Building Find Surprise: 1933 Pierce-Arrow 836

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The series of cars from domestic continuing manufacturers like Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge are the stock-in-trade for Barn Finds. The three companies made some fantastic heavy-duty machinery in years past and readers seem to enjoy reviewing the endless iterations. And of course, the Detroit Three are still at it in 2020 with a surprising line-up that in the ’70s and early ’80s seemed destined for the historical ash heap. But another interesting slice of the automotive pie to consider are great marques that have fallen by the way-side, brands like Stanley, Cord, Franklin and Pierce-Arrow. We covered Pierce-Arrow back in February with this 1934 Model 836A and now we have come across a 1933 example to review. Why Pierce-Arrow again? Because they were the large and in charge automobile in the ’30s, a truly significant example of American automobile can-do. And as with so many other notable manufacturers, they got stymied by the Great Depression and were over-and-out by 1938. But let’s relive the past for a brief spell here by reviewing this 1933 Pierce-Arrow 836 sedan, located in Davenport, Iowa and available, here on eBay for a current bid of $13,877, twenty-one bids tendered so far.

There is no reason to recount Pierce-Arrow’s history again, so let’s dive right into this example. The seller refers to this sedan as both a G80 and an 836. I cannot find a reference to a model G80 though Pierce-Arrow did offer a model 80; we would need to see the trim tag to know for certain. Of course, any readers with Pierce-Arrow knowledge are encouraged to comment on this matter. This P-A was found residing in a building near Chicago where it had been snoozing for an interminable amount of time. It was acquired from a family that had owned it since 1964 and used it as both a family and a parade vehicle. The seller states that he has done nothing to it and it is as he found it. The black and orange paint treatment, accompanied by orange wheels, looks pretty spiffy but I doubt the orange trim is original. The body is in nice shape, all 136 wheelbase inches of it, other than a dented passenger-side front fender. The finish looks to have a bit of a shine to it still so it would probably be quite presentable once cleaned. There is some pretty serious delamination occurring to some of the side glass but the exterior appears to be completely intact and missing nothing.

Underneath looks fairly solid though there is some rust through on the driver’s side in what looks like a battery box. The transmission is coated in what appears to be mostly dried-on lubricant but that’s not surprising. The engine’s oil pan looks dry, however. With older cars like this, there are frequently no underside images accompanying the listing so this is a nice inclusion.

Under the hood is a 366 CI, straight-eight, flathead engine that develops 135 HP. In this case, it may be an engine that “developed” 135 HP as it doesn’t appear to be in running condition, though that item is unknown for certain. The seller does claim, “Motor is free and would be and easy project back on the road in time for fall season”. At least the engine isn’t seized. A three-speed manual transmission conveys the motor’s power.

The interior is commodious, to say the least, as one would expect on a 136″ wheelbase car. The upholstery and other fabrics are aged but in surprisingly good condition for being 87 years of age. The instrument panel on this 66K mile example looks complete, there are no missing gauges but there is no way to know if they function as intended. To be able to make an objective opinion regarding the interior, a good cleaning would be in order, that would at least tell you what you have to work with – not sure of the best way to accomplish that, however.

This Pierce-Arrow is a great tribute to America’s motoring past and it is a fantastic find considering its completeness and originality. The question here, is what to do with it and where would one store it? Seems doubtful that it would fit in a modern residential garage. The best course of action may be a mini-restoration, if that’s possible, to return it to grandeur. What do you think, what’s the best direction to take this 1933 Pierce-Arrow 836?

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  1. MitchellMember

    Clean it up, get it mechanically sorted, take it to car shows and Cars and Coffee events and steal the show

    Like 34
    • Dave

      Found near Chicago…this car has Al Capone written all over it! Pinstripe suits, Chicago “typewriters”, it has the vibe. Great car to chauffeur folks on Valentine’s Day.

      Like 19
      • Stevieg

        Exactly what I was thinking! Look for repaired bullet holes or signs of blood on the seats.

        Like 1
  2. That Guy

    That’s way too nice as is. It would be a real shame to have the originality lost in a full restoration, though it would certainly look stunning. This is a wonderful car.

