It’s very possible to spend six figures on a motorcycle these days. Not just on a new bike, but on classic, vintage, and antique models, too. Especially when it comes to motorcycles that offered high-performance or cutting-edge technology in their day. And the 1911 Pierce-Arrow Four that recently sold for almost a quarter-million dollars has both.
The high-price Pierce-Arrow Four
Today, neither Indian nor Harley-Davidson makes a four-cylinder motorcycle. The former briefly did, though, after buying out Ace, the company started by Henderson’s co-founder. But while Henderson set quite a few speed records, it didn’t make the first American four-cylinder bike. That honor, Hagerty reports, belongs to Pierce-Arrow.
Produced from 1909-1914, the Pierce-Arrow Four isn’t advanced by modern standards, RideApart reports. The earliest models didn’t even come with clutches or transmissions. Though admittedly, that wasn’t uncommon with many contemporary bikes. Board track racers, for example, not only didn’t have a clutch or gearbox, they didn’t even have brakes. However, by 1911, a clutch and 2-speed transmission had been added.
The Pierce-Arrow Four isn’t a completely original creation, Mecum reports. It’s actually based on the Belgian FN Four, which was the first production four-cylinder motorcycle, Silodrome reports. The early models had single-speed transmissions and were started by pedaling, not unlike a moped.
A 1908 2-speed FN Four served as the inspiration for the Pierce-Arrow Four. Pierce-Arrow’s bike retained the Belgian model’s shaft drive and pedal-assist. However, it had stiffer fork and chassis tubing, and a larger 696cc engine with oil circulation, DriveMag Riders reports. And the frame not only housed the cables, but also the oil and gasoline, not too dissimilar from Buell’s bikes.
A top speed of 60 mph and a 4-5 hp output isn’t that impressive by modern standards. But on a 275-lb motorcycle with only a rear brake, it’s plenty.
Originally, a Pierce-Arrow Four cost the modern equivalent of $10,400. But during Mecum’s Indy 2020 auction, a 1911 example sold for $225,500.
Motorcycles, though, weren’t the only motor vehicles which bore the Pierce-Arrow name. The motorcycle brand was started by Percival Pierce, the son of George N. Pierce. And while Percival made bikes, George’s Pierce-Arrow company made cars.
Jay Leno owns one, a 1918 Model 66, Autoweek reports. But despite its age, it can still keep up with modern traffic. That’s partially thanks to its 13.5-liter six-cylinder engine, and partially because of its build quality. At the time, Pierce-Arrow’s cars were held in the same regard as Packards. Multiple US presidents rode in Pierce-Arrows; Woodrow Wilson’s is still around. in many ways, they were like American Bentleys or Rolls-Royces.
Pierce-Arrow was only in business from 1901-1938, but the company made some incredible cars at that time. Even in the 1910s, RM Sotheby’s reports, it was producing impressively-thin cast-aluminum body panels. By the 1930s, it had a 115-mph car with a 7.6-liter V12, Hemmings reports, the Silver Arrow.
And today, just like its motorcycles, Pierce-Arrow’s cars are extremely collectible.
Car vs. motorcycle pricing
The Pierce-Arrow Motorcycle Company only made 500 Fours. And the brand’s total production tops out at a few thousand bikes, the National Motorcycle Museum reports.
But the car division wasn’t necessarily any more prolific. At the time of its release, Autoblog reports, the Silver Arrow cost the modern equivalent of $198,300. Very few people were able to pay for such a car during the Great Depression. As a result, Pierce-Arrow only built 5 Silver Arrows.
As a result of that exclusivity and quality, some of Pierce-Arrow’s cars are even more valuable than its bikes. A 1933 Silver Arrow went for $2,310,000 at a 2017 RM Sotheby’s auction. Others, though, are significantly more affordable. In 2016, a 1927 Model 8 sold for $60,500 at another RM Sotheby’s auction.
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