#0041 - Pierce-Arrow Model 41 5-Passenger Convertible Victoria by LeBaron, 1931
Photographed: The Elegance at Hershey, 2012
Owner: David E. Kane
Pictorial Context: We're starting with the visuals and, to begin with, note how this Convertible Victoria compares to our Model 133 C Custom Sedan in terms of the period quality of their respective design cues. On the whole, the Victoria is clearly the later car, whereas the Custom Sedan still keeps a few wheels in the antique era. Over and again we've mentioned how Pierce-Arrow geared themselves toward tradition, a staunch ethos that placed them behind the curve as new movements defined the auto industry in North America and in Europe. As to that trend of avoiding trends, this Convertible Victoria is the most lean, modern design the company could conjure up for the new era.
This swing towards mediocrity (to be blunt) was spurred on by Studebaker, and at least in the short term it was a successful move, although it made these partnered companies somewhat redundant. In the end, of course, Pierce-Arrow lost out. It wouldn't be until 1933 that the company exploded with creativity, presenting the Silver Arrow show car. But that platinum piece of automotive catharsis ultimately had a null effect on the fortunes of the company, despite its lasting impact on automotive design.
As to this chassis in particular, it really is a harbinger of things to come during the last act of Pierce-Arrow's motoring performance. This car is often identified as the show car from the 1931 New York Auto Salon, in which case the LeBaron body would have moved Pierce-Arrow into a position competitive with Packard and Stutz. It is also the only Convertible Victoria body style known to exist.
Morphology: I feel the key to this design really is nestled somewhere between Packard and Stutz. The design cues are headed in Packard's conservative direction, whereas the chassis is rather stretched out and ungainly, very much like the big DV-32. In particular, the running gear appears to have been rendered without much regard for the fact that things are changing in the classic era, with lower ride-heights, stronger wheels, and better tyres. But body panels remain tall, and so the lengthened effect comes about by dropping a rather dated boxiness on top of slimmed down underpinnings. No surprise, at 147 inches, this chassis is the longest in Pierce-Arrow's line for 1931.
It's also important to address the trim quality on the Convertible Victoria. Given its LeBaron moniker, the car uses a Raymond Dietrich type design, piped on thick like layer cake icing and detailed with pinstripes for enhanced definition against typically contrasting colors. Looking back to the sedan, this trim becomes a frame of relief for the cabin, whereas on the Victoria the trim is mirrored along the beltline. A thin line of exposed body panel runs above the trim along the beltline; this defines the linear passenger compartment and helps the bulkhead trim under the windscreen to pop moreso than if the trim were consumed by a dark clutter of windows and doors.
Then there's the updated livery. Almost complementary to the somber teal and black of the Custom Sedan—which is handsome, if a bit aged—we have a combination of sienna and maroon reminiscent of a bearded iris. It's unusual, yet, ever-so welcome, reminding us just how bloody conventional today's cars are in comparison. Sometimes people gawk at the span of metal cloaked by intriguing shades of reddish brown, as in this case, and then pull a funny face. But, this is taking things out of context, and misunderstanding what auto-makers needed to do in the 1930s in order to impress people. In other words, it wasn't easy.
Holding the Market: What price style, that Cadillac could equal the presence of such a creation in hardly any trim, and place a V-8 or V-12 under the bonnet, (notwithstanding the somewhat superfluous V-16, whose raison d'etre was beyond the ambitions of Pierce-Arrow). Ultimately these early models were popular, but not more than its counterparts. Cadillac were no slouch for quality, though they were not quite Pierce-Arrow. But, then, was a Pierce-Arrow worth the cost? From year to year more Americans decided the answer was No.
End Note: This entry replaces an earlier entry for a 1933 Pierce-Arrow Model 133 Sport Phaeton, which was removed due to concerns over image quality.
RM Auctions: Responsible for selling our very car at Monterey.
Supercars.net: Images of this and other Model 41 Pierce-Arrow cars can be found here.
HD Vintage Productions: Restoration info and photos of this remarkable Vicoria, including video.
The Pierce-Arrow Society: With The Record Breaking Years of robust engineering accomplishments.
Automobile Quarterly's World of Cars, Automobile Quarterly, Inc., New York, New York, 1971, Pierce-Arrow: The American Aristocrat, page 213; adapted from the edition of the same name by Maurice D. Hendry
Radnor Hunt Concours d'Elegance: In 2007, the concours featured Pierce-Arrow, with a particularly lovely selection of veteran cars, representing the company's strongest days.
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