    Like 26
  3. Johnmloghry Johnmloghry

    I know very little about these cars, but the generator looks to be direct drive unit perhaps driven via shaft at rear of generator which in turn I see perhaps driven either by gears or chain from crankshaft.
    Huge car with enough rear seat leg room to house a St. Bernard.
    God bless America

    Like 16
  4. CadmanlsMember

    Generator looks belt driven and what looks like a water pump is driven off the generator. Has a hose on it to the block. Amazing automobile, I am sure someone will do it right. Built like a truck, everything is over engineered.

    Like 10

      You got it right,Cadmanls. The generator is belt driven and it,in turn, operates a water pump attached to the engine block about halfway down the left side. Just above the water pump you can see a small hose. Also notice the “vibration coupling” midway of the water pump driveshaft. INCREDIBLE technology for the day !

      Like 1
  5. Jim Mc

    When this iteration was introduced in fall/winter ’32-’33, Roosevelt had just been elected but not yet assumed office. The Depression was at its nadir. And yet Pierce-Arrow was still building and selling cars like this. That’s how strongly their customers – the really well-off, the ones who still had money left in that dire time – felt about P-A. They were magnificent automobiles and this is a significant find. Forty to fifty years ago when people still regarded the CCCA as the authority on American vintage motoring this car would have had everyone drooling and commanded a huge premium. Now as that generation has died off and tastes and times have changed, it’s hard to say what the final price might be though I’m sure it will be less than its actual worth. It’s crazy to me that it’s on Ebay! It’s a huge amount of car for the money (so far) and with almost 250 watchers you can bet that whomever gets the final bid in will be contemplating a post-COVID Barrett-Jackson or Monterrey flip for this beauty. It’s really THAT good.

    Like 7
  6. Mike

    Looking at this color chart –

    Seems black either has black wheels or red. No orange mentioned.

    Like 5
  7. Fred W

    Repaint the orange part a more complimentary color and increase value 50 %. Probably will be easy to get running and roadable compared to more modern cars.

    Like 10
  8. Dana Lambie

    They are only original once. Why would you mess with this one?

    Like 10
  9. Michael Krieger

    This is a 1933 Pierce Arrow 836 Sedan. The G80 designation is incorrect. In 1933 Pierce Arrow made an 836 (8 cylinders) and a 1236 (12 cylinders). Also, on the 1236 chassis Pierce produced the legendary Silver Arrow, of which few were made. They were way ahead of their time. Unfortunately for Pierce Arrow, the strong corporate culture for quality, meant that they couldn’t cheapen the product to save themselves, and this was the beginning of the end for this venerable Buffalo Automobile manufacturer.

    Like 17
  10. Filbert

    If I were to buy it, no way would I flip it.

    Like 9
  11. Pete Phillips

    Pierce = America’s Rolls-Royce

    Like 7
  12. KEVIN

    “Motor is free and would be and easy project back on the road in time for fall season” the question is – what year?

    Like 2
    • Bob Roller

      Other than the Duesenberg,all these big old and heavy cars had mechanical brakes.The biggest Lincolns were said to have the best mechanical brakes but I know the 1935 Super Eight Packard I had while I was in High School had substandard brakes even when adjusted properly.

      Like 3
      • lukearnott

        Lincoln/Ford went over to hydraulic brakes in 1939.

        Like 0
      • Richard Love

        Chrysler had hydraulic brakes in the late 20s.

        Like 4
      • Bob Roller

        I knew the 1932 Plymouth PB had hydraulic brakes which was a great selling point.The only Chrysler I ever drove from that time frame was not a big car and had a 6 cylinder engine but that is all I remember about it.

        Like 0
      • Al

        My ‘34 REO Flying Cloud has hydraulIc brakes.

        Like 0
      • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskeyMember

        Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what well known automotive manufacturer was the last to use mechanical rod brakes?

        I’ll give you a hint, It’s British.

