Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
Howard C. Marmon's first prototype
was manufactured in 1902, and proved just how forward thinking the automotive pioneer was. The car featured an 90° twin-vee overhead valve, air-cooled
engine with pressure lubrication, the earliest automotive application of a system that went on to become the universal formula for internal combustion engine
The first Marmon's used a separate sub-frame for engine and transmission
, while the suspension
featured a somewhat primitive attempt at creating an independant setup. By 1909 things had become somewhat more conventional, the air-cooled
engines being replaced by T-head inline four cylinder engines.
In 1911 came the "Straight 6" Model 32 that was fitted with a rear axle transmission
, then in 1916 came the OHV six cylinder Model 34, which featured extensive use of aluminium including the cylinder block, most engine components (including pushrods), body, hood and radiator
To gain publicity, in 1916 Howard Marmon's team of drivers drove a Marmon 34 across America in pursuit of the trans-continental record. They did it in under six days, beating the legendary Erwin "Cannonball" Baker's record Cadillac time by 41 hours.
The Model 34 remained in production until 1924, and as the revised Models 74 and 75, until 1928. The Model 34 would enjoy a long production run, continually evolving in the process as better automotive technologies were developed. These included such things as Delco coil ignition in 1920, and the option of front wheel brakes
The first (financial) cracks in Marmon appeared in 1924, with sales of the Model 34 having been in decline for some time. George Williams (former president of the Wire Wheel Corp. of America) helped rejuvenate interest and inject some much needed cash, and sales rose from about 2,600 in 1924 to almost 4,500 in both 1925 and 1926. But Williams was convinced that to really prosper, lower priced cars were needed.
The previous success of the Model 34, combined with Williams "keep it cheap" ethos helped pave the way for the development of two "Straight 8" iterations. The first to hit the market was the 1928 Model 68, which sold for a low $1,395. Then came arguably the best known Marmon of all, the 1929 "Straight 8" Roosevelt. The Roosevelt was unbelievably cheap, and took the honours as being the first 8 cylinder car to sell for less than $1000. Better still, it was also the first ever car to be fitted with a factory installed radio.
The low price put the Roosevelt
within reach of those that previously had to settle for 4 or 6 cylinder cars, and in its first year of production Marmon managed to sell 22,300 - a huge number at the time. There were plenty of body variations available, including a 2 door Coupe, 4 door sedan with 5 seats, and a 4 seat 2 door convertible. Some of these found their way to Australia.
But in an era of extravagance it seemed most automotive manufacturers were intent on building
lower volume prestige cars for the well-heeled - and their timing could not have been worse. Marmon set about building the magnificent 200 horsepower V16, which featured a beautiful body penned by Walter Dorwin Teague. At the time the "Marmon Sixteen" was the largest passenger vehicle on the market, and even before production commenced in 1931 the Society of Automotive Engineers honored Colonel Marmon's new V16 engine as being "...the most notable engineering achievement of 1930".
The new car was born into the Depression, and not suprisingly only around 400 managed to find a home. A more cost effective 8 cylinder version was built in 1932, but that was short lived. Marmon ceased automobile manufacture in 1933, and we can only speculate now as to whether the company could have remained viable if they had of stuck to the low cost "Straight 8" formula established by the Roosevelt.