table or storage by the passengers.

Pierce was also ahead of the curve with a real dashboard. Meters and controls were all on one panel, not scattered around the compartment. Polistra’s foot is on the air starter pedal, ready to go.

The engine was basically the same as the truck engine with two more cylinders. Modular heads and jugs, popular at the time, made it somewhat easier to add and subtract cylinders without designing a whole new block and head. The valves are T-head configuration, and the spark plugs are in two separate systems for starting and running. This engine had about 450 cubic inches but only 60 horsepower, again typical of the period. LONG stroke made strong torque at very low RPM, which required less shifting.

Here’s the unibody itself, described in a 1915 Iron Age trade journal.

The same process worked for larger center-door sedans. The unified floor is clear in this picture.

And here’s proof that the roof was all metal. This picture illustrated the difficulty of casting and hammering the rectangular ‘cup’, which may explain why Pierce finally gave up and returned to default.

%d bloggers like this: