Vintage economy models in the U.S.A.

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71

Sir,

Mr. Booth’s letter to you regarding the little Marmon Eights, indicates fairly clearly just how complex the situation was in the States on the matter of economy cars which were being made by prestige firms during the depression period, offered to an increasingly economy-minded car-buying public, by the reason of a depressed economy, but who still wanted the prestige that went with the name of Marmon, Buick (Marquette), Cadillac (La Salle), and so on.

The really serious student of American automotive history could spend quite some time in unravelling many of these complexities. I have on hand a fair amount of documentation on the little Marmon Eights, original handbooks, Floyd Clymer, our old friend Fletcher, and they all seem pretty agreed that the Roosevelt was the last of the small eights series, was known as the model 78, and had a wheelbase of 120 in., with an engine of 27.6 h.p. by R.A.C. rating with a volumetric capacity of 3,555 c.c. The Marmon 68 was the cheapest of the small eights (at least over here) retailing at £480 for the chassis, and £565 for the five-passenger sedan. R.A.C. rating was 25.3 h.p., wheelbase was 114 in. The first of the little eight series was known simply as the Marmon Straight Eight, had an engine with a 24.2 h.p. rating, and had a valve in head arrangement, whereas the other two eights were flat heads. All three eights were extant during the very brief period, late 1927 (for ’28 styling year) up to 1930. The 68 model, by the way, is identifiable by its hickory wheels, and a four-wheel braking system that had the handbrake working on the rear wheels, and not on the propeller shaft, as was fairly common practice with many Yanks of this period.

In 1929 also, the picture gets a little more complex with the introduction of another eight, this time known as the Big Eight, with a flat head engine of 32.5 h.p. I owned one of these for a while, and still remember it affectionately. During the two years I ran it, it was a faultless first time starter, no matter what the weather, it packed plenty of guts, and had the ability to hang on in top gear, possibly only matched by a present day diesel.

That Marmon claim of being the first in the field with an eight in line at under a thousand dollars, will stand some pretty close scrutiny because De Soto were putting out their eight in line at almost precisely the same time – the price for both the Marmon 78 and the De Soto was 995 dollars! – and on investigation it seems the De Soto had the better specification.

At a time when the horsey was still admonished to keep his tail well up, and Barney Googles eyes were still googling, I think it must be fairly accepted that these small eights were offering the economy-minded public of the day an economy package that was robustly built, honestly priced and had a specification that led to ease of maintenance, and a simplicity of understanding that appealed well to the market it was aimed at, and in short, had in good measure all the desirable qualities that our heavy 12/4, bullnose, 9/20 and 14/40 boys like to extol so much in the home product, but in the main choose to ignore, or belittle in the humble Yank of the same period.

Incidentally, Mr. Editor, that Edsel you mentioned in last month’s columns, would not be an acceptable candidate for the Classic American Auto Club of G.B., but I wonder – do we have here classicism for the future? It has most of the requirements for classic posterity, including the fact that hardly anyone would buy them!

Hunsdon. Harry C. G. Shell.