1932 Marmon Sixteen by Waterhouse - $Inquire
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  • Overview & History
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Waterhouse were quite good at their craft, and the car’s mass is cleverly masked by its proportions, and it isn’t until you see a full-sized adult behind the wheel that you realize just how big this car truly is.

There are plenty of places to read about the history of Howard Marmon’s extraordinary Sixteen, about young Walter Dorwin Teague who clothed the magnificent beast, and the almost religious dedication to mechanical precision that resulted in one of the most spectacular motorcars ever built. Instead of summarizing all those stories that you’ve already heard, we’d rather delve into this very special Marmon Sixteen with its custom 7-passenger touring body by Waterhouse, a car that is not only one-of-one, but which also has an extraordinary story behind it.

Open the trunk on this Sixteen and you’ll find a custom-fitted set of luggage with the initials “E.P.P.” emblazoned near their handles. E.P.P. is Colonel Ezra Parmalee Prentice, who, for most of his professional life, was John D. Rockefeller’s personal attorney. But perhaps more than that he was also the loving husband of Alta Rockefeller Prentice, Rockefeller’s youngest daughter, whom Ezra married in 1901. This was not a marriage of convenience or to solidify a business relationship or anything so vulgar as that—it was genuine. And in 1932, after 31 years of marriage and at age 69, Ezra went to Howard Marmon and asked him to build two special versions of the magnificent Sixteen, one for himself and one for his bride. The cars would have a unique 154-inch wheelbase, nine inches longer than the standard 145-inch Sixteen chassis. They commissioned Waterhouse Company of Webster, Massachusetts to build two similar—but not identical—bodies for these cars, both open 7-passenger phaetons. Ezra’s car would feature a conventional folding top, while Alta’s matching Marmon would have a unique fixed roof, now commonly called a “California” top. Alta’s car—this car, which carries serial number 16-146769—was painted two shades of dark blue with a gold pinstripe and trimmed in matching blue leather with a fixed black leatherette top. Alta used the Marmon only sparingly, since the weather at their Massachusetts estate wasn’t particularly conducive to year ‘round open car use.

An oral history of this car suggests that Alta kept the Marmon until her death in 1962, when it was acquired from the estate by the late, great Bill Harrah with just over 12,000 miles on the odometer. It remained in the Harrah collection for nearly 25 years and the paint was likely freshened during its tenure there—it’s certainly an older paint job but in such good condition that we have a hard time believing that it’s vintage 1932 lacquer. It’s also worth mentioning that while at Harrah’s, it was used in the 1970 Robert DeNiro film, “Bloody Mama.” In 1984 the third and most recent owner purchased it at one of the Harrah’s liquidation auctions, and he kept it until his passing in 2017. For a car rapidly approaching its 90th birthday, that’s a rather extraordinary chain of ownership.

It is in the third owner’s hands that the Sixteen accumulated a majority of its current 55,760 miles. A well-known Marmon collector and expert on the marque, he attended events all over the country, alternating and often leap-frogging his Marmons from venue to venue, but the Sixteen was always his favorite car to drive. Its superlative road manners, incomparably smooth ride, and effortless 65 MPH cruising speeds made it a natural choice, and in the 1980s and 1990s it was a familiar sight on long-distance tours. He drove it to Maryland, to New England, and even once to Wyoming, all without trailers or support vehicles. It was so easy to drive, his wife drove it to Canada (in the rain!) without him when a business meeting cut into his travel time. He was able to enjoy the Sixteen well into his later years largely due to its easy-going nature, particularly the power brakes and light steering, which are superior to almost anything else of the era. As I said, the engineering behind the Sixteen is just as remarkable as this car’s story.

