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Hershey | Lot 165

1936 Pierce-Arrow Twelve Town Car Prototype by Derham

$187,000 USD | Sold

United States | Hershey, Pennsylvania

7 October 2021


Chassis No.
Documents
3150069
US Title
  • A factory prototype commissioned from renowned Pennsylvania coachbuilders Derham
  • A unique and unusual offering with spectacular provenance
  • Winner of a AACA National First Prize, CCCA National Senior First Prize, and Pierce-Arrow Society National First Prize
  • Formerly owned by Bob Sands, Roy Warshawsky, John Groendyke, and Richard Kughn

Pierce-Arrow commissioned this unique town car in 1936, as a prototype “catalogue custom” offering intended to be launched in production the following year. The car was bodied by the Derham Body Company of Rosemont, Pennsylvania, one of the country’s finest old coachbuilders, with their usual superb attention to detail and accuracy.

Though quite similar at first glance to the contemporaneous design by Brunn, this car is in fact a unique styling exercise by Derham. It features a cut-out section over the chauffeur’s compartment and a raised windshield. The rear quarter windows have been replaced by more steel; similarly, the rear trunk was substituted for an externally mounted rack. Derham’s splendid design is, of course, underpinned by the standard 462-cubic-inch L-head V-12 engine and three-speed manual transmission with overdrive.

By the time this lavish prototype was completed, Pierce-Arrow was in such poor financial shape that they had resorted to building travel trailers in a last-ditch attempt to stay alive. The company had already scrapped plans for the upcoming 1937 Twelve Town Car body style, and so our subject offering remained the sole example of its kind. In dire need of capital, Pierce-Arrow immediately sold the prototype to the flamboyant and wealthy Charles Cobb Walker of Manchester, Massachusetts, one of the factory’s great customers in its later years; he bought three Pierce-Arrows in 1936 and 1937, reportedly arranging for consecutive serial numbers.

Following World War II, the Walker estate, Woodholm, was sold to lumber magnate John Grossman; Walker’s three Pierce-Arrows were also included in this transaction. The Town Car subsequently passed through a succession of short-term owners, eventually being sold by Loren Holland of New York to longtime Pierce-Arrow enthusiast Bob Sands in 1975.

Mr. Sands spent seven years on the car’s restoration, after which it was shown to award-winning results all over the country and enjoyed on the road for many years. In 1990 it was featured in the seminal tome The Classic Car by Beverly Rae Kimes, in which Mr. Sands noted, “It drives and rides like a Pullman car. Its looks, appointments, styling, and quality can be best summed up as the closest an automobile can get to a palace on wheels.”

Shortly thereafter, the car was purchased by the late, great collector, Roy Warshawsky, who had further restoration work performed and continued to display the car all over the country. It was also part of John Groendyke’s renowned Oklahoma collection for several years. Prior to the consignor’s acquisition, the car was most recently displayed in the stable of noted antique car collector Richard Kughn of Dearborn, Michigan. In total, during a long and very successful show career, this unique chassis has won top National honors from the Antique Automobile Club of America, Classic Car Club of America, and Pierce-Arrow Society.

This remarkable Pierce-Arrow Twelve Town Car Prototype is presented today wearing its older restoration executed while within the Warshawsky Collection, although it no less resplendent for its age. The dark blue exterior is complimented by harmonious silver detailing and wonderful chrome trim throughout; even the wheels and interior dashboard are finished to match.

Inside, the front compartment is trimmed in blue leather, while the rear upholstery has been rendered in tufted wool broadcloth. As a chauffeur-driven town car, the rear compartment is further equipped with all the expected necessities of luxurious repose: foot rests, a divider window, coach lamps, adjustable rear cushion, and a pair of matching jump seats.

The only example known to exist, this Pierce-Arrow Twelve Town Car is a spectacular example of Derham's quality, creativity, and craftsmanship. It is made all the more interesting by its historical context, representing a costly investment by one America’s most legendary marques as it struggled to survive. The only example of an unrealized “catalogue custom” offering, this chassis is undoubtedly one of the most significant and attractive formal Pierce-Arrows, and it boasts a superb provenance and quality restoration with which few can compare.

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