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SNAPSHOT 397: 1932 Marmon Experimental V12

Yes, it really is a 1932 car – and those wings, reminiscent of a 1936 Cord, are not a later replacement. Under the body the modernity becomes even more remarkable: an aluminium V12 engine, a backbone chassis, four-wheel independent suspension with inboard brakes at the rear, cast aluminium wheels – and a top speed of 95 mph.

The Marmon Motor Car Company was one of the great American manufacturers, founded in 1902 by Howard Marmon. After building a limited number of experimental cars they settled upon straight-eight engines and soon gained a reputation for making fast and reliable machines. The Model 32 of 1909 spawned the Wasp, which was driven by Marmon engineer Ray Harroun to win the first ever Indianapolis 500 motor race in 1911.

Financial troubles forced reorganisation 1926, but even worse was to come in 1929 with the Wall Street Crash. Despite the introduction of a straight-eight costing under $1,000, the Roosevelt, Marmon were by now in dire straits.

This did not dampen Howard Marmon’s innovative spirit. He started working on the world’s first V16 engine in 1927 but was unable to complete development of the Marmon Sixteen car until 1931, by which time Cadillac had already introduced their V-16 and Peerless were developing one. What to do? In 1931 Howard Marmon did what E.L. Cord had done with the L-29 and would do later with the 810 and 812: develop a radical design to attract the top end of the market. This hardly ever worked (pace DS19), but Marmon and his designer George Freers went ahead. There was no money available, so Marmon drew on his personal bank account to develop and build the first experimental model. The objectives were to obtain the best possible ride and to reduce weight to gain maximum performance for the engine size. The body also had to be different, to attract customers.

A major influence was the newly introduced Tatra V12 Type 80, with its backbone chassis and independent suspension with swing axles at the rear. Marmon used a large 8½-inch steel tube with a U-shaped frame at the front to carry the engine and front suspension, and a flange on the rear to carry the differential and swing-axle suspension. The body floated on rubber blocks to eliminate squeaks and rattles, and the body itself was ultra-light, made from aluminium panels on a spruce frame.

Front suspension was by sliding pillar, pioneered by Lancia in 1921, and the rear swing axles were suspended on four transverse leaf springs. Cast aluminium wheels and inboard rear brakes further reduced unsprung weight.

Limited funds dictated the choice of engine. Marmon simply took four cylinders out of the centre of the aluminium V16 and welded the two halves together. The 45° angle between banks was thus wrong for a V12 but it seemed to cause no problems. The result was a strong 151 horsepower from an engine weighing only 850 pounds. The radical body was said to have been developed after wind-tunnel tests; the headlights in the wings were pure Pierce-Arrow.

Sadly, the car never went into production. Marmon went into receivership in 1932 and emerged as Marmon-Herrington, making trucks and buses. Amazingly, the car survives to this day.

Image courtesy of The Richard Roberts Archive:

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