        Like 0
    • Mark

      I hear that, but I picked up a ‘37 Packard 120 that sat for 20 plus years. Cleaned the points, put some gas down it’s throat and she fired right off. They just don’t make them like that anymore. They’ll run on 20 year old gas.

      Like 2
      • lukearnott

        Great – i have a Caddy V16 that han’t run for 4 years.Will try it next week!

        Like 0
  13. Gator

    Clean it. Tune it. Polish it. Make it purr and make people take notice of wherever you go!

    Like 2
  14. Hank Kaczmarek

    My Maternal Grandfather was a Patternmaker @ Pierce for many years. At Pierce, Quality was Job 1 long before Ford put the phrase in commercials.

    In 1913 Pierce advertised a model in the Buffalo newspapers for 12,000.00
    In today’s dollars $314,061.82 You needed some LONG dollars to own one of these.

    Like 8
  15. Lance Nord

    I love Pierce Arrow sedans; such a classy looking piece of art. The only thing that would make this one better is if it was a 1934 model. This would be an awesome car to take out on weekends. With a full restoration, it could definitely be a showstopping rental (with chauffeur) for weddings and special occasions.

    Like 5
    • Johnmloghry Johnmloghry

      There are a lot of legal considerations if you want to use a classic car as a rental. Best to check with your state on registration restrictions and with your insurance company.
      God bless America

      Like 3
      • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskeyMember


        You are quite correct. Until about 1990 I owned & operated the mid-Atlantic’s largest & best vintage Rolls-Royce limo service, However I finally closed due to the ever increasing insurance costs, and that was without any claims! By 1990 My insurance company was making more $ off my company than I was making.

        As many have said in the past; If you want to make a small fortune in the vintage limo business, you better start with a large fortune!

        Like 4
  16. Chris Diekman

    The car is very complete, it even still has the kneeling archer hood ornament! Did you notice the small heat exchanger mounted above the water pump? This is an oil temperature regulator that was added to support the new hydraulic valve lifters that were introduced by Pierce-Arrow in 1933. By the way, the water pump is driven by a shaft on the back of the generator, which is belt driven. The water pump was purposely located toward the middle of the block to help with distribution of coolant coming out of the bottom of the radiator. For the really sharp eyed readers, also notice the radius around the perimeter of top of the cylinder head casting and protruding bosses for the head bolts. This is a Studebaker President cylinder head. Somewhere along the line, the squared off head of the Pierce was replaced to keep this car in service. (During these years, Pierce-Arrow was owned by Studebaker). This would be a rare car indeed at car shows, but you can see quite a few of these cars at the Pierce-Arrow Society Meets and in the club publications. Happy Motoring!

    Like 4
  17. Bob Roller

    Unlike Packard,Pierce would not compromise quality for sales and it caused them to shut down while Packard went on until 1956 making East Grand Blvd Packards and not gussied up Studebakers.All of these MAJOR classics like Pierce,top of the line Packards,KB Lincolns and last but never least was my all time favorite;the Model J Duesenberg with fewer than 500 cars produced.
    No one could predict the financial disaster that overtook the industrial world and all of these great cars came along when they were least needed.
    Other than their value today,there is no place on todays roads for any of these cars.I worked on the Duesenbergs in the 1950’s and they were a pain
    in the neck even then.ANY problems at all on a trip became a major event and this goes for the rest of these cars as well.Magnificent relics of a day long ago and hopefully never to be repeated,

    Like 3
  18. lukearnott

    I had 2 1936 Pierce 8’s.Build quality was awesome.There is currently a 1931 Convertible Sedan for sale on UK EBay,which looks tidy,with RHD,@£67,500.

