Mar. 23rd 2012 – Auto of the day – HAND BUILT – Auto #5

1931 Marmon Sixteen Coupe by LeBaron  

LOT: 279  
Estimate:$475,000-$650,000 US
Chassis No. 141694
AUCTION RESULTS: Lot was Sold at a price of $687,500

Series 16, Body Style 141. 200 bhp, 490.8 cu. in. overhead valve V-16 engine, three-speed manual transmission, solid front axle and live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel vacuum-assisted mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 145″

– One of only six survivors
– The rarest of the 71 surviving Marmon Sixteens
– Well-maintained restoration, complete with original engine
– Documented by Dyke W. Ridgley and the Marmon Sixteen Roster

The winter of 1930-31 was a bittersweet time for Howard Marmon. His pièce de resistance, the Marmon Sixteen, had debuted to great acclaim at the Chicago Auto Salon in November, and the following month he received a medal for outstanding achievement from the Society of Automotive Engineers, awarded for the Sixteen’s magnificent engine. Although a second shift was added to the assembly line when full production began in April, there was trouble at the Marmon Motor Car Company. As with other luxury car makers, its profits had turned to deficits as the Depression deepened, and two rounds of pay cuts were followed by layoffs of most engineering staff. What had once been a bright future had become very, very uncertain.

Howard Carpenter Marmon was the son of an Indianapolis manufacturer of milling machinery. With an engineering degree from the University of California, he joined the family firm, becoming Vice President and Chief Engineer within three years. Enamored of all types of machinery, he built a car of his own design, completed in 1902. Production continued with great success on the road and the racetrack until 1926, when Howard Marmon began work on his masterpiece, a sixteen-cylinder luxury car.

The heart of the new model was a compact, even-firing 45-degree V-16 of 491 cubic inches. Overhead valves were pushrod-operated, and the aluminum block had wet cylinder liners. Its operation was so smooth that a light flywheel was possible, which in turn facilitated rapid acceleration. The valve gear was carefully designed to be compact and well lubricated, making it nearly silent, despite mechanical adjustment. The Sixteen developed 200 brake horsepower, rode a chassis of 145-inch wheelbase and was clothed in attractive art deco coachwork. Designed by Walter Dorwin Teague, Jr., all but two of the bodies were built by LeBaron.

Magnificent though it was, the Marmon Sixteen was not ready for production until early in 1931, by which time Cadillac’s V-16 had been on the market for over a year. Initial prices were as low as $5,200, $750 less than the equivalent Cadillac, but Cadillac had a head start and the advantage of a larger business base. The first Marmon Sixteen customer did not take delivery until April 1931. For the year, barely 200 Sixteens were produced, out of some 5,700 total sales. The total for 1932 was just ten percent of an underwhelming 1,365 total cars, from which it seems odd that the eight-cylinder cars were discontinued entirely for 1933. It is not hard to understand, though, that with just 86 cars sold that year, about a third of which must have been leftover ’32s, Marmon was in receivership by the first of May.

Chassis no. 16141-694

Rarest of surviving Marmon Sixteens is the two-passenger coupe, of which only six are known to exist. Of those six, only four are known to have their original engines, including the example offered here. This car’s original owner and early history are unknown, as Marmon records were lost after the factory closed. Its life since 1955, however, has been carefully followed and updated by Dyke W. Ridgley, custodian of the Marmon Sixteen Roster, to whom we are indebted for this information.

From 1955 to the early 1960s, it was owned by Albert A. Hood, Jr. of Wyckoff, New Jersey. At that time it was painted black. In 1963, it was in the possession of Albert L. Walker of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, who sold it to Gordon Gress of Milwaukee in 1965. In 1982, still in Gress’ possession, it was reported as “untouched” and “in fair condition, running when last driven. Needs complete restoration. 22,000 miles, well stored and preserved.”

Gress sold it in 1988 to Gary Overby of Puyallup, Washington, who in turn sold it to noted collector Marvin Tamaroff of Southfield, Michigan in 1991. Tamaroff had it restored by Harry Sherry of Sherry Custom Autos in Warsaw, Ontario in 2002. It was sold at auction in 2008 before eventually being acquired by the current owner, a prominent collector who has maintained the car’s superior condition in climate-controlled storage.

It presently wears the meticulous Sherry restoration of 2002 but looks fresh and inviting. Painted blue and beige, it has extensive brightwork, all in good condition. The interior is done in beige leather, which appears as new, as does the rather understated wood trim on the doors. The car is tidy in every way and remains in very high-point condition to this day.

Like Model J Duesenbergs and other limited production Full Classic cars, Marmon Sixteens frequently underwent engine transplants, particularly in the 1940s and ’50s when they were considered simply old cars with poor parts availability. This car is noteworthy for retaining its original engine. Of the six surviving Marmon Sixteen coupes, only four have original engines, from a known surviving population of 71 of all body styles.

Any Marmon Sixteen is a celebrity car. The rare two-passenger coupe is more noteworthy still, particularly with its original engine. For enthusiasts of the Classic Era, this car invites very close attention.

SOLD RM January 2012 for US$687,000

Value: $500,000 – 1.0 mil.

Comment: An exclusive, hand built, rare vehicle, great buying.


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