General description :
I always like to think of Marmons as luxury cars built by racers. As the winner of the very first Indianapolis 500, Howard Marmon understood the relationship between performance, durability, and quality. He established his company in Indianapolis to be close to the cutting-edge technology of the day and embraced new ideas in a big way. As a result, his cars were powerful yet refined, capable yet easy to drive, and above all, peerlessly reliable. Much of Marmon’s history today surrounds the mighty Sixteen, but a myriad of other Marmons fill out a very impressive roster and it seems improper to call them “lesser” cars. More affordable, yes, but certainly full of the character that defined Marmon motorcars from the very beginning. A great example is this 1930 Marmon Model 79, which, at first glance, appeared to be a mere facelift of the previous Model 78, but under the skin it’s so much more. Improvements to the brakes, suspension, and a larger 303 cubic inch straight-8 were all part of the program.
This gorgeous 1930 Marmon Model 79 sport phaeton is one of only three known to exist. It was purchased in the 1990s in boxes by a noted Marmon collector and in 2001, was treated to a cost-no-object restoration by noted expert Jim Capaldi. Using one of the remaining Model 79 phaetons as a template (and it’s worth noting THAT car used this black car as a guide for its restoration), it is beautifully finished and has won every notable award such a car can win. The gleaming black bodywork accentuates the rakish stance of the Marmon and it is highlighted by red moldings and pinstripes. The distinctive horizontal hood louvers make it easy to distinguish it from the older Model 78, but the horseshoe-shaped grille should look familiar to Marmon fans. Finish quality is excellent with tight body gaps, wave-free bodywork, and paint that still shows a deep shine even after nearly 20 years. Likewise, the chrome trim remains crisp and bright and the car is fitted with accessories such as a very attractive grille guard, dual side mount mirrors, Trippe lights, dual horns, wind wings, and cast aluminum step plates on the running boards. Out back there’s a fitted trunk that makes it ideal for touring, something that it does remarkably well.
The black leather interior is beautifully stitched and should look familiar to anyone who knows open touring cars of the period. Wide pleats, simple door panels with map pockets, and a low cowl make it feel sporting from behind the wheel. Carpets instead of rubber mats were part of the Marmon’s upscale appeal and you will note that the instrument panel is sterling silver, not chrome or nickel, and that’s how it was when it was new (there is some tarnishing that could probably be wiped away with a gentle polish but we didn’t want to get too aggressive). All the gauges are fully operational, although the speedometer reads about 10 MPH slow at speed due to the high-speed rear gears that were fitted during the restoration. Dual cowl vents keep it comfortable on the road and the view from the driver’s seat down the hood might just be the best in all of motoring—those giant headlights are gorgeous! And I’ll give you the tip: the horn button not only controls the horn, but also the headlights and the starter—turn the key and pull the horn button to start the engine. Who knows how long you’d spend trying to make it run if you didn’t know that little tidbit? The tan canvas top is in almost new condition and has probably only been folded a handful of times (the car is far more handsome with the top up), and it includes both front and rear tonneaus to close the car up for tour duty.
The Model 79’s most significant upgrade was under the hood: a 303 cubic inch flathead straight-8 replaced the previous year’s 218 cubic inch OHV unit, and the new engine was considerably more muscular. There’s plenty of torque available at almost any speed and even with the high-speed gears, downshifting isn’t really necessary except for a dead stop. Jim Capaldi rebuilt the engine to stock specifications during the restoration, although the original Scheibler carburetor was replaced with a different unit due to the Scheibler’s tendency to start fires. Even most experts may not spot the change, and with a coat of battleship gray engine enamel, porcelainized manifolds, and bright hardware, it looks well-dressed. It has been driven about 6000 miles since the restoration was completed and the gentleman who commissioned the restoration enjoyed driving his cars more than showing them so it is mechanically excellent and fully operational. We serviced it following a period of storage, including restoring the gas tank, flushing the cooling system, and rebuilding the carburetor and mechanical fuel pump, and replacing the auxiliary electric fuel pump, which uses a return line to regulate pressure. Pull the choke out about ½ inch, let the electric pump run for a few seconds, and pull the horn button and the big straight-8 barks to life with a gruff rumble from the tailpipe. Once it’s running, it doesn’t need (or want) any choke, and eventually it settles into a muted 500 RPM idle. It makes plenty of oil pressure, stays nice and cool even idling for extended periods, and the generator puts out plenty of electricity. If you like to drive, this Marmon would love to join you.
Underneath, you can see the quality of Capaldi’s work in the detailed chassis. Like the rest of the car, it’s basic black, but it’s obvious that every component was cleaned, rebuilt, and refinished. The aforementioned 3-speed manual transmission has good ratios and light clutch action, with just a little chatter when it’s cold. It’s not synchronized, but it doesn’t seem to like double-clutching either—we’ve found that slow but deliberate shifts work best. We believe the rear gears are in the 3.90 range, making this Marmon capable of comfortable cruising around 55 MPH without hurting low-end torque. The exhaust system has a great 8-cylinder burble that we really enjoy and even though the brakes are still mechanical, they’re powerful and effective (remember that this car was built by racers). There are a few modest signs of tour usage under there, but nothing beyond some surface rust on the leaf springs and some dirt, almost all of which could be erased with a day of detailing if it’s your intention to show the car. Bright red wire wheels are the right choice, and they are fitted with 6.00/6.50-19 BFGoodrich wide whitewalls which are probably approaching drinking age, so I might recommend replacing them if tour use is in your future (although they show no signs of deterioration, cracking, dry rot, or discoloration).
Rare, powerful, fast, and comfortable are all words that accurately describe this Marmon. It’s far more car than a comparable Chrysler or Buick, yet it remains more affordable than an equivalent Packard or Cadillac. You will always have the only one and if our experience with the Marmon Club is any indication, it will always be a very popular participant at Marmon Musters. If Full Classic status isn’t important, this is a fantastic, high-quality motorcar that’s suitable for tours and shows at almost any level. Put it on the road and discover why Howard Marmon decided that going fast was but one part of the equation. Call today!
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