Classic Money Pit: 1933 Pierce Arrow Sedan

It never ceases to amaze me what pops up in the automotive classifieds.  Just when you think all of the rare, exotic, and classic automobiles have been discovered, a car like this 1933 Pierce Arrow Sedan shows up for sale on craigslist.  This magnificent beast of a vehicle appears to have been freshly snatched out of a barn in Spring Lake, Michigan.  This amazing classic looks restorable in the pictures, but what would it be worth after you sunk a ton of money in a restoration?  With an asking price of $20,000, is there any way to come out money ahead on this elegant sedan?

For whatever reason, the seller decided to put this car on craigslist to offer it to the world.  Adding to the confusion is the text in the ad.  It reads: “Barn find, solid frame and body, cash no trades.”  There are only three pictures in the ad.  One of these pictures shows a serial number plate with a partially obscured letter or number.  I punched what I thought it was into the Pierce Arrow Identification Wizard on the Pierce Arrow Society website.  It gave me information for a car built in 1928.  Obviously, I didn’t pick the right combination.  If any of you have better luck, tell us what you find in the comments.

The Pierce Arrow Society also has a well written summary of the vehicles and corporate struggles of the Pierce Arrow brand during this time.  In a nutshell, Pierce Arrow was a very luxurious automobile brand.  Their vehicles were every bit the equal of Packard and perhaps a small step below Duesenberg automobiles of the time.  Powered by massive eight or twelve cylinder engines, these cars were quite fast for the day.  Ab Jenkins took a modified Pierce Arrow and set a 24 hour speed record at an average speed of 117 MPH in 1933.  He bested that in 1934 with an average speed of 127 MPH.  The twelve cylinder Pierce engine managed to live on until the early 1970s in Seagrave fire trucks.  Unfortunately, the Pierce Arrow Motor Corporation declared bankruptcy in 1938.

So, what does one do with a Pierce Arrow barn find?  The above two pictures are from a very interesting thread on the AACA forum.  The thread discusses the silver car, and some fairly recent attempts to sell it.  This meticulously restored Pierce Arrow, which is very similar to the car being sold on craigslist, brought $121,00 at an RM Sotheby’s auction in 2014.  In February of this year, the owner attempted to sell it on eBay Motors.  The car didn’t meet reserve at a high bid of $56,900.  While I am unsure if we are making an apples to apples comparison between the craigslist car and the silver beauty above in regards to them being the same model and equipped with the same engine, you can bet that restoration costs would be very similar.  According to the AACA thread, a lot more than the auction sale price was sunk into the restoration effort.

So where does that leave any prospective buyer of the craigslist car?  The most likely answer is far underwater if a top flight restoration was attempted.  We are talking Titanic depth underwater.  Even if a home restoration was completed, a car this complicated would eat you alive in plating and engine rebuild costs.  If you managed to finish it, you would have one of the most spectacular driving vehicles of the early 1930s at your disposal.  Restoring this car would be a labor of love and a one way ticket to poverty.  However, the idea of this vehicle being converted into a street rod is too terrible to contemplate.  It deserves better, but market forces really put a dark cloud over this car’s future.

What do you think is a fair price for this car, and what would you do with it if it landed in your driveway?

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Comments

  1. Fred H

    WOW cool car ….but for 20k it should go back into the barn )

    There should be a cemetery for cars like this .So they can be viewed.

    Like 12
    • Dovi65

      This is absolutely heartbreaking to see a once elegant Grande Dame in such condition.
      She deserves to be restored, but unfortunately that won’t happen unless some corporation steps up.

  2. Evan

    Cars made before the war are waning, as people born before the war are dying. 25 years ago, this might have found a buyer. Today? Doubtful, even at 1/10 the price.

    Like 11
    • Steve R

      Interest may be waning, but saying this car isn’t even worth $2,000 discredits your argument.