    Like 0
  19. James HGF

    Jim Mc mentioned the CCCA and Michael Krieger stated, “This is a 1933 836 Sedan” – I’ll add that it’s the least expensive ’33 sedan and that it’s not designated a Full Classic by the CCCA. However Full Classic status is granted to the ’29 – ’33 Studebaker President (except the short wheelbase Model 82) and the ’34 Studebaker President as below:

    Pierce-Arrow – 1915-1924; All; 1921 Series 32; 1922 and up Series 33; 1925 All

    Studebaker – 1928 8-cylinder President; 1929-1933 President except Model 82; 1934 President

    Pierce Arrow sales were going down hill in 1923 and the introduction of a smaller car, the Model 80, didn’t stem the decline. The stockholders balked at the company running an annual deficit while production was diminishing and in 1928 voted to place the company under the control of the successful Studebaker Corporation. In ’29 Pierce introduced a new 6+ liter straight eight model and this proved to be their best year. Due to their relationship with Studebaker there was a resemblance of some Pierce Arrows to the Studebaker President line. The Studebaker Pierce alliance was for a period of five years.

    This is apparent as one looks at the 836 offered above and an illustration of the Studebaker President of 1933 which has a 135” wheelbase vs the Pierce’s 136”.
    Looking at the page from Studebaker’s ’33 brochure and observe the doors, window shape, belt line as it flows up the A post smoothly into the roof:

    Owners of Pierce Arrows and other makes/models not listed as a Full Classic may petition the Club for such a designation based on custom coach work and perhaps other exemplary exceptions to the standard.

    Reviewing current asking prices/auction estimates the very best of the Pierce Arrow line command high prices not.

    Like 3
    • Mountainwoodie

      Well thats very interesting………..presaging the Studebaker- Packard Fraanken car twenty years hence.

      Even though this model is a lower line offering, the orange seems very declasse……and inappropriate for a Pierce Arrow.

      Some years back I saw a Silver Arrow at the San Diego Automotive Museum, an amazing machine!

      Like 2
      • lukearnott

        There is/was one in the Blackhawk Museum.They made 5 – 4 survive.Apparently the other one sat outside the owner’s house under a sheet,he got fed up with people asking about it,and scrapped it.As you would.

        Like 0
      • Dave Mazz

        Perhaps the first owner had a reason to specify orange stripping, that didn’t happen to extend to 2020 car-color preferences. Maybe his folks were from Northern Ireland, or maybe he went to Syracuse University. Or maybe….his wife just liked orange :-) :-)

        Like 0
  20. Michael Krieger

    I have to disagree with the gentleman above. I have an unrestored Pierce Arrow I driven in fair weather for over 25 years. Other than the failure, once, of the modern auxiliary fuel pump, the car always performs and continues to give me pleasure all these years when I drive it. These cars were MADE TO LAST and with proper care, will indeed do so.

    Like 6
    • lukearnott

      Hear hear!

      Like 1
    • Bob Roller

      What year is your Pierce?Is it a 6-8 or 12 cylinder engine?
      After Pierce stopped car making the V12 engine was enlarged and used by Seagrave in fire trucks.Our “brilliant”fire chief had 2 of these engines as spares and scrapped them both.We have a friend in the mid West that frequently drives his Duesenberg and when asked at a traffic light one day as to WHY he drove an old car like that his reply was “My pension went to Hell and it’s all I can afford”.Wonderful response I think.

      Like 7
      • Michael Krieger

        Great response! I have a 8 cylinder a 12. Both terrific to drive. Yes, Seagrave bought the rights to the design and made minor modifications including an additional spark plug per cylinder and an additional distributor.

        Like 3
  21. lukearnott

    Both mine were 1936 8’s – a limmo & a 7 passenger sedan.
    I would love a V12 Seagrave,but apparently they only do 3 to the gallon?
    Love the Duesy anecdote!

    Like 0
  22. Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskeyMember

    In 1933, if you were in the market for a new large prestige car like a Pierce-Arrow, Packard, or Cadillac, and you told the salesman you wanted an orange stripe, he would likely have said “Yes Sir, Orange stripe it is!”. A salesman at a Pierce-Arrow dealership in 1933 might only sell 1 P-A car every couple of months. So they would be happy to build it to your requirements!

    Like 6
    • Bob Roller

      Bill McCoskey has it right.It was Marshall Fields that said
      “The customer is ALWAYS right” and if you are trying to sell a luxury car when people were existing on one meal a day* IF they were fortunate there would be no argument about a small modification.I think the epitome of arrogance recorded back in that time was a wealthy man that said he was “celebrating the depression”by having a new Duesenberg custom built and it cost over $18,000.I will bet he never drove it past a soup kitchen,
      The * indicates my maternal grandparents who raised 9 children.

