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Pierce-Arrow Model 38-C2 Runabout, Unrestored, 1914

  • Only one of these Model 38 Runabouts is believed to exist, and this one extant car is largely original and unrestored. Purchased in 1916 by inventor and radio manufacturer A. Atwater Kent of Portland, Oregon, the car remained in his family until it was purchased by the current owner in 1985. The Kent family had only repainted the car back in 1958, doing so in its original color, and Mr. Smith, the new owner of record, replaced the top in 2012.
  • Atwater Kent radios were built in Philadelphia; they ranged from the utilitarian breadboard kit that could be assembled by enthusiasts, to formidable luxury items that achieved a furniture-like quality. Or, in the case of the late 1920's Atwater Kent Kiel Golden Voice Radio Table, radio and furniture were united, not unlike the present-day concept of a docking station or device port. Though well known for radios, Kent previously built and sold electro-mechanical parts and domestic wares. Notably, the Kent Electric Manufacturing Company patented the modern ignition coil, providing a ubiquitous part of the 20th century automobile industry.
  • A Pierce-Arrow car of this era is remarkable for its cast aluminum body—that would be a body that is made not of hammered aluminum sheet, but of cast sections cold-riveted together. The structural integrity of this plan was unrivaled in its day, and Pierce-Arrow were certainly the only company to ever succeed on an industrial scale in this largely experimental process. Having recognized that early motor cars were prone to shaking themselves to pieces on primitive roadways, the company conceived of a total-platform solution that would result in an incomparably durable car. Pierce-Arrow said of its body construction: "All Pierce-Arrow bodies are structurally harmonized with the chassis of which they become integral parts. Solidly and honestly built of cast aluminum sections, they are of splendid strength and wonderful lightness. Thoroughly seasoned ash, selected by an expert judge of lumber, is used for reinforcement and for such structural sections as are most appropriately built of wood. Seating arragements, cushions, upholstery, cape tops, wind shields, and all details are studied and built with the Pierce-Arrow ideal constantly in mind. With the intrinsic soundness of design and construction of Pierce-Arrow bodies comes that sturdiness which speaks for safety in case of accident, and that comfort which makes it possible for the passengers riding in one of these bodies to feel that 'the earth is covered with macadam.' Dependent upon and growing out from these two basic qualities of safety and comfort are those aesthetic sources of pleasure to the owner known as beauty and individuality." And to this last point, it's rather the method of its construction that makes an antique Pierce-Arrow so beautiful.
  • While the Model 38 was a popular car for Pierce-Arrow, lasting for most of the decade, the Runabout body was not so popular. Much of its rarity has to do with the expectation that a Pierce-Arrow was a luxury car, first and foremost. Cost would be a strong factor as well. The Runabout body—also known as the Roadster—used the same chassis as other Pierce-Arrow models, and cost just as much as either the 4 or 5-Passenger Touring Car. The cost was $4,300 dollars, or the equivalent of over $100,000 today. To purchase a two-seat car for such a high price, particularly one with no real sporting aspirations, would be a rarity indeed.

 

Last Updated: Dec 15, 2017