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1912 Pierce-Arrow Runabout

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1912 Pierce-Arrow Runabout
Smithsonian Institution, Negative #: P-65806


This object appears in the following sections:

Smithsonian Automobile Collection — Car collection, 1910-1919

Pierce Motorette

Catalog #: 326,221
In collection
From the Smithsonian Collection

This three-passenger, six-cylinder runabout was built by the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Co. of Buffalo, N.Y. The museum's car, from 1912, originally sold for $4,000.

Physical Description
This automobile's frame is suspended on semi-elliptic springs in front and three-quarter elliptic springs in the rear. Except for its pressed-aluminum fenders and brass hood, the body is of cast aluminum. The rear deck conceals a folding rumble seat. The top half of the windshield can be folded down or slanted outward, and beneath the windshield are two ventilating louvers with screw-operated shutters. Low on the left side of the body is a brass plate which bears the number 32813 for both motor and car.

This runabout has a six-cylinder engine with a four-inch bore and a five-and-one-eigth-inch stroke. T-head cylinders are cast in pairs, with heads integral. The intake valves are on the right and the exhaust valves on the left. The cylinders are mounted on a two-piece crankcase made of cast-aluminum alloy and divided on the center line of the motor bearings. Lines from an oil tank, located above the left side of the engine, run to the timing gears and the seven main bearings that support the hollow crankshaft of chrome-nickel steel. A sight-tube on the dash indicates the level of oil in the tank. A centrifugal water pump on the left side of the engine circulates the water from the honeycomb radiator. This pump operates by means of a gear driven by the exhaust timing gears. Between the water pump and the drive gear is an air compressor for pumping up the tires. The carburetor, of Pierce-Arrow design, is located on the right side of the engine. The engine is equipped with two separate ignition systems. The selective sliding transmission had four forward gears and reverse. Two braking systems acted on the rear-wheel drums. The controls are on the right side of the car. The clutch pedal is on the left, the accelerator in the middle, and the brake pedal on the right. Near the center of the floor is a pedal for operating a muffler cut-out. To the driver's right are two levers-a gear-change and a lever for the external brakes. Two levers on the steering column provided carburetor and spark control.

Date Made:
New York
Gift of Arthur V. Lyons

The George N. Pierce Co. of Buffalo, N.Y., was formed in 1872 and began building automobiles in 1901. (The company started as the Heintz, Pierce, and Munschauer firms in the 1860s, making household products, including birdcages.) Its first cars were called Motorettes. In September 1901, a Motorette completed the 465-mile New York to Buffalo endurance run with an actual running time that averaged a little over 12 miles an hour. Pierce continued to make a modified version of the Motorette until 1906.

The company really became famous, however, for luxurious, high-powered vehicles, including a make called the Arrow. Pierce changed its name to Pierce-Arrow after that make took off, and the name came to symbolize luxury and elegance, in part because the company hired many of the nation's top illustrators to create artistic advertisements for its products. After some difficult years, the company went out of business in 1938. In May 1938, the Chicago Daily Tribune noted the company's passing when it reported, "Pierce-Arrow, a motor car which for more than thirty years was ranked in the top flight of American automobiles, dropped from the roll call last month when a court order directed the company to liquidate."

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