      Steve R

      Like 18
      • Evan

        Anything is worth exactly what a buyer is willing to pay for it. As it still sits unsold on Craigslist, it has no value at all.

        Like 4
      • Steve R

        Evan, it means it hasn’t found its value.

        I would agree with you, that it has no value if the owner was trying to give it away for free and couldn’t find any takers, that’s not the case here.

        Steve R

        Like 12
    • ICEMAN from Winnipeg

      More and more emasculated young men these days love their cell phones. So many young guys at the bank where I work do not even have a Drivers Licence. Try to talk to them about attending a Car Show on the weekend, and get that blank stare. What? Give my video game time?

      Like 21
      • Burger

        Hehehehe ! Don’t get me started on the adult-age males/sissy-boys being passed off as men these days. 🦄

        As an employer, it is a constant frustration, albeit sadly laughable situation, to have these thumbsuckers, still living-in-mommy’s-basement types come around looking for someone to give them a check and coddle their “needs”. That just isn’t how it worked back on the farm, in the rock quarry, …. where I grew up.

        I guess I am just a dinosaur ! 😜

        Like 29
  3. H5mind

    According to the Pierce Arrow Society, this is likely a body code, not a VIN. The VIN is on a brass plate in the engine compartment and on a thin aluminum plate on the passenger body sill, visible from underneath the car. It’s also on various wooden body supports under the upholstery. Did anyone else see this and think of Dirk Pitt, the fictional protagonist from the Clive Cussler novels? This would slot nicely into his collection. He could also afford to restore it.

    Like 11
    • Sam

      Actually, Cussler himself has quite the collection of cars from this era. Whenever he includes a rare car in his fictional stories, they are based on a car he owns. Watched a helluva documentary on him and his car collection. He’s like the Jay Leno of the writer world.

      Like 12
  4. CapNemo CapNemo

    What an incredibly handsome car this must’ve been when new!

    Like 8
  5. On and On On and On Member

    This car to me is a specialty automobile. Once an expensive and limited production car, now in dire need it’s valuable for some parts but that’s it. It’s missing a lot and the wood frame parts will be firewood by now as it looks to have ben left out too long already. The best way to get the most out of it is to contact the the clubs/society and advertise for auction or parting out. What a shame, but at least those who are actively into this Marque will be given a chance to acquire rare needed parts. Money is not everything, I have experience selling a couple cars from this era and was happy to break even and see some happy folks trailer away dreams.

    Like 14
  6. canadainmarkseh Member

    My first thought with this old beauty is if it is going out live on it will have to be sold to someone who can do there own work. It will also have to be sold at a more reasonable price. With the engine and trans I’d be inclined to get it running and put it on a running stand and drive the car around on a more modern engine. As for the wood frame I’d fabricate a metal replacement or if the wood isn’t to bad I’d coat it in fibreglass. No matter how you look at it this is a 10 year project for a committed DIY guy. For me It would not need it to be a concourse car just a nice driver, up in Canada we can only bring out our toys in the summer anyway.

    Like 3
  7. MikeH

    I don’t know much about PAs, but it looks to me as if there is a third window behind the C pillar. That would probably make this a longer wheelbase model–even more luxurious. If it landed in my driveway–I’d find the money to restore it. To hell with being upside down.

    Like 9
  8. Coventrycat

    People buying cars like that aren’t the type that find themselves underwater.

    Like 8
  9. Pete Phillips

    Looks like some front body damage? And many missing parts which will be very dear to the wallet if found. I think one too many zeros in the price.

    Like 1
  10. Bob McK Member

    What a find! Wish I had the funds to save it.

    Like 1
  11. Andy

    Sometimes it is not about the money.

    Like 8
  12. Bill McCoskey

    Mike H,
    The 2 restored cars in the other photos are both “Club Sedans”, the same wheelbase as this car, but without the additional window.

    Hopefully the current owner has the missing parts to go with the car, as a complete grill shell & original hood ornament will be very difficult to source, and if very nice could easily exceed $3,000 to $5,000!

