(This article originally appeared in Hemmings Classic Car #103, April 2013)
Dying on the Vine (Part III)
During the past two months we looked at the final pieces of sales literature for American car companies that had been in business over thirty years and whose last year of production was more than 25 years ago. Pierce-Arrow and Studebaker, our final two companies dying on the vine, were actually business partners from 1928-1933 before they parted ways and fulfilled their own destinies.
During the late 1920s Pierce-Arrow was struggling to turn a profit and Studebaker needed a high-end offering. The two companies formed a partnership to help fix both issues. Some feared that a Pierce-Arrow would just become a fancy Studebaker President but those fears would not become a reality. Pierce-Arrow would maintain their high quality and their own manufacturing and design departments throughout the partnership.
The partnership was initially a success and Pierce-Arrow enjoyed their highest sales total in 1929 when they sold 9,840 units. This increase in sales buoyed expectations for the future but the Great Depression would prove to be too much to handle and in 1932 only 2,692 cars were sold. While Studebaker was initially able to absorb Pierce-Arrow losses, Studebaker found themselves in receivership in 1933. Their interest in Pierce-Arrow was sold to Buffalo businessmen for $1 million in August 1933.
From 1933-1938 Pierce-Arrow would find itself in receivership two times. During this period sales literature continued to be optimistic and reflective of the past. Potential buyers were reminded of Pierce luxury and opulence – two things that had fallen out of fashion with the public after more than five years of economic turmoil. The company briefly thought about introducing a medium priced car in late 1937 but it was too late. Sales for the once-grand manufacturer would end in 1938 with no subpar offerings ever leaving the factory.
There was no sales literature printed by Pierce-Arrow in 1938 and the (less than 20) cars made that year were simply assembled with leftover parts from 1937. As it did throughout the 1930s, literature from 1937 pays homage to the past. In addition it highlighted the safety features offered; power brakes, rigid frame, double-acting hydraulic shock absorbers and more.
After ending its partnership with Pierce-Arrow in 1933 and securing its finances, Studebaker would live on as an automobile manufacturer for more than 30 years. By the 1960s Studebaker struggled to stay competitive with Ford and GM and the public was wary of an unstable company. The collapse of Packard and closure of Studebaker’s Indiana assembly plant only added fuel to the fire and by 1967, Studebaker the automobile company, would be a memory.
Despite the tough times, sales literature for 1966 was optimistic as ever; touting a “Smart New Look” that featured a new grille and front end in addition to new side moldings and a new rear end design. Standard features for the 1966 model lineup included windshield washers, a dual master brake cylinder and aluminized rust proofing. Optional accessories included air conditioning, disc brakes, and a limited-slip differential.
Final year sales slogans and mottos were optimistic for each of the nine automobile manufacturers we profiled because it surely wouldn’t make much sense to produce a negative sales campaign. The only real sign of the end for each company was limited quality and quantity when compared to their earlier offerings. Which piece of Dying on the Vine literature was your favorite? We would love to know!