Marmon Sixteen Coupe

The winter of 1930-31 was a bittersweet time for Howard Marmon. His pièce de resistance, the Marmon Sixteen, had debuted to great acclaim at the Chicago Auto Salon in November, and the following month he 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. Production continued with great success on the road and the racetrack until 1926, when Howard Marmon began work on his masterpiece, a sixteen-cylinder luxury car.

The heart of the new model was a compact, even-firing 45-degree V-16 of 491 cubic inches. Overhead valves were pushrod-operated, and the aluminum block had wet cylinder liners. Its operation was so smooth that a light flywheel was possible, which in turn facilitated rapid acceleration. The valve gear was carefully designed to be compact and well lubricated, making it nearly silent, despite mechanical adjustment. The Sixteen developed 200 brake horsepower, rode a chassis of 145-inch wheelbase and was clothed in attractive art deco coachwork. Designed by Walter Dorwin Teague, Jr., all but two of the bodies were built by LeBaron.

Magnificent though it was, the Marmon Sixteen was not ready for production until early in 1931, by which time Cadillac’s V-16 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, barely 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. It is not hard to understand, though, that with just 86 cars sold that year, about a third of which must have been leftover ’32s, Marmon was in receivership by the first of May.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in January of 2011 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona.

200 bhp, 490.8 cu. in. overhead valve V-16 engine, three-speed manual transmission, solid front axle and live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel vacuum-assisted mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 145"

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel

Be part of something big