The Marmon Sixteen had debuted to great acclaim at the Chicago Auto Salon in November 1930 and the following month Howard Marmon received a medal for outstanding achievement from the Society of Automotive Engineers, awarded for the Sixteen's magnificent engine. Although a second shift was added to the assembly line when full production began in April, there was trouble at the Marmon Motor Car Company. As with other luxury car makers, its profits had turned to deficits as the Depression deepened, and two rounds of pay cuts were followed by layoffs of most engineering staff. What had once been a bright future had become very, very uncertain.
Howard Carpenter Marmon was the son of an Indianapolis manufacturer of milling machinery. With an engineering degree from the University of California, he joined the family firm, becoming vice president and chief engineer within three years. Enamored of all types of machinery, he built a car of his own design, completed in 1902. He built six cars in 1904, unusual in their use of aluminum castings in their bodies, and sold them to neighbors.
In 1926, Howard Marmon began work on his masterpiece, a sixteen-cylinder luxury car. The heart of the new model was a compact 45-degree V16 of 491 cubic inches. The Sixteen developed 200 brake horsepower, rode a chassis with a 145-inch wheelbase and was clothed in attractive Art Deco- inspired bodies.
Although the bodies were built by LeBaron, and carried LeBaron's prestigious name tags, it was a father and son team of industrial designers who penned the car's lines. Credit is conventionally given to Walter Dorwin Teague Sr.; while it was his son who sketched the lines and details that ultimately entered production. A student at MIT, Walter Dorwin Teague Jr. was a gifted designer who would go on to design some of the most influential automobiles of his time.
Magnificent though it was, the Marmon Sixteen was not ready for production until early in 1931, by which time Cadillac's V16 had been on the market for over a year. Initial prices were as low as $5,200, $750 less than the equivalent Cadillac, but Cadillac had a head start and the advantage of a larger business base. The first Marmon Sixteen customer did not take delivery until April 1931. For the year, just over 200 Sixteens were produced, out of some 5,700 total sales. The total for 1932 was just ten percent of an underwhelming 1,365 total cars, from which it seems odd that the eight cylinder cars were discontinued entirely for 1933. With just 86 Sixteens sold that year, about a third of which must have been leftover '32s, Marmon was in receivership by the first of May.
The Marmon's chassis, while entirely conventional in design, was superbly designed, particularly the steering which is light and positive. The body was particularly advanced for the day, with an elegant slightly raked vee radiator shell, skirted front fenders that hid the suspension and restrained simplicity that expressed the elegance, luxury and performance of the Sixteen. Each car was individually tested for 210 miles at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, recording four laps at more than 105mph. Even though it was more attractively designed and less expensive than any of its peers only about 390 were built.
The Marmon two-passenger coupe (body style 141) in this gallery is the rarest model of the surviving Marmons. Only six are known to exist.
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