      Like 2
  23. Dave

    The Great 3 P’s…Packard, Peerless and Pierce-Arrow ! They were works-of art in comparison to the plastic Chinese junk that Detroit is producing today. I must say that I never cease to be amazed that sellers on Barn Finds and elsewhere try to palm off cars that don’t run…the seller doesn’t even KNOW if it will run…and the cost to put the car back on the road would 20 or 30 times the purchase cost. That’s equivalent to buying a home with no electricity and no other words..uninhabitable. How stupid or naive do these sellers think that buyers with deep pockets are?? These sellers do seem to subscribe to the saying “A sucker is born everyday”. As for the comment about fitting in a garage…well..if you can afford the car and the cost of restoration, then surely you can build a garage for it !!

    Like 8
  24. Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskeyMember

    Now on the subject of cleaning an item prior to offering it for sale.

    When I decided to sell a piece of property, I always cleaned and prepared the house, making sure it looked it’s best.

    I vended at major antique shows for decades. When I wanted top dollar for an item on display in my booths, I did my best to make sure that item looked great. I waxed the furniture, I steamed the jewelry.

    When I had a vehicle to sell, I also did a thorough cleaning and waxing of the painted surfaces. I’ve yet to meet ANYONE who wanted to see what the car looked like before cleaning. But if he did, I would then show him the photos of the car prior to cleaning. But I would never use those photos in public advertising.

    I say again; in over 50 years of selling vintage vehicles, both as a business and as a private owner, I have never met a single person who was disappointed to discover the car had only been cleaned.

    Like 6
    • Bob Roller

      This way is the only way to find out what the item or car really is.
      These over restored to better than new underwhelm me when it comes to cars.

      Like 1
    • Dave

      Bill McCoskey: EXACTLY RIGHT!!!

      Like 3
  25. Steve RM

    This car has the “look”. It looks like the top has been chopped. Great profile.

    Like 0
  26. lukearnott

    Hydraulic brakes?Think Franklin were before Chrysler?Maybe wrong.But they WERE air cooled – how good is that?

    Like 0
  27. Bob McK

    So wish I could buy this and bring it home. It is such a magnificent car. I would clean it up, get it running and enjoy it the way it is.

    Like 2
  28. Dewey Gill

    My grandparents owned two 1933 Pierce Arrows when they lived in Highland Park. They sold both of them in 1936 when they moved out of state. Makes me wonder…..

    Like 0
  29. Chris

    What an absolute Beauty ……… dont change a thing …….wait till Covid is done then trailer it straight to Barrett-Jackson and let an aficionado of the marque buy it and restore to its original magnificence – and hopefully show the car and not lock it away …….

    Like 1
  30. Bob Roller

    In 1936 it could be dangerous to be seen in a swanky car like a Pierce or anything else that looked like big time success.As I said earlier about the man that “celebrated”the depression by ordering a new Duesenberg for $18,000 when millions couldn’t buy a gallon of milk.That was the ultimate in snobbery.

    Like 0
    • Don

      $18,000.00 for a car meant hundreds of craftsmen made a living that month to make a work of art and not be humiliated standing a soup line.

      Like 0
  31. Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskeyMember

    I did some research online concerning orange paint on older cars, and I was surprised at the number of cars with orange paint, not just as an accent color, wheel color, or pinstripes, but as the main body color. Of note is the fact that most of the cars featuring orange as either a body color or accent stripe, are more expensive marques, where it was common to order your new car the way you wanted it, not a typical car off the showroom or lot.

    Many of these cars with an orange body color have black or dark brown fenders. An excellent example is a car that is well known to the antique car collector. It’s a 1930 Packard 745 boattail speedster, orange with black fenders. in the 1960s a company in New York, Palmer Plastics, created a kit of this car, featuring that orange & black car on the box top.

