Even if you’re a fan of those big American cars built before World War II, and there were plenty to choose from, one may have escaped your notice.
The 1932 Marmon Series 16 Convertible Sedan may have been one of these impressive marques that has slipped from history without a trace, due in no small way to the Great Depression.
And as is often the case, the Marmon Motor Car Company, had the most unlikely antecedents, the very successful flour milling machinery manufacturers back in the late 19th century, Nordyke and Marmon.
In 1904, the youngest son Howard, who was chief engineer on the Marmon side of the business, designed his first car, which proved to be of an unexpectedly advanced design.
Power came from an overhead valve, aircooled V-twin with force feed lubrication, mounted in a sub frame, driving through a 3 speed selective gear transmission with a multi-disc clutch and driving the rear wheels through a now conventional type drive shaft. Front suspension was a single three point design which was also straight out of left field.
Sales were not exactly brisk and at around $2000, it was not surprising. Seems young Howard was a big fan of the ‘V’ configuration and was already tinkering with V- configured variants…fours, sixes and everybody’s favourite, the much loved V-8.
In 1909, Marmon did an about turn and reverted to a more conventional flat head design which was water-cooled and mounted in a less sophisticated chassis with a very routine suspension. Although seen as a retrograde step for the company sales doubled, so they must have been doing something right! So much so, that the Model 32 as it was known, won the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911, in its eye catching canary yellow paint work and not surprisingly nicknamed the Wasp.
By 1916 the Model 34 was wowing the market, as the company saw a glimpse of the future and used aluminium as the metal of choice for engines and body panels.
In 1924 the company came under control of a new owner George M Williams, who correctly foresaw the market’s need for a more affordable ‘entry level’ vehicle, and the Little Marmon with its straight 8 engine hit the market in 1927. With a sticker price of just $995 it was the lowest priced Marmon ever offered and sales volume headed North although profit did not necessarily follow.
On the eve of the Great Depression, Howard Marmon drafted the Series 16, which proved to be the company’s swansong, and it was magnificent. Introduced in 1931 the V-16 engine displaced nearly 500 cu.inches, pumping out some 200hp and good for a genuine 100mph. But being priced ‘from $5000’ in 1933, the writing was on the wall for the magnificent Morman.
In an era of ‘Hey buddie,can you spare me a dime?’, a $5950 convertible was just a dream too far, and a great marque vanished from history.
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