    Like 2
  13. Johnmloghry Johnmloghry Member

    What can you say? Here’s a classic and rare automobile that deserves to be brought back to its former glory, but will it ever be worth the investment monetarily. For the pride of ownership and the love of the car, maybe it might be to the right person. You could probably buy one already restored for less money, but you wouldn’t have the knowledge and experience of complete nut and bolt, hour after hour joy of doing it yourself, or at least overseeing the job by a professional.
    God bless America

    Like 1
  14. Burger

    Old cars should be a matter of passion and love for the car. I really hate when people mix business and money talk with something that should be seen as a labor of love to see the gem of their choice restored to whatever former glory the car once had. Some cars wear it better as patinaed barn finds, others do it best as a concours restoration. Personally, I think this car would present best as a ratty old road warrior survivor/grocery-gitter than just another trailer queen, over-restored Pierce. But that’s just me. I like seeing these cars as cars, as opposed to 4-wheel paperweights used to hold a pristine collection floor down. But I grew up being delighted to see a car like this going down the road or parked at the drug store, the original owner still using it as it was intended to be used. I get enough flawless chrome and paint at any car show. It becomes boring.

    Like 13
  15. Hank Kaczmarek

    My Maternal Grandfather was a patternmaker @ Pierce from about 1917 until the Depression hit.
    I would think someone who is in the P/A club could tell us a lot about this car and its prospects I jut don’t know anyone who is a member.
    It’s another “The Machine Shop” and “3D Printer” is your parts house.

    These cars were bringing top dollar in the early 00’s and 90’s. There’s a bubble for every car.

    Like 2
  16. Burger

    Personally, I am not a fan of the Pierce aesthetics. The headlights and overly present grille are just too much for my taste. To some point, Pierces could be ordered with conventional fenders and headlights, and I find those much more attractive, albeit much less unique in that Pierce way. Even so, I get so bored with the legions of Fords and Chevys that are always passed off as “the only cars to own” …. a Pierce or Hudson or Hupp are so refreshing to see. Who here even knows what a Studebaker Dictator looks like ? I participated in a small town Flag Day parade yesterday as part of my vets group. There was a car show and 99% of the cars present were Fords and Chevys. A 62 Imperial stood out like a sore thumb, as did a 64 Grand Prix and a 70 Catalina wagon. Not a Hupp, Hudson, Studebaker, or Pierce in sight. *sigh*

    Like 7
    • Iceman from Winnipeg

      I am in complete agreement with you. It is so boring to see nothing but Nova, Camaro, Mustang, Corvette et al at most car shows. I appreciate them but too much is too much. Seeing a late 50s Rambler, any Studebaker, any full sized boat from Buick, Chrysler, Mercury, Edsel, etc really catches my interest. Being up here in the Great White North, seeing Meteor Rideau, Montcalm, Beaumonts and Acadian also catches my interest.

      Like 2
  17. Paul Jacobs

    The body code 236-S2-522 translates as follows: The 236 designates an 8 cylinder 136″ wheelbase car. the S designates 5 passenger sedan. The 2 designates salon model though most if not all of the deluxe trim is missing. The 522 indicates that this is the 522nd sedan built. The highest reported body code for the 5 passenger sedan is 744. This was the most popular body Pierce made.

    Like 3
    • David R

      Personally i would make it a rat rod…its pretty much there already. …it would never be worth the money sunk into restoring it….js

  18. Marty Member

    A rare collector car with a twenty-thousand-dollar price tag offered for sale on three blurry photos and a nine word description. Classic. Some of the best things in life never change.

    Like 3
  19. Bryan

    This Pierce, one of the fabled three “P’s” (Packard, Peerless and Pierce Arrow), has an unusual hitch on the back. I wonder if it ever towed one of the rare 36 & 37 Pierce Travelodge aluminum trailers.

