Marmon Sixteen Convertible Coupe
Howard Marmon will always be remembered as one of America’s most innovative and brilliant automotive engineers. His crowning achievement, the Sixteen, debuted to great acclaim at the Chicago Auto Salon in November 1930 and earned him a medal for outstanding achievement from the Society of Automotive Engineers. However, its arrival coincided with the economic chaos of the Great Depression. As with most other luxury carmakers, Marmon’s profits soon turned to deficits as the Depression deepened, and the Company’s finances spiraled downward.
Technically advanced and well-built, Marmon automobiles had become nearly indistinguishable from other prestige cars by the dawn of the “Roaring Twenties,” and sales were mediocre. The lack of technical innovation was an anathema to Howard Marmon, always the engineering brains of the company. So, in 1926, Marmon effectively “retired” from daily operations and began work on his masterpiece, a brilliant 16-cylinder luxury car. At its heart was a compact, all aluminum, 45-degree V-16 of 491 cubic inches. Overhead valves were pushrod-operated, a modern design two-barrel carburetor fed crossflow alloy cylinder heads, and the aluminum block had wet cylinder liners. It was so smooth in operation that a light flywheel was possible, allowing surprisingly rapid acceleration, and the compact, well-lubricated valvetrain was nearly silent, despite mechanical adjustment.
The Sixteen developed a real 200 bhp, rode a state-of-the-art chassis with a 145-inch wheelbase and was clothed in attractive Art Deco-inspired bodies. The extensive use of aluminum in both the engine and various body panels and trim resulted in a car weighing significantly less than its competition. This light weight coupled with an honest 200 bhp resulted in acceleration performance that made the Sixteen the “muscle car” of the classic era. Sixteens were the performance king, only being outpaced on top speed by the Duesenberg J.
Although LeBaron built the bodies, a father-and-son team of industrial designers penned the car’s svelte lines. Credit is conventionally given to Walter Dorwin Teague Sr., while it was his son who actually designed the Art Deco bodywork, aircraft-style instrument panel and luxurious interior. The son, Walter Dorwin Teague Jr., an MIT student at the time, was a gifted designer who went on to design some of the most influential automobiles of his era.
While magnificent, the Sixteen was not production-ready until early 1931, by which time Cadillac’s V-16 had already been on the market for over a year. Initial prices were more expensive than the equivalent Cadillac, and Cadillac had a head start, a larger client base and GM’s financial might. By 1933, in a desperate effort to sell cars, Marmon reduced the prices to below those of their only 16-cylinder competitor. The first Marmon Sixteen customer did not take delivery until April 1931, and by the time the factory closed forever in May 1933, the Sixteen was no more. According to marque expert Dyke W. Ridgley, the publisher of the Marmon Sixteen Roster, total Sixteen production was limited to 365 to 375 examples.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in January of 2012 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona.
200 bhp, 491 cu. in. OHV aluminum V-16 engine, three-speed manual transmission, solid front and live rear axles with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel vacuum-assisted mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 145"
Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Ned Jackson