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
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
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.