Historic Truck 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. The system eradicated testing 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.
Winning the first Indianapolis 500 didn’t hurt Marmon’s reputation, either!
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 postpone the effects of the stock market crash in 1929.
A last ditch effort to turn a profit was the exquisite 200hp, aluminium-engine,V-16 Marmon Sixteen, with its A$120,000 in today’s pricing. Fewer than 400 were sold and Marmon couldn’t prevent the inevitable, filing for bankruptcy in 1933.
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 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 trucks and the Marmon-Herrington Ford was born. Marmon-Herrington also produced components for Word War Two vehicles, as well as an armoured car.
After the War, Marmon-Herrington looked for another area of vehicle manufacturing in which it might find new business and hit upon trolley buses, using lightweight monocoque bodies that saw them become the best-selling trolley buses in the postwar fleets of many North American cities.
Trolley bus production lasted from 1946 until 1959 and 1624 vehicles were produced in the company’s Indianapolis factory, but, by late 1950s, the market for new trolley buses in North America had dried up.
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.
Marmon-brand trucks were first designed and built in Indianapolis, Indiana, from 1960-1963, at the Marmon-Herrington factory.
Due to a soft market and small dealer network, the Marmon Group decided to sell their truck product line to Adrian Roop, who moved it to Denton, Texas. The ‘Marmon’ brand was licensed only for trucks sold in North America, not for export markets. Sadly, only eight trucks were produced in 1964.
Marmon trucks reborn
The Marmon brand was again sold, this time to Space Corporation of Garland, Texas. The original truck was a COE prime mover and a bonnetted model was introduced in 1973. The COE was restyled in 1981.
Early 1980s sales were around 900 per annum, but fell off to around 370 per annum by the early 1990s, when the COE was dropped, due to lack of demand.
Interestingly, the restriction on the use of the ‘Marmon’ brand meant that export market trucks were invariably prefixed. For example, in Australia, Marmons were sold as ‘Max Marmons’.
The Marmon truck was a low-production, hand-made truck sometimes dubbed ‘the Rolls Royce of trucks’, but, an over-competitive American truck industry and the lack of a nationwide and international sales network led to the eventual end of Marmon truck production in 1997.
International Harvester had already leased the redundant two of three assembly lines operating in the Garland factory for Paystar production and Space Corporation’s decision to lease out the last remaining Marmon assembly line was inevitable.
Marmon trucks Down Under
The reborn Marmon appeared in Australia, at the Warragul Trucks in Action Show in 1994. In accordance with the brand licensing arrangement it was known as a ‘Max Marmon’, marketed by Peter Max, of Max Marmon Pty Ltd.
At the following year’s Brisbane Truck Show Max Marmon exhibited again, with a revamped Marmon SP in road train specification, powered by a Cat 3406E, rated at 500hp/2500Nm, with an 18-speed Eaton.
Traditional-style fit and finish was exceptional for an American truck of the time and its cab-mounted – not door-mounted – mirrors didn’t shake.
Cab structure was aluminium sheet welded over aluminium-extrusion framing and chassis rails were high-tensile with Huckbolt cross member assembly
The Max Marmon range in Australia consisted of the long-bonnet, big-radiator SP; a pair of sloping-bonnet models with set-back steer axles – SS and SL – and another sloping-bonnet model with a forward-set front axle. The range spanned engine outputs from 400hp to 550hp and typical SP pricing with all with all the ‘fruit’ was A$230,000.
A year later, Max Marmon released the 6×2 highway-service Workman prime mover, with 45-tonnes GCM rating, 425hp Cat, Spicer 10-speed box and eaton DS402A drive axle, for a very competitive A$160,000.
Max Marmon sold several trucks before the parent company abandoned the brand in 1997.
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.