Celebrating Marmon Innovation

One of Indiana’s more well-known automakers was the Nordyke & Marmon Company later known as the Marmon Motor Car Company of Indianapolis.

Howard C. Marmon’s first automobile in 1902, included a V-2 engine with an aluminum crankcase and a cast aluminum body. The 1905 Marmon had an air-cooled V-4 engine with pressure lubrication. This use of pressure lubrication was the earliest automotive application of the system that has become universal to internal combustion piston engine design.

1904 Marmon Model A
1904 Marmon Model A

The six-cylinder Marmon Wasp, with Ray Harroun driving, won the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911. The 1916 Model 34 featured an entire body and radiator shell made of aluminum as well as most of the six-cylinder components. During World War I, Marmon 34’s were procured for use by the U.S. Army and the French Army General staff.

The 1929 Roosevelt had the distinction of being the first eight-cylinder car in the world to sell for less than $1,000. Marmon warranted a listing in the Guinness Book of Records for the factory installed radio, also in 1929. The Roosevelt appeared in the 1930 catalog as the Marmon Roosevelt and only lasted one more year. The 1930 Roosevelt was the only car in its price range to be offered with a full one-year warranty.

1933 Marmon Sixteen
1933 Marmon Sixteen

With the introduction of the Marmon Sixteen in 1931, it appeared that Marmon had saved the best for the last. The Sixteen, a magnificent $5,000 automobile with a 491 c.i.d. V-16 engine, produced 200 h.p. and was good for over 100 m.p.h. The V-16 was honored by The Society of Automotive Engineers as “the most notable engineering achievement of 1930.” The society was especially impressed by the extensive use of lightweight aluminum, generally a difficult metal to work and maintain in automobile power plants.

At the very end, Howard Marmon built the HCM Special at his own expense. This prototype auto had a 150 h.p. V 12 engine, independent front suspension, DeDion rear axle and tubular backbone frame, with styling by Teague. Yet, it never saw production. In May 1933, Marmon Motor Car Company entered receivership.

The promise of the Roaring Twenties proved hollow for many automakers across the nation, including Marmon. Marmon stock that had peaked in May 1929 at more than $100 per share dipped to slightly more than $3 three years later. In addition, the luxury-car market had shrunk drastically, and lower-price competitors already secured a solid hold on the mass market. Marmon executives were forced to go to eastern bankers for working capital to keep the company afloat.

Marmon’s cumulative production from 1902 to 1933 approached 110,000 autos. The mid-point of producing 55,000 autos was reached at the end of the 1927 model year. It is interesting that in 1929 and 1930, Marmon production exceeded Cadillac in the luxury market: 1929 – Marmon 22,323 vs. Cadillac 14,986 and 1930 – Marmon 12,369 vs. Cadillac 12,078.

Today, auto enthusiasts celebrate this revered Indiana marque at museums and car shows across the country. I invite you to check out this fine example of Indiana’s automotive heritage whenever you get the chance.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

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