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How Marmon Cars Work


1931 Marmon Sixteen
This 1932 Marmon Sedan, like many late-model Marmons, owed its style and design to the popular Sixteen.

Marmon advertised the Sixteen as "The World's Most Advanced Car," and not without reason. Beside overhead valves actuated by pushrods from a single camshaft, the engine employed all-aluminum construction that was a triumph of the foundry art. Both the block and crankcase were cast as a single unit, the block actually being a "Y" in section. One dual-throat downdraft carburetor fed the fuel, and a single cast manifold served both cylinder banks.

Despite its size, the engine weighed a relatively light 930 pounds fully dressed, some 370 pounds less than Cadillac's slightly smaller V-16. This contributed to a weight-to-power ratio of just 4.65 pounds per horsepower, an impressive figure for the day, ­likely rivaled only by Duesenberg.

Howard's passion for minimal weight was naturally evident elsewhere. The hood, front and rear splash aprons, running- board aprons, spare-wheel mounts, headlamp and taillamp brackets, and even the fuel-filler pipe were all made of aluminum. Because of this, few cars could approach the Marmon for sheer speed or through-the-gears acceleration. It accelerated faster than even the mighty Duesenberg Model J, though the Duesie had a higher top speed due to the superior breathing of its twin-cam engine. But while the Marmon was certainly pricey, it cost little more than half as much as a Duesenberg chassis.

The body design caused as much stir as the engine. This ­wasn't Howard's work, but he deserves credit for hiring an industrial designer at a time when that profession was in its infancy. The designer was 47-year-old Walter Dorwin Teague, Sr., though he admitted that his son did all the original ­sketches and drawings, as well as the full-size renderings and some interior concepts, including the unusual aircraft-type instrument panel. W.D. Teague, Jr., then a student at MIT, completed these tasks on weekends and in summer school.

Since the name of the youngster's father carried considerably more prestige, Marmon publicity gave credit to Teague, Sr. Indeed, he handled the contract work with Marmon and translated the concept into production form.

With no resemblance to any previous Marmon, the Sixteen looked modern but not radical. A raked Vee'd radiator devoid of ornament or badge led to a hood concealing the water filler. The doors extended down almost to the running boards. The fenders were designed to hide chassis components. Further accenting a low-slung profile were a prominent beltline that ran absolutely straight around the body, a windshield raked to match the radiator, and ultralow rooflines.

The Sixteen was touted as a "new concept in fine cars," with styling and engineering given equal emphasis. All but three of the 390 Sixteens ultimately built carried "standard" bodies built by LeBaron: five sedans, two coupes, and a victoria.

The only custom bodies known are two Waterhouse tourers and a very individual victoria built by Hayes to a design by Alexis de Sakhnoffsky. These were likely artifacts of Howard's plan to offer 32 "regular" custom styles by the likes of Murphy, Waterhouse, and Judkins: town cars, all-weather phaetons, limousines, speedsters, and "sunshine-roof" sedans. Minuscule sales precluded this grand idea ­(announced in September 1931).

For more on defunct American cars, see: