Pierce-Arrow Society Feature Article
A Remarkable Find: The 1932 Pierce-Arrow Salesman’s Kit
Converting 10 Canisters of Rare Training Filmstrips to DVD
It has, indeed, been a long road to making these extremely rare and priceless filmstrips available on DVD to the Pierce-Arrow Society (PAS) Membership and the old car hobby. I joined the journey about two years ago, but let’s have a look back . . .Come on along; it’s a fascinating trip!
It Was 1932
“Men, it’s 1932 and 8-cylinder Pierce sales have fallen from the peak in 1929. We have a big challenge ahead, but the Pierce-Arrow line is all new for 1932, including the new V-12 engines. We have created this masterstroke of a product line for you, so you all need to get out there and sell, sell, sell! We’ve done it before, and we can do it again!”
You can just hear the echoes of speeches like this in a walnut-paneled corporate meeting room in Buffalo, NY. They had to motivate them and get the Pierce-Arrow Team fired up about the new cars. The Depression was on, sales were sagging; people were not spending money, even if they had it……but the new cars for 1932 were so very good, with such a steady history of continuous product improvement and refinement.
To help educate the sales team on the new V-12’s, the new models, and all the new features for 1932, the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company created a “Salesman’s Kit” of 10 filmstrips of educational information about the new cars: a filmstrip projector, a power cord, and a heavy-duty carrying case. The idea was to point out the many new features and improvements in the 1932 models, including the magnificent new 12-cylinder Pierce-Arrow engines.
Other manufacturers’ 12-cylinder cars were already on the market, and the Company reasoned that with the higher margins of a higher priced V-12, this would pave the road back to prosperity. If the sales force could be educated why the Pierce-Arrow V-12 was superior, and be motivated with higher commissions, prosperity would soon follow. Higher sales volumes would lead to lower material costs as material could be purchased in higher quantities at lower prices, further improving profits. The logic seemed to be there. Besides, the last major introduction of the new 8-cylinder Pierces in ‘29 had been a huge success.
The projector was manufactured by Visual Demonstration Systems, Inc., 259 Delaware Ave., Buffalo, NY. It comes as no surprise that Pierce Arrow used a local source. The model name of the projector was “Visual Demonstrator”. The company also produced black and white positive images on 35 mm half frame rolls of Kodak Safety Film. The filmstrips had no sound, but contained photographic frames of the new cars, new features, and new design elements, interspersed with frames with plain text information, graphs, and charts. This firm also produced promotional filmstrips for the Willys Overland Distributors.
Eleven Years Ago
We don’t know how many of these salesman’s filmstrip kits were created, but about eleven years ago, a man named Ken Delmar contacted Marc Hamburger, who was then President of the Pierce-Arrow Society (PAS). The man had been cleaning out his uncle’s attic. The uncle had recently passed away, and Delmar was helping to settle the estate. In the inky shadows of the poorly lit attic, he found a large dark and dusty carrying case, resembling an old suitcase, tucked away in the blackness. He wrestled the case down the ladder to further inspect it and see what might be inside. Upon opening the case, the gentleman found the completely unexpected collection of an ancient projector, electrical wires, and a leather case lined with green felt, containing 10 metal canisters. The cylinders were painted a drab olive green. The cylinders had paper labels on the lids with titles like “Pierce-Arrow, Greatest of All Twelves”. Removing the lid of a cylinder, he found an old filmstrip inside. There was one filmstrip in each of the 10 drab green cylinders. Ken figured out that the titles referred to Pierce-Arrow cars, and this was obviously a rare item he had discovered.
A quick internet search and the gentleman located the PAS Website, and then found Marc’s contact information and called him. At the time, Marc was the also the Treasurer of the Pierce-Arrow Foundation. Marc had not heard of these Pierce-Arrow filmstrips before. After a quick consultation with other officers, Marc decided to buy the 1932 Salesman’s Kit to preserve it and have it for an interesting display in the new Pierce-Arrow Museum. The Museum was just in its 2nd year of operation and looking for unique Pierce-Arrow related display items. It was November, 2000, and the price was $500. Like so many Pierce items, where would you ever buy another one? Marc wrote a check to Mr. Delmar before the Salesman’s Kit disappeared into the hands of a private collector or as part of a bidding war on eBay. In the Pierce-Arrow Museum, many attendees could enjoy seeing it. The Salesman’s Kit has been shown as an asset on the Museum’s balance sheet now for eleven years, waiting for a “debut” and a way to properly display it.