    If you’ve ever bought vintage car parts & accessories from Kanter Auto Parts in New Jersey, you’ll likely recognize the names of Fred & Dan Kanter, the founders of the company. The Packard 745 speedster I’m referring to is their car. Just Google “Orange Packard 745 speedster” to see it.

    And a short comment from a long time Packard collector . . .
    The first time I met Fred & Dan Kanter was in the late 1960s, when they attended a Packard meet as vendors. They arrived with not one, but two, 1940s Henney-Packard hearses, loaded to the roof with NOS Packard parts.

    Like 0
  32. Michael Krieger

    The typical buyer, circa 1933, buying a Pierce Arrow sedan was very conservative. As such, I highly suspect that the garish orange belt and wheels was a later attempt to make a more conservative car, more flashy. Doesn’t work in my opinion, but after all, it’s just paint! The advantage to this particular car is that it is a fairly original unmolested example. Frankly, if it runs well, it wouldn’t make sense to restore it unless you were doing it yourself for the fun of it. You could strip off the orange, repaint the rims, fix the dent, polish it, and presto, you would have a car that appeals to the growing crowd of those who appreciate antique autos with patina!

    Like 2
  33. Bob Roller

    One of the best looking megabuck classics I ever saw was a Duesenberg,
    one of the 3 Rivera Phaetons by Brunn that was orange and black.One of the
    last Duesenbergs I worked on was one of these 3 and carried engine J528/

    Like 0
  34. 27StutzMember

    To James HGF: you are making your remarks in good faith but you are wrong about the CCCA status of this car – it is a Full Classic as designated by the CCCA. Surprisingly the info on the CCCA’s own website is incorrect (I’ve just sent an email recommending they correct it ASAP). ALL Pierce Arrows from the 1930s are CCCA Full Classics. They were among the finest and most expensive cars of that era, even their cheapest models.

    The CCCA originally and for many years only recognized high end cars built in 1925 or later. Today they recognize high end cars built in 1915 and later, but there was a period in between where they only recognized certain models pre-1925, that were basically the same as those built 1925 and later. I’m pretty sure that’s the origin of the mistake currently on the website – it hasn’t been updated since the change to 1915 and later. I believe every Pierce arrow made from 1915 until they went under is recognized by the CCCA as a Full Classic. Watch the CCCA website for a correction!

    Like 0
  35. Christopher A. Junker

    I’m not sure about this, but early in there history didn’t Pierce-Arrow make fire engines? For many years, the fender headlight housings set Pierce apart from the other premium makes. Pierce stayed with artillery wooden wheels for much longer than other makes.

    To the three “P’s” perhaps you should add Marmon and Ruxton. My dad was an original member of the Genesee Valley Antique Car Club with a 1930 Packard roadster, now long gone to another collector. In Rochester NY, the club had a charity fund raiser where the Rolls Royce owners would drive you around for a contribution to the charity. My sister chose a mint rose colored Rolls Royce Silver Cloud that exactly matched her outfit down to the shoes. As stated above, insurance expense ended that project.

    Like 0
  36. Don Andersen

    It might be worth adding that 1933 Pierce Arrows had power brakes. I think they all do and I know that mine does. They didn’t use the normal brake pedal. They used what looks like a second gas pedal claiming that the brake pedal pressure was the same as the gas pedal pressure. The power unit is on the drive shaft behind the trans. and is completely mechanical, no vacuum. I am restoring my ’33 so have not driven it and can not attest to the brake pedal pressure but can say that the brakes worked when we pushed the car into my shop when I brought it home (on a truck) in January 2020.

    Like 0
  37. Martin R. T. Mersch

    I worked as a floor broker at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in the 1980’s. There was a true gentleman trader that lived on the north shore and in the break room he would tell stories of ‘back in the day’. He said that he was making loads of money in 1932, but didn’t want to be ostentatious due to the misery in the streets. He purchased a new LaSalle sedan instead of a Packard. He said that they had several immigrant servant girls that lived in the house to take care of all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. He paid these gals $20 / month plus room and board. He lamented that it was so hard to get good help at any price in 1980…

    Like 0

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