Today, Alta’s Sixteen presents in exceptional condition, a testament to the quality of the car, the workmanship along the way, and the care it has received over the past nine decades. The stunning two-tone blue finish is entirely appropriate, conservative yet sporting, and helping to disguise the car’s absolutely immense footprint. Waterhouse were quite good at their craft, and the car’s mass is cleverly masked by its proportions, and it isn’t until you see a full-sized adult behind the wheel that you realize just how big this car truly is. The body is aluminum with steel fenders and hood, so while it is undeniably large, it is no heavier than a standard 145-inch Marmon and perhaps lighter than some of its contemporaries such as the Cadillac V16 and most certainly lighter than a Duesenberg. The robust structure underneath produces an especially satisfying sound when you close the door and on the road it remains almost entirely free of squeaks, rattles, or other noises. Craftsmanship matters! A bright yellow pinstripe along the beltline adds some contrast, as do the chrome-plated 18-inch wire wheels (yes, those are rather large 18-inch wheels—the car is huge!).

We assume that much of the chrome was refinished at some point, because it remains in excellent condition throughout, including the conservative Marmon radiator shell whose shutters are (intentionally) fixed in the open position, the last owner’s preference due to his love of driving the car. Traditional Marmon ovoid headlights are beautifully finished and the twin taillights out back echo that shape. And just to make the car even longer, there’s a trunk rack and trunk with the aforementioned fitted luggage bearing the “E.P.P.” initials. That unique California top is in excellent condition and presumably original—it shows some very minor signs of age but nothing that needs attention. You will also note that it wears a CCCA Senior Prize award, another indication of the car’s quality.

The blue leather interior is typical touring car simple—wide, flat hides on the seats with simple piping on the edges. Plush carpets were standard, front and rear, and matching leather door panels incorporate map pockets big enough to actually store gear. It’s likely that most of the interior is original to the car given its low mileage and the slight proportions of two of its owners, and we have no trouble believing that the rear compartment is entirely original, as it was seldom used. There’s some fraying on the driver’s side map pocket flap, probably where one’s leg might rest while cruising, but there is no other damage beyond normal comfort marks in the leather and some slight wear to the front seat carpets. Marmon’s gauges are big, round, and easy to read, an intentional design that seems uniquely Marmon where form always followed function, although the speedometer is hidden behind the steering column, making it a little hard to see. It’s probably worth noting that the speedometer was intentionally calibrated to read about 15% fast—this, in order to keep Alta’s driver from going too fast with her aboard (subsequent conversations with Alta’s driver at the Rockefeller’s Massachusetts estate confirm this story). Secondary controls are tucked under the dash and use aircraft-style levers for items such as the throttle, choke, and carburetor heat. All the gauges are fully operational, including the 8-day clock, and the large knob at the top of the instrument panel cranks open the cowl vent, an elegantly simple design. Headlights are managed by the horn button, whose edges are serrated to make it easy to grip and turn, and the switch for an auxiliary electric fuel pump is hidden in the glove box to the driver’s left. The rear compartment is as spacious as a living room and features two auxiliary seats that are as large as the primary seats in many lesser cars, as well as a rear bench with a folding center armrest. With the fixed roof, there is also a lovely wool headliner, which was replaced several years ago after a particularly wet tour damaged the original. All the coach lamps work correctly, including the dome light and quarter lights, both of which are managed by switches on the cowl, as well as the manual entrance lights for each rear door. Tonneau covers for both front and rear compartments are included so the car can be secured on tour and Ezra’s full set of luggage is stowed in the trunk.

Marmon’s V16 engine is an engineering tour-de-force, an exercise in limit-pushing that still seems contemporary today. Built almost entirely of an aluminum alloy called Lynite, the one-piece block uses fork-and-blade connecting rods to make it relatively compact, although “relatively” is the key word: there are 491 cubic inches inside, the biggest pre-war luxury car engine of them all. Wet cylinder liners are made of case-hardened seamless nickel molybdenum tubing pressed into place and fitted with rubber O-rings at their bases that would vulcanize themselves into place during engine break-in, sealing them against the coolant that completely surrounds each cylinder. Aluminum pistons on forged steel connecting rods, each eight inches long, bolt to a lightweight crankshaft suspended in five main bearings—no counterweights are used nor required. Compression ratio is a rather aggressive 6.0:1, higher than most others of the era. Aluminum cylinder heads feature overhead valves and pushrods with mechanical lifters, but despite aluminum’s tendency to transmit noise, the valvetrain is remarkably quiet. Aluminum pushrods were used so that they would match the expansion characteristics of the aluminum block to keep valve clearance constant. On top there’s