Historic Car Brands
During the automotive boom of the early 1900s, brothers Howard and Walter Marmon built their first automobile in 1902, in Indianapolis. However, there were hundreds of fledgling auto makers at that time and the Marmon Brothers were determined to build a special type of vehicle.
With Howard as engineer and chief designer, and Walter handling finances and manufacturing, the brothers manufactured a 20hp, air-cooled, overhead-valve, 90-degree V4 engine and slotted it into the Model A Marmon touring car. It was priced at a heady A$60,000 in today’s values, but they sold five examples.
Marmon leapt ahead of its competitors in 1906, with the invention of a patented ‘Double Three-Point Suspension’ system. The design employed two three-point-mounted frames: one carrying the engine, transmission and drive axle and the other carrying the cast aluminium bodywork.
Each frame was roughly triangular. The bottom frame mounted to both front wheels, and also to a central point on the structural differential case. The resulting rigid structure meant that the engine and differential were always aligned, thus eliminating the need for universal joints on the propeller shaft.
The second triangular frame, which supported the body, was mounted at both rear corners and to a central point on the front of the lower frame.
1914 Marmon 48 – Antique Automobile Club of America
The system eradicated twisting from the driveline and from the bodywork. This model was priced at more than A$90,000 in today’s money and larger, seven-seat versions were 50-percent more than that.
Early on, the Marmon brothers experimented with exotically designed engines for their cars that included a V6 engine and an experimental 75 horsepower V8 engine in 1907. They finally settied for an in-line, six cylinder design, dubbed the Model 32, in 1908.
Marmon Wasp – The359
This model was made famous three years later when a Model 32-based race car called “The Wasp”, won the first Indianapolis 500 race, driven by Ray Harroun.
Following its victory at Indy, Marmon had a reputation to uphold, so in 1913 Marmon introduced the Model 41, featuring a 70hp, L-head, side-valve, six cylinder engine with a three speed transmission. The engine boasted a fully pressurised oil system and a seven main bearing crankcase.
1915 Marmon 41 Club Roadster – Dragone Classic Motorcars
Marmons were very expensive cars and the Model 41 retailed for US $3500 dollars at a time when a brand new Cadillac was around US$1800 dollars and a new Ford was only US$525.
Model 41 production continued through 1915 and every car was test driven around the Indianapolis 500 race track at over 80 miles per hour before being shipped to a dealer.
1923 Marmon 34B two-seater Speedster – Mr Choppers
The lightweight Model 34, with its aluminium engine block, was more modestly priced and saw Marmon sell 1750 cars in 1916. Before Henry Ford acquired the Lincoln Motorcar Company in 1922, he rode to work in a custom-bodied Marmon Model 34.
To achieve more volume, a shorter-wheelbase Little Marmon was unveiled in 1927 and it was an immediate success. However, Marmon had to build a lot of them to turn a profit, and sales were barely enough to do that.
1929 Marmon Roosevelt – Classic Car Auctions
In 1929, Marmon introduced an under-US$1000 straight-eight-powered car, the Roosevelt and sold more than 22,000 of them that year, but the stock market crash of 1929 made the company’s problems worse.
1932 Marmon Sixteen – RM Icons
A last ditch effort to turn a profit was the 200hp, aluminium-engine,V-16 Marmon Sixteen, with its A$120,000 in today’s pricing. Howard Marmon had begun working on the world’s first V16 engine in 1927, but was unable to complete the production Sixteen until 1931.
The engine displaced 491 in³ (8.0 litres) and produced 200hp. It was an all-aluminum design, with steel cylinder liners and a 45-degree bank angle.
1932 Marmon Sixteen – RM Icons
By that time, Cadillac had already introduced its V-16, designed by ex-Marmon engineer Owen Nacker. Peerless, too, was developing a V16 with help from an ex-Marmon engineer, James Bohannon.
The Marmon Sixteen was produced for three years, but fewer than 400 were sold and Marmon couldn’t prevent the inevitable, filing for bankruptcy in 1933.
Marmon-Herrington – Ford Half Ton 4WD
The restructured Marmon Car Company joined forces with Colonel Arthur Herrington, an ex-military engineer and became involved in the design of all-wheel drive cars and trucks. The new company was called Marmon-Herrington.
Marmon-Herrington got off to a successful start by securing contracts for aircraft refuelling trucks, 4×4 chassis for towing light weaponry and an order from the Iraqi Pipeline Company for M-H’s largest trucks.
The company realised there was market potential in conversion kits for existing 4×2 vehicles and the Marmon-Herrington-Ford partnership was born. Ford offered Marmon-Herrington conversions on its civilian trucks in the mid-1930s, and by the end of the decade, every Ford car and truck built on a separate chassis could be given four-wheel-drive capability.
Ford-Marmon-Herrington Woodie 4×4 – Silodrome
Ford dealers took the orders and then finished cars and trucks were shipped to Marmon-Herrington’s plant in Indianapolis. The body, transmission and front end were removed, and cross-members added to mount the four-wheel-drive transfer case. The standard transmission was replaced by a heavy-duty Warner four-speed and oversized clutch.
A Ford rear axle went into the front, after the axle tubes were cut, so that the diff lined up with the transfer case. The wheel ends had swivel hubs and constant velocity joints added.
Orders proved scarce, however, because the conversion cost typically doubled the base price of a 4×2 vehicle.
Marmon-Herrington also produced components for Word War II vehicles, as well as an armoured car.
After the War, Marmon-Herrington continued with the Ford deal, but increasingly moved into the heavy truck and bus business. Soon, Ford produced its own 4×4 variants on wagons and light trucks.
In the early 1960s, Marmon-Herrington became a member of an association of companies which eventually adopted the name The Marmon Group. The MH company converted commercial trucks to all-wheel-drive, as well as manufacturing transmissions, transfer cases, and axles for heavy vehicles.
As a footnote, the Marmon name lives on. Marmon Holdings, Inc, a Berkshire Hathaway company, is a global industrial organisation comprising 11 diverse business sectors and more than 125 autonomous manufacturing and service businesses. Revenues exceeded US$8.1 billion in 2018.
One of its principal products is a drive-steer axle for US-brand heavy trucks.