Marmon innovation from the first car to the last

Howard C. Marmon recognized that weight was the enemy in car design

Howard C. Marmon’s first prototype car for Nordyke and Marmon Company was remarkably progressive for 1902. It featured an overhead valve, air-cooled, two-cylinder, 90-degree V configuration engine with pressure lubrication. It was the earliest automotive application of a system that had long since become universal to internal combustion piston engine design. Howard Marmon’s first cars were advanced machines, featuring air-cooled V4 engines with mechanically operated overhead valves and pressure lubrication. His early automobiles employed a separate sub-frame for engine and transmission, an early attempt at independent front suspension. In 1909 Marmon converted to water cooled, conventional T-head, inline four-cylinder engines.

In 1911 Marmon introduced the six-cylinder Model 32 with rearaxle transmission. Ray Harroun won the first Indianapolis 500 Mile Race in 1911 with a racing variation named
the Marmon Wasp.

In 1916 the advanced ohv, six-cylinder Model 34 was introduced with aluminum cylinder block, most engine components (including pushrods), body, hood and radiator shell.
Developments of this model continued as late as 1927, acquiring Delco coil ignition in 1920 and the option of front wheel brakes in 1923.

Marmon 34

1921 Marmon Model 34, 2 Passenger Speedster

In 1926, the firm was reorganized as Marmon Motor Car Company. In 1928 two eight-cylinder models were offered, the cheapest L-head Model 68 selling for $1,395. The company sold 22,300 cars in 1929 because of a low-priced new straight-eight called the Roosevelt. The 1929 Roosevelt had the distinction of being the first eight-cylinder car in the world to sell for less than $1,000. The Roosevelt appeared in the 1930 catalog as the Marmon Roosevelt and only lasted one more year. The 1929 Marmon warrants a listing in the Guiness Book of Records for factory installed radio.

Marmon left the auto business just as it came in with a magnificent 491 c.i., 200-hp, V-16 in 1931. The eight exceptional body styles were by Walter Dorwin Teague. The Marmon Sixteen became the largest American passenger car engine of its era. In February 1931, before production started, the Society of Automotive Engineers honored Colonel Marmon for “the most notable engineering achievement of 1930,” his huge and gleaming V-16 engine design. The society was especially impressed by his extensive use of lightweight aluminum, generally a difficult metal to work and maintain in automobile power plants. There was a companion eight-cylinder auto in 1932 but only the Sixteen was listed for 1933.

Marmon Sixteen

1931 Marmon Sixteen, Convertible Sedan

At the very end, Howard Marmon built, at his own expense, a prototype auto with 150 hp V12 engine, independent front-suspension, DeDion rear axle and tubular backbone frame, with styling by Teague. This model, however, never saw production.

The original Nordyke and Marmon Plant 1 was at the southwest corner of Kentucky Avenue and West Morris Street. Plant 2 was at the southwest comer of Drover and West York Street. Plant 3 was a five-story structure measuring 80 x 600 feet parallel to Morris Street (now Eli Lilly & Company Building 314). The Marmon assembly plant was built adjacent to the Morris Street property line with Plant 3 behind and parallel to it (also part of the Eli Lilly complex).

I recommend The Marmon Heritage, by George P. Hanley, ISBN 0961581700 for more Marmon information.

Back to: Cars-Companies, & Communities in Indiana automotive history

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