1933, Big Depression. Pierce-Arrow needs a kick-ass car to draw in the only people with money left, the 1%. A new company president turns to a 26 year-old designer Phillip O. Wright.

“Kid, you gotta come up with something like nobody’s ever seen before, can you do it?”

Imagine the CEO is played by Edward G. Robinson and the young Wright is played by a James Stewart.

In actual history, Phillip did indeed come through with the Silver Arrow. At the 1933 New York Auto Show, Pierce-Arrow boasted, “It gives you in 1933 the car of 1940.” Boy, were they right!

There’s another version of this story that’s even more intriguing…

In 1932 the impossibly young and talented Philip Wright approached Pierce Arrow VP Roy Faulkner with a freelance proposal for a stream-lined fastback sedan of luxury proportions. Fresh from his magnificent Cord L-29 Speedster design, Wright wondered if Pierce-Arrow might be interested in the project. Faulkner said yes to 5 prototypes to be built as long as the design and assembly was done under Studebaker’s supervision in South Bend.

Think of the glory and revelry in that hood ornament! ~


To appreciate what a *disruptive* advance the Silver Arrow represented, let’s look at the top of the line Pierce-Arrow the year before: 1932.  This is what cars looked like.  Even a Talbot Lago.


1932 Pierce Arrow: a box with lights, fenders, spare tire all external to the body

Contrast the 1932 Pierce Arrow to Phillip Wright’s Silver Arrow…




1933 Silver Arrow: sleek and propulsive; Photos by Darin Schnabel, courtesy RM Sotheby’s


Based upon a 139-inch-wheelbase, 12-cylinder chassis, it had an automatic clutch and power-assisted brakes, among other advances. All these advancements  paled in comparison to the gleaming silver coachwork, a streamlined design with a roof that swept elegantly from the A-pillar to the rear bumper.  Flush-mounted doors with recessed door handles to defeat the wind.  Skirted rear fenders, no running boards, an integrated trunk.

Its “step-down” interior anticipated Cord by three years and Hudson by 15.


Now that’s vision!

Last time a Silver Arrow was auctioned in 2012, it went for $2.2 million.  RM Sotheby’s predicts maybe $3 million at its Driven by Disruption auction in NYC December 10.   This Silver Arrow has the added cache of being the one featured in the 1933 Chicago Worlds Fair.