Pierce-Arrow Model 36 Mini-Tonneau, 1911

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#0081 - Pierce-Arrow Model 36 Mini-Tonneau, 1911

Photographed: Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, 2009
Owner: Kristina, Aubrey, Garrett, and Bryant Gavello

One preliminary note, as I go over this car I can't help but feel that the style is better expressed by the term 'Victoria' in reference to the tonneau cover over the rear passengers alone. 'Mini-Tonneau' is the accepted Pierce-Arrow terminology, however, relative to other models and body styles in the range.

Top to Bottom: By 1911, Pierce-Arrow offered five different models of automobile, and in this year also added a line of utility trucks. Often overlooked, this brand of diversification isn't far off from the company's modest roots in bicycle manufacture. Among the cars, however, the Model 36 was the entry point. Often bodied in runabout form, the smaller chassis lent itself to a wider range of uses than its larger brethren. Consequently, a mini-tonneau represents the apogee of lesser contemporary Pierce-Arrow cars, "lesser" being used tongue-in-cheek, of course.

Each model designation corresponds roughly to the power output, with commensurate upgrades in size and stature as power increased along the model range. As we mentioned in our look at the Model 38 Mini-Tonneau from two years prior, the engineering quality of a Pierce-Arrow was among the most fanatical of any manufacturer in the world, let alone the United States. Quality came at a price, which translated to as much as eight times the cost of a Model T Ford if the example in question were configured as the nice touring car we see here. This means a final price tag in excess of $5,000.

Morphology: What I like about this tonneau style touring car relative to the 1909 version is the added character with a particular bend to European design. The tonneau cover takes a decided look back to the carriage industry, which seemed to hold on a bit longer in the French market, for instance, and leaves the driving compartment open in a Mylord or Town Car arrangement. The bonnet and bulkhead are also revised, with less length and more height built into the overall stature, strictly as a matter of proportion, while the running gear looks much more substantial and straight—purposeful in its well fashioned curves, with much less of a tacked-on feel as before.

We should remember that Pierce, as it started out, looked to De Dion in the early days both for mechanical power and stylistic guidance, as evidenced by the 1903 Rear-Entrance Tonneau. So, to suggest that the design of this particular tonneau is French inspired isn't too far off the mark. Way off in the future we'll provide some nice contrast by way of a contemporary Renault, but admittedly this isn't going to happen for some time.

Formidable Strength: In any case, Pierce-Arrow were a company dedicated to the very finest in automotive achievement. Note, this did not mean extravagance at all cost, but rather supreme refinement at all cost. The result was a noteworthy clientele that included the Taft administration, whose patronage must have appreciated the worldly nature of the Pierce-Arrow motorcar. Indeed, the right-hand drive configuration wouldn't be switched over to the left until 1920, which only builds on to the reputation of Pierce-Arrow cars as righteously formidable automobiles. At the time, only Locomobile were perhaps as noteworthy in the United States, with Packard waiting in the wings to usurp the throne with its Twin-Six later in the decade.

I've really enjoyed collecting these early Pierce-Arrow cars, and look forward to expanding the selection in the coming years.


Automobile Quarterly's World of Cars, Automobile Quarterly, Inc., New York, New York, 1971, Pierce-Arrow: The American Aristocrat, pages 208-211; adapted from the edition of the same name by Maurice D. Hendry


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