    Like 3
    • TimM

      Lots of work there!! Would the PA society help to find parts???

      Like 2
      • waynard

        Yes, they would. All anyone needs to do is put themselves out there and ask. Get involved. Stop pissing and moaning about “underwater” and “its time is past”. This is a very collectible car and should be saved one way or the other, but not with a SBC. All you folks thinking this is a lost cause are either too young to understand or very much behind the times. This is history, whether you like it or not.

        Like 7
  20. Mountainwoodie

    Well…….I agree it should be saved.

    I think the “pissing and moaning” is a function of the restoration cost to ultimate value calculation everyone engages in……..even with a CCA vehicle. That’s not to say that a Jay Leno would engage in that…….someone along those lines would have to buy it.

    Reminds me of being a kid at the Library and looking through the fabulous “Automobile” hardcover monthly.

    I once saw a Silver Arrow at the San Diego Auto Museum.it was breathtaking.

  21. Paul Oberman

    That car and 150k in restoration.

  22. don

    Looks more like it was pulled out of Spring lake in Michigan – hard to believe a car like this was left to decay..

  23. Joe M

    Based on the army green color, it would be fun to do some research on this to see if it was donated for the war effort in WWll

    Like 1
  24. Todd

    For all who are interested in talking to pierce arrow members. The national meet starts tomorrow 6/11 at the potawatami inn in Indiana. About an hour from the car. A great place to find parts or leads. Going to studebaker museum thurs, acd museum I think friday? Show on Saturday. I would ask for more pictures before going to see it 12 or so. Engine… Interior… if he wants to sell it you can’t be lazy, 3 pictures is lazy..

    Like 1
  25. Pat Gill

    getting there, down to 15k, maybe he does want to sell it?

  26. Allen Member

    If this car was straight and complete, I too would get it running and use it as intended. However, this car has met with a rather nasty fate already. I’ll stop short of saying it’s been abused but I’d say it’s about 179º opposite from a concours restoration. Weathered and worn, it would be fun to drive, but this is far worse. I would not enjoy displaying this once-proud marque on public streets.

    I would not attempt a full restoration on this car, even though I have restored a number of lesser cars. Like physicians, restorers must abide by the Hippocratic oath: “First, do no harm”. I do not have the resources to avoid harm.

    Now, what’s the need for a modern drivetrain? For crying’ out loud, the engine is the essence of this car. Ya wanna put an SBC in a ’51 Plymouth? Be my guest. A Ford 302 in an MGB? Fine. But in a Pierce Arrow? No-no-no-no-no! Without the legendary performance, sound and feel of the original drivetrain, this car simply doesn’t count. It ceases to be significant.

    The original engine/transmission, in proper condition, do not need to be replaced – they need to be enjoyed. Folks need to experience the capabilities of these 86 year-old cars. No they won’t perform to highest modern standards. Nor do they need to – but how remarkably they performed by 1933 standards must be experienced! What’s more, these mechanicals need to be protected from guys like me. Yes, I’ve built engines, but I’m not up to this one!

    Finally, this car needs a six-digit restoration – the likes of what RM or White Post do. Compared to that, does it make much difference whether you buy the car for $15,000, $1500, or $150? The purchase price is peanuts.Well… not to me, it isn’t peanuts. But there’s no way I can work some $20,000 magic on this car that in today’s market means the car will then be worth $35,000. The guys who buy cars like this will take one look and exclaim that everything I did to it needs to be undone or redone. And they’d be right.

    This car is, sadly, way beyond my pay grade. I can only hope it will land in the hands of a Jay Leno or somebody else who will love the car and its heritage, and who has a wallet fat enough to express that love.

    I really do hope we hear about of the future of this car.

  27. bigdoc

    C’mon powerball

  28. paul oberman

    someone needs to pray that the grill is sitting in the back seat. what’s also weird is that it has the corner windows like the tourning, but the hood like the club sedan

    Like 1

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