We owe this gentleman who found the Salesman’s Kit a great thank you, as without his efforts, we would never have had a chance to see these pictures, and the 1932 Salesman’s Kit may have easily ended up at the Goodwill Store, an antique store, a swap meet, or worse yet, the dump. Never to be seen again.
Two Years Ago
I look at eBay as much as the next guy. You can find interesting things listed from time to time. One day, I found an item listed unlike any other that I had ever seen before. It was a small drab green steel canister, and inside was probably the oldest filmstrip that I have ever seen. It was titled “1932 A New Pierce-Arrow Era.” The listing went on to say that the owner had found this filmstrip at an estate auction and that it featured pictures of the Pierce-Arrow cars of 1932. It didn’t have any examples of the pictures in the listing, but it did not take much imagination to figure out what would be on the filmstrip. I thought it would be a cool project for the Pierce-Arrow Society, so I bid on the item. If we could digitize the images and make copies, then any member that wanted them would have easy access to the images. The auction went back and forth for a few days, and if I was bidding against you, my apologies! I was lucky enough to be the high bidder.
I eagerly awaited the arrival of the small package. What pictures would be featured on the filmstrip? When it arrived, I was surprised and fascinated by the small cylinder. It was olive green, about the color of those early 8-cylinder Pierce engine blocks that you see from time to time. The first thing that I noticed was that these were half frame images, and were not normal size images that you would see on a 35 mm filmstrip today. The other thing that I noticed was that the images were “negatives”. In other words, dark areas were light, and light areas were dark, like on a traditional photographic negative. Was this was some kind of “master” filmstrip for making positive copies? The filmstrip was in surprisingly good condition. The material that it is made from is thicker than a modern negative. The filmstrip was not cracked or spliced. It had some surface scratches from handling, and was a bit yellow tinted, but after all, it was literally 77 years old.
Looking beyond these first observations, I noted that the images on the filmstrip were ones that I had never seen before in past editions of The Arrow, or other club projects, or even books or Pierce sales literature. This was “new” material, and wouldn’t it be great if it could be shared with others in the club?
Digitizing The Images
I have a small scanner for converting 35mm slides or 35mm negatives to digital images. These work ok, but it did not really lend itself to the half frame filmstrip format. It also was not very adjustable in terms of getting the light levels right. The other thing that I was worried about was the fragile nature of the filmstrip, so I did not want to be doing anything that would damage it. I thought that it would be better to find a professional that is accustomed to working with archival images.
I began looking for a photographic shop that could do custom work. There is a great place here in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that had done some work for me in the past. I brought the old filmstrip there and began to tell my story. The lady rolled her eyes when she heard my tale about an ancient filmstrip with pictures of old cars on it. Another “boys and their toys story, oh brother”. It reminded me of the time that I brought a sample of one of my old silk privacy shades from the ’31 Pierce-Arrow into a sewing shop in search of new silk to make new replacement shades. It was one of those awkward moments that really make an impression on you. First of all, I felt out of place, being the only man in the entire store. The lady at the counter was not impressed at all with the rumpled, mildew-ridden, faded cloth with rusty water stains, which had been made by skilled craftsmen, and had once been a finishing touch of a classic car interior. She sort of rolled her eyes, too. She tolerated me enough to gesture with her hand, motioning me and my junkyard fresh silk away like a wayward child. Her face had a look on it like I was cradling something really repugnant, like a pet skunk, in my arms and that I should take it away before something bad happened. She halfheartedly motioned to her right and pointed me toward a minimal selection of a few bolts of silk in garish colors and bumpy, knotty Dupioni texture that did NOT belong in a Pierce-Arrow. These were not the materials of the craftsman. “Next, please”, she said rather routinely, and my visit to the fabric shop was rather abruptly concluded.
As with many things in the old car hobby, you just have to keep pursuing your goal. In time, I found suitable silk in the right color and texture over the internet. I later found a small sewing alterations shop in town here that welcomed a unique project like fabricating our silk roller shades instead of the usual hemming of pants, skirts, and dresses. The alterations company worked from my drawings and gratefully used the old rumpled shade as a model. They did excellent work with the silk that I had found and enjoyed seeing the product of their efforts installed in my ‘31 Pierce-Arrow.
I had better luck at the photo shop. The technician at the photo shop laughed nervously at my story, but her experience was obvious as she carefully examined the old filmstrip, gently holding it, extending a few frames and looking at the images which were backlit by the lights in the ceiling.
The technician in the photo shop said they had a special scanning machine that they thought could set up to digitize the images on the filmstrip. The odd size of the images would be a problem, though. Great. I have negative images, an odd size frame, two images per frame; what next? I asked her for the highest resolution images that the scanner could deliver, and to please load the files onto a CD. She said it would take about a week, that she would do her best to setup the scanner to capture the images, and that she would call me when the images were done. It seemed redundant, but I implored that this filmstrip was so old and was literally irreplaceable, and to please be careful with it. She said that she understood, and that they would exercise great care when handling the old film.
I picked up the CD and the filmstrip in a week, as agreed. Eagerly, I took them home, anxious to see the images come to life on the flat screen of my PC. When I started opening the images on the CD, the first thing that I noticed was that they were on their side, rotated 90 degrees. They were also coupled together, 2 images back to back, like half frames each. I had not done much work with Adobe Photoshop software before, but I figured that now was the time. Rotating the images was a snap. A little reading and a little experimentation, and I found a technique to “Inverse” the image from a negative to a positive, so that the contrast and shading in the black and white pictures would look correct. Photoshop also has tools for improving the contrast and color balance to get rid of the yellow “tint”, and even fixing some of the defects in the old filmstrip images. However, there was no easy way but to use the Photoshop “cropping tool” and manually hand “crop” each double image to create individual frames and eliminate the background blackness around the perimeter of the image. So, I can honestly say that I have looked at every frame in every filmstrip, all 695 of them.….many times! Once each image had been cropped, rotated, inverted, and cleaned up with Photoshop, I had to figure out the next step. But, the final images were of high resolution and looked really great! For now, I just stored them as individual JPEG files of about 1.5 MB per image on my hard drive. I also did backup copies to an external hard drive….just in case.
I could just reproduce the CD with the individual JPEG images on them for people to manually open and look at. This would at least make the pictures available, but did not sound very exciting. I wanted to link the individual images together and make an automatic slide show on a DVD that you could pop into the drive on your PC or on your DVD player and view the images on your TV. I thought the entertainment value would be much better, and you all would enjoy the auto slide show with some period music in the background. Somehow, I needed to get the individual JPEG files onto a DVD.
You know how when you buy a new PC and it has all those mediocre software applications on it that come “free” with the PC? There is usually a reason why they are “free”. Well, I tried one called MEGA-Super-DVD-Blaster, or some equally well titled product. It was a passable piece of software and did allow me to load the JPEG files in the order that I wanted to (the same order as they appeared on the filmstrip). It even had a feature to load music in the background. The trouble was, the software would make a slideshow for you and load it on a DVD, but it would only allow each “slide” to be shown for either 2, 3, 4, or 5 seconds. These were the only choices for the duration of each frame. Some of the images on the filmstrip have cool Pierce-Arrow car pictures to admire, or graphs or charts with a lot of detail. Even at 5 seconds, in about the time it took to read this sentence, it went by pretty fast on the screen.
The PAS Board of Directors Meeting in Savannah, Georgia was approaching. I had asked Ralph McKittrick, then President of the Pierce-Arrow Society, about showing my idea and my prototype DVD to the Board for input. My digitized filmstrip images on DVD would make a nice item to sell for the Society as a fund raiser. Dave Stevens, PAS Treasurer, had set up a DVD player and TV that he was using to show images from The Gathering at Gilmore, the annual PAS event at the PAS Museum. At the end of the meeting, I put my “prototype” disc into the DVD player. I did a quick summary of my story of finding the filmstrip on eBay and how I had created the DVD, and how it could be a good club project. I played it for the Board, looking for suggestions and inputs.
Only a few of the guys had really seen any of the images on the screen before, and it brought out a lot of smiles and some real genuine interest. Members gathered around the screen. George Teebay, who was then the PAS Vice President, was telling me that it would be nice if the individual pictures could be on the screen longer, so people could read the information and better see the pictures. This confirmed my initial concerns that the time interval was too short. It was about then that Marc Hamburger came up and started telling me the story from Nine years ago how the Pierce-Arrow Foundation had purchased the whole 1932 Pierce-Arrow Salesman’s Kit as an addition to the Museum. The “Kit” contained 10 filmstrips and a projector. Marc said that they really had not found a way to reproduce the images. If I had a way to do this, then maybe I could do all 10 of them! The scope of the project just got bigger! What a great project that would be, if I could digitize all 10 filmstrips!
Marc shipped me the filmstrips. They were very similar to the one that I had found. In fact, there was one in the salesman’s kit also called “1932 A New Pierce-Arrow Era”, the same title as the filmstrip that I had found on eBay. They were in the same dark green metal canisters, with a paper label on the lid, showing the title of each filmstrip. However, the filmstrips in the Kit were all “positive” images, unlike the individual “negative” filmstrip that I had found on eBay.
I took the filmstrips back to the same photography shop. They remembered the last “project” and laughed that I had apparently found some more for them to scan. They said that this time, it would take 2 weeks, since there were 10 to scan. Once again, I felt compelled to ask them to please handle these gently, in that I was placing 10 absolutely irreplaceable filmstrips in their care, still housed in the green felt lined leather carrying case. They assured me again that they would be very careful with the precious filmstrips.
I picked up the CD with all the scanned files on it and took it home. Time passed quickly and the summer with all its distractions and activities took up much of my time. Stuff like old cars, car shows and mowing the lawn, house maintenance, daily car maintenance, the usual stuff. I didn’t get back to the filmstrip project for several weeks. One rainy day, I loaded the new CD with the scanned images from the 10 filmstrips into the computer. I started to organize the files and decided to start processing them like I had on the original filmstrip. The first images that I looked at seemed odd. In fact they were almost illegible. I tried another set of files on the CD, but from a different filmstrip. Same thing. The pictures were blurry and the text was kind of pixelated, like a digital TV that has a poor signal, sawtooth edges and undistinguishable characters. I randomly looked at several more images…..same thing. Darn! Golly! And other expletives! The filmstrips themselves had good clear images on them, I had spot checked them myself. Maybe a different technician had processed these or the scanning machine at the photography shop had not been set up properly, but these images were useless. Back to the photo shop with the kit of 10 Pierce-Arrow filmstrips.
The technician was very nice, and recognized me. I brought the second CD back and asked her about the quality of the scans. She looked at the images on the CD on their PC and agreed that something had gone wrong. She said that she was very sorry and would personally re-scan the filmstrips and get the resolution that I wanted…..no extra charge. I really didn’t mind, as long as they were careful and would stand behind their work, which they did.
The re-scan was quite successful. I now had high resolution JPEG files on a CD to work with. I began to look through the images. There was a wonderful array of pictures, graphs, competitor analysis, and promotional information. I had never seen any of this material before, except for the first filmstrip, which was like the one I bought originally.
The original images on the filmstrips were professionally made. In our modern age of being able to change fonts and do word processing, and electronically edit and combine pictures, it seems somehow quite alien that someone had to physically cut out words and titles with scissors, align them by hand, glue them onto a picture, then take a photo of the manually modified image. This is how many of the original images were made. If you look at the images carefully, even though professionally done in 1932, you can see the “handcrafted” nature of some of them. You can see rectangles of black material that were cut out and pasted in place, or “blackout” paint on some of the images to “hide” things.
If you look at some of the car pictures, you can tell that the “car” was carefully cut out with scissors from one photograph and then pasted onto another background, and then the photograph of the manually edited frame was taken. In particular, there is a picture of a Lincoln that if you look through the windows of the car, you can see the windows of the building that the Lincoln was parked in front of when the first picture had originally been taken. In the filmstrip frame, the Lincoln is shown against a dark background. You can also see how it was hard to trim around small details like the hood ornament, giving a rather odd and obtuse shape to the familiar Lincoln greyhound. There is also a picture of the new Franklin 12. The picture is shown as a “negative” with the shading inverted, when all the other images in that filmstrip were “positives”. This is how it was presented in the filmstrip, so I chose to leave it that way, rather than to try and correct the image in Photoshop.
The “special effects” of the filmstrips are certainly crude by today’s standards, but if you get into the spirit of 1932, consider the tools that were available at the time, the images are fascinating.
The “negative” filmstrip that I had, though it had the same title, was different from the filmstrip with the same title that was included in the kit. My filmstrip was longer and had additional frames in it dealing with sales volumes, the absolute requirement to demonstrate the cars to the customers, graphs of the sales of the competitors, an advertising plan, etc. My filmstrip had maybe 20 more images on it. Curiously, the “positive” filmstrip by the same name had a few images that mine didn’t have. It had more “features” and interior views. It was more of a sales pitch for the customer perspective. My original “negative” filmstrip seemed to be targeted as more of an educational film for the sales staff. I had not expected the two filmstrips of the same title to be different. So, I decided, for the viewer’s benefit (us!), that when I created the DVD, I would make a “hybrid” and include the incremental frames from my original filmstrip and insert them among the frames of the “kit” filmstrip. This way, when you view the DVD, you will get the whole effect and see all the available images.
I found a more user-friendly DVD software package with features and options that would greatly enhance the filmstrip project. I have laid out the images in the same order as they appeared on the filmstrips, including the title frames, so you can see where each filmstrip ends and the next one begins. However, instead of manually advancing the slide show, the DVDs will automatically go through all the images for you. I adjusted the time interval down on some of the slides, like the leader slide at the start of the filmstrip, and increased the viewing time of really interesting frames, pictures, charts, and graphs. I was really pleased that the new software would enable these adjustments. Hopefully we can avoid the “wait, I didn’t finish reading that one yet” problem.
Cue The Music!
I had some great ideas for the background music for the DVDs. As neat as an automatic slide show would be, I really wanted to avoid a slide show that just ran on your TV or PC in silence. I thought it would be cool to have 1930’s music in the background so you could think back to what it was really like when this was all really happening and imagine yourself in an art-deco showroom, learning about the “new” Pierce-Arrows.
With the upbeat tone of the first filmstrip and the grand plan that it lays out for 1932, I was going to open with “We’re in the Money” and “Happy Days are Here Again”. I had purchased wonderful digital .wav files on iTunes. I had Cole Porter tunes, I also had a few songs with a car theme; “he had to get out and get under…” In the back of my mind, I was concerned about music copyright laws, but I had a vague notion that there may be exceptions for very old music or for non-profit organizations like the Pierce-Arrow Society. I was busy with getting the digital picture images all edited, cropped, and prepared and I would get to the music later.
As I researched the copyright laws on the internet, I found that it is a very serious matter and that there are virtually NO EXCEPTIONS. Non profit, fund raiser, low volume----- none of it makes any difference. The law is clear, and the law is the law.
I even consulted with Marc Hamburger again, who wrote to one of the lawyers that graciously provides legal advice for the Pierce-Arrow Society with legal matters. They confirmed my concerns and suggested that I contact ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Artists, and Publishers) about licensing just one song or two songs to help reduce the expense, instead of the 26 songs that I had initially purchased .wav files for and really wanted to use.
I traded e-mails with ASCAP, and I learned that their type of music licensing is more performance oriented. If you were going to hold a concert and perform the songs in public, then you need ASCAP licensing. This was not our model. The helpful people at ASCAP further explained that what I needed was called Synchronization Licensing.
This gets really complicated, but what I learned is that to legally use music, you need a license and agreement from the composer AND a license and an agreement from the record label whose recording you want to use. You can simplify this somewhat by using so called “public domain” music that was written before 1922, on the reasoning that the composer of such music has very likely passed away by now. HOWEVER, you would still need a license agreement from the record label and be able to document the date that the music was written to comply with the law. I went as far as talking to a music license broker that I found on the internet who was willing to work on “small” projects. He still needed a $1000 retainer to get started, and then we would have to talk to the individual record labels to try to get an agreement in place for each of the songs that I wanted to use. There are minimum quantities and guarantees and contracts and royalties and legal whatnots. It was apparent that just to get the correct licenses to legally use “We’re in the Money” was going to cost $1000’s of dollars…..and clearly, this was not in our budget. We obviously could not break the law and would not consider doing so, but I really wished we could do something for background music for the DVDs.
However, this broker, who was mildly interested in the historical nature of our “Old Car” Filmstrip DVD project, had pity on us and gave me some good advice (for free). There is another category of music that is available called Public Domain/Royalty Free music. This music is unique original music, usually the titles are not recognizable, and they are usually not performed by familiar or famous artists, but it can be purchased with a conditional license agreement for a very reasonable price. This type of music is ideal for background music on DVDs and can legally be re-sold as part of our DVD slide show under the terms of the license agreement without paying further royalties or infringing on copyrights.
There are many outlets for Public Domain/Royalty Free music, but most of it is very modern, possibly going only as far back as the 1950’s style. Naturally, I really wanted 1930’s music to go with the theme and ambiance of our old original Pierce-Arrow filmstrips. Lots of web searching and sampling of music later, I finally found a website with a small selection of 1930’s Public Domain/Royalty Free, Swing/Big Band music, with an acceptable license agreement and a price that we could afford without making the DVDs have an unreasonably high sales price. After all, the goal was to share these wonderful old images with the PAS membership and other old car hobbyists at a reasonable price.
I wrote this part of the story so that you would understand why we purposely did NOT include 1930’s popular tunes by the old familiar popular artists and big bands. We could not violate the copyright laws that protect the rights of the music artists and record labels. We could not afford the fees and royalties to legally use the old familiar music without having to grossly inflate the price of the DVDs and take on too much financial risk if the “expensive soundtrack version” of the DVDs did not sell well. This would have defeated the whole purpose of the project. So, we settled for a reasonable and legal alternative. It was important to me to have the ’30’s background music on the DVDs. I wanted the viewer to at least have the choice. If you don’t care for the style of the Royalty Free music, you can always turn the volume down, but give it a chance and have fun with the DVDs. This was the best solution that we could properly utilize and still provide the desired ‘30’s musical sound for the project and keep the price reasonable for everyone that wants one.
Recording Sounds For The DVDs
To supplement our limited menu of background ’30’s songs, I decided to add some “sound effects”. I thought that sound effects in key places would add some ambiance to the slides and add to the fun of viewing them.
I was going to use my laptop and a digital sound recording program. This program would output “.wav” (WAVE) files that were easy to import into the DVD program as background sounds. The DVD software would allow me to overlay the sound effects on top of the background music or I could fade the music down and the sound effects could be the audio centerpiece for that slide. Using the new DVD software, it was also easy to synch up the sounds with the selected slides. As with most things, you get what you pay for, software included.
I started making recordings using the integrated microphone in my laptop. However, I was not satisfied with the resulting sound quality. I started adding the recordings to the project using the DVD software. But when I played the sounds back, they just did not sound right, having a lot of echo and squealing noises in the background. It was not consistent with the other high quality standards that I had set for the digital picture images. Off to Radio Shack for a conventional omni-directional microphone with a cord and a phono jack that I could plug into my PC. The new microphone performed much better, making better quality sound recordings for use on the DVD. I was now also ready for karaoke night!
I did not want the limited selection of 1930’s music to become repetitive, so I left some quiet passages on the DVDs, and intermixed some of the audio sound effects that I had recorded. My goal was to record all my own sound effects…authentic Pierce-Arrow sounds, of course. All the sounds that you hear on the DVDs were made in my garage or recorded using my 1931 Pierce-Arrow.
For the sounds of the car driving up the hill, I drove, while balancing my laptop on the front seat of the Pierce-Arrow, positioning the microphone to try to capture the gear-whine and engine sound while driving. It was an interesting drive!
Marc had the idea to add one more dimension to the slide show to incorporate a short narrative at the beginning of each DVD. He wanted to really “set” the mood for the era that these filmstrips were made in and emphasize the dynamics that the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company was going through at that time. The narrative, using a professional announcer’s voice, with the right script, would really add gravitas to the DVD. If we worked together on it, we could add this last major element.
Marc and I collaborated, refining and polishing the voice-over content and sending it back and forth for review and revision. Marc had identified a resource, stating that he served on the board of a TV station that could provide an announcer for the voice-over recordings and do the duplication and packaging of the DVDs for us at a very reasonable price.
I created some candidate designs for the cover of the DVD case in Photoshop using images from the filmstrips. Marc gave some really good feedback on the elements of the cover designs and we soon settled on the final version.
Marc worked with the announcer using the script that we had written. After rehearsal and several “takes”, the voice-over files were sent, and I incorporated them into the DVD layout.
The Goal of the Filmstrips
As you go through the slide show, you will see the semi-desperate nature of the sales strategy. Basically, the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company was trying to increase the car sales volume to allow them to buy material in larger quantities thereby obtaining a better price on the materials. This would allow them to offer lower prices to the customers and be more competitive, possibly undercutting the competitor’s V-12 offerings. They also hoped to capitalize on the higher prices and higher margins that a V-12 car could command in the market, citing competitor pricing and volumes of 1931 V-12 cars that competitors had sold.
Remember how well the new 8-cylinder Pierce-Arrows sold in ’29? They were hoping to generate the same spike in sales with the introduction of the new V-12’s. Sales cycles were “thought” to peak every 3 years, and it had been 3 years, so they were “due” for a sales increase with the release of the new V-12’s.
Also, note the bravado, confidence and generally superior tone of the text on some of the slides, “America’s Safest Car”, “strongest front motor mount known”, “giant hub strongest known”, “widest rear seat of any car”, “the most perfect mounting ever designed” and “Greatest of all Twelves” are a few examples of bold and confident statements that you will see in the filmstrips. They were obviously trying to set expectations high for the new models and distinguish Pierce-Arrow from competitors. All these superlatives were meant to impress the sales force to drive for higher sales figures.
There is a real emphasis to the salesmen that there is a higher profit on the V-12 cars, so there is more money to be made by selling them. “Think of $4000 and $5000 cars”. After all, the V-12 was brand new to Pierce-Arrow in 1932. The higher priced V-12 models would provide a higher commission to the salesmen and generate more profit for the company…Sort of an “everybody wins” strategy. What could possibly go wrong here?
The key was to clearly identify all the new safety, performance, and luxury features of the new 1932 models. The Salesman’s Filmstrip Kit was the prime training tool to accomplish this.
What’s On These DVDs?
There are detailed factory pictures of the new models for 1932, including the new features that have been added. The Startix, the new transmission, the re-styled dashboard, the new ride control feature, the rubber motor mounts, the new screens over the air vents, the new V-shaped fin and tube radiators, re-designed brakes, and many others.
They also include details on how the frame is made, how the engines are assembled and tested, how the wood body structure is made, how the body is insulated, how the interiors are upholstered, and how the paint finish is applied.
You have always heard the one about how you could buy a Pierce-Arrow in any color. You really don’t see that statement documented very often in the literature. There are the usual limited lists of factory colors and paint codes. There is a slide in one of the filmstrips that confirms it!
Did you know that Pierce-Arrow Salesmen made 6% commission on the sale of the cars? There is a lot of emphasis on “how” to sell the new Pierces. There are also some sales pointers on showing how the new Pierces are uniquely better than whatever vehicle the customer wants to trade in. One of the filmstrips is basically a guided tour, conducted by a Pierce-Arrow salesman, talking a potential customer through all the new features.
One of the filmstrips goes into great detail on the hill climbing power of the 8-cylinder, and then the even more powerful V-12 that can climb the same grade even faster! They selected a well known 9% grade in Pennsylvania for the test. This is the same “test” hill that was featured in an article in The Arrow, Series 11, Model 1. Then, if timing these luxury cars in flat out runs up the hill was not enough, they loaded 10 passengers (yes, I said 10 people) into the sedans and raced them up the grade again! Charts in the filmstrips compare the hill climbing times under the various loads for both engines. It is quite an interesting road test, and one that they also applied to the competitor’s cars. The “Green Book”, which was the salesman’s data book, said for example, that the Packard Custom DeLuxe 7 Passenger Sedan “Failed” the hill climb test in high gear with four passengers…..another reason to buy the Pierce-Arrow! There is yet another frame in a filmstrip that talks about 19 passengers in 1 car to show the durability and power of the new 1932 Pierce-Arrows.
Marketing data said that one out of 10 returning Pierce-Arrow customers was a woman, and further, women influenced 85% of new car purchases….so the salesmen also needed to understand and emphasize the Pierce-Arrow features that women prefer.
There are several comparisons in the filmstrips between the Packard, Cadillac, and Lincoln with, of course, the new Pierce-Arrow. Management was certainly aware of who the competition was and could already see from the competitor’s 1931 model year sales statistics that there was still some sales potential in the V-12 market, even in the middle of the Depression. One filmstrip compares the exteriors and interiors of the competitor’s cars to the Pierce-Arrow, demonstrating how to show the Pierce to best advantage.
There is also a study in macro-economics on how the purchase of a new Pierce-Arrow employs 50 people, and helps put neighbors back to work in the troubled times of 1932. The demand by the auto industry for steel, cotton, wool, rubber, and iron would stimulate other industries and help get the country working again. This was to help the salesmen overcome the objections of potential customers about not being seen driving around in a new luxury car when so many are without work.
This is a quote from one of the filmstrips: “More time of workmen and mechanics and more floor space per car is devoted to a Pierce-Arrow construction than any car in the world”. Now, think about that, does that sound efficient to you? I am not sure that this is anything to brag about or incorporate into sales training materials as a reason to buy a Pierce-Arrow! But if you think about it another way, the Company was trying to show how much effort and how many resources went into delivering the highest quality luxury car possible.
Here is another quote from a filmstrip on how quiet the cars are: “Pierce uses a simple L-Head valve arrangement that eliminates noisy overhead valve linkages”. Remember, this is a very conservative engineering company. This was obviously not an accurate forecast for the future of engine valve train development, but it was their thought for a simple, reliable, durable, and quiet valve train. Keep in mind, at this same time, Pierce-Arrow was developing their industry-leading hydraulic valve lifter design for introduction in the 1933 models for the ultimate in quiet valve trains.
Another filmstrip goes into great detail on how the V-12 is assembled and how the internal parts like the crankshaft, connecting rods, and pistons are made. It also talks about how the engine blocks are assembled, using two separate cylinder blocks bolted to the crankcase. The advantage is that one of the cylinder blocks could be replaced in a repair, rather than replacing the entire one piece engine block, cylinders and crankcase of a competitor’s engine. It is quite interesting and unique how the new V-12 Pierce-Arrow engine was designed and assembled.
Another filmstrip introduces some of the men from the various shops and what their contribution was toward the assembly of the cars. It is very poignant to see the actual people that performed the work so many years ago and the pride that they had in their workmanship.
At the end of the DVD, Volume 2, I inserted slides that I created, showing modern pictures that Marc Hamburger provided of the Salesman’s Kit, the case, the projector, and the filmstrips themselves. I also added pictures of a “Green Book” which is referred to in one filmstrip as another resource for Salesmen to study to learn the new features and options for 1932. The “Green Book” was a wonderful compendium, tabbed for the user’s convenience. It contained specifications, pricing, body styles, options, dimensions, competitor comparison data, colors, etc. You can see for yourself what we started with, the actual Salesman’s Kit, the single eBay filmstrip that I had independently started experimenting with in parallel, and the vision that Marc had for the project.
There are two DVDs: 1932 Pierce-Arrow Salesman’s Kit: A Collection of 10 Filmstrips to Train the Dealer Sales Force, Volumes 1 & 2. Each DVD has five filmstrips worth of pictures on them in an automatic slideshow format. There is 1930’s style background music and a few home made sound effects included. Each DVD plays for approximately one hour, for a total of two hours of entertainment. There are a total of 695 digitized slides included from the 10 original Pierce-Arrow produced filmstrips. The DVDs are available for sale on the Pierce-Arrow Society web site: www.pierce-arrow.org/products.
These DVDs are not just for 1932 Pierce-Arrow owners. Anyone who is interested in antique cars in general and how the Company tried to market and promote the cars during the Depression would be fascinated with these DVDs. Knowing the history, you can see how they struggled to try to put together another winning sales year for 1932. They had created a plan for a landslide. The refined 8’s and the magnificent new V-12 models were certainly up to the task, but the economy and people’s attitudes toward buying luxury cars were not, as the country was mired in the Great Depression. Sadly, despite the grand plan, production of the filmstrips, and all the effort, Pierce-Arrow sales fell yet again for 1932, selling only approximately 2310 cars (estimated production from PAS figures). This was well below the sales target, and unfortunately, was the sign of things to come.
I hope that you’ll enjoy viewing the 1932 Pierce-Arrow Salesman’s Kit Filmstrip DVDs. Obtaining the old original kit was truly a remarkable find, and we are extremely fortunate that these images were not lost forever. It was quite a learning experience and it was an enjoyable project to capture the images, store them on modern media and make them available so antique car enthusiasts can view them. It certainly was “A New Pierce-Arrow Era”.