Auctions and Brokerage
Formerly Owned by James Melton and Brooks StevensJames Melton, Norwalk, Connecticut (acquired in 1947)Brooks Stevens, Mequon, Wisconsin (acquired prior to 1954)Sam and Emily Mann, Englewood, New Jersey (acquired in 1996)Current Owner (acquired from the above in 2006)
Wilmot Hills Sports Car Road Races, May 1954, Fifth Race
Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance®, Pebble Beach, California, August 2000 (Best in Class)Ironstone Concours d’Elegance, Murphys, California (Best of Show)Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance®, Pebble Beach, California, August 2011
Howard C. Marmon was a highly skilled automobile pioneer who designed his first car in 1898 in the family’s Indianapolis milling machine shop. The car had an air-cooled V-twin engine with full-pressure lubrication, a multiple disc clutch, and a three-speed planetary gearbox. The engine was mounted in a three-point subframe, anticipating independent front suspension.
Revisions delayed the debut of Marmon’s car until 1902, when he drove it 50 miles to Kokomo. An air-cooled V-4 followed in 1904, a V-6 was tested in 1905, and a V-8 shown at the 1906 New York Auto Show. While Marmon used aluminum extensively, his cars were expensive, and production was limited.
By 1909 Marmon had switched to an inline four-cylinder, water-cooled, side-valve engine in the new model 32. After some racing success, driver Ray Harroun urged Marmon to add two more cylinders, and forego a riding mechanic. The resulting single-seat, six-cylinder, yellow and black “Wasp” sported a long pointed tail, and took Harroun to the 1910 AAA championship.
Harroun planned to retire, but Marmon learned that Indianapolis Raceway would run only one event in 1911, a 500-mile race worth $10,000. Harroun calculated he could outlast bigger cars on tire wear, and a final impediment to driving solo was overcome with his installation of the first rearview mirror. Harroun’s tire calculations proved correct, and he won the first Indy 500 at 74.59 mph. Marmon walked away with the prize money and an impeccable reputation.
Marmon introduced two new six-cylinder cars to celebrate his victory; the massive 579 CID model 48 and the lighter 41 Speedster, with the Wasp-inspired engine. The 41 Speedster was expensive at $3,250, and this car is thought to be one of only six built.
The 41 Speedster was larger, and a generation newer than the Mercer 35J Raceabout and Stutz Bearcat. Capable of 80 mph, the Marmon featured a full-pressure 477 CID engine, Bosch electric lights and starter, a three-speed transmission with central gearshift, optional Westinghouse air shocks, and internal expanding brakes. It had bucket seats and twin rear spares, and also a protective cowl and windshield. The Marmon promised long-distance, high-speed travel, as well as competition.
This car’s earliest history is unknown, but it was discovered by famed opera singer and pioneer collector James Melton in fall 1947 in Wisconsin. Rare period photos exist of the remarkably preserved Marmon on a snowy street. Melton kept the car for some years before it was acquired by legendary designer Brooks Stevens. Stevens is, of course, remembered for the 1948 Willys Jeepster, 1962 Studebaker Hawk GT, and his own 1965 Excalibur; but his design genius extended into all walks of American life, including industrial design, kitchen appliances, and corporate logos.
Mr. Stevens treasured the Marmon among the many cars in his well-known collection (which included a Talbot Lago Teardrop and an Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 MM Spyder), competing with it both in shows and local races. One such race took place in May 1954 at Wilmot Hills in Wisconsin. Stevens and the Marmon did not achieve a podium finish, as they were bested by far newer entries including David Uihlein’s Alfa 8C 2300, a Bugatti Type 35, and Stevens’ own Duesenberg race car.
Stevens’ son David remembers the Marmon well, as it whisked him to the hospital at high speed after he cut his finger severely when he was 8. David Stevens also recalled that his father subtly restyled the Marmon’s cowl to create its present gracious curve, fitted a smaller windshield, and moved the running board toolbox rearward. “He used to compete in all his cars. I think he raised the sides of the cowl to keep passengers in the car,” Stevens said.
Brooks Stevens passed away in 1996, and his prized Marmon was acquired by collectors Sam and Emily Mann, who owned the car for 10 years, enjoying frequent tours and concours. The Manns commissioned a three-year restoration by Jan Voboril and Stu Laidlaw which led to a Best in Class win at the 2000 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance®, followed by Best of Show honors at the Ironstone Concours d’Elegance in Murphys, California.
The consignor acquired the Marmon in 2006, and since then it has seldom been seen in public. As perhaps the only surviving example, this spectacular speedster has an immensely compelling presence and is bound to continue to dazzle new audiences at concours d’elegance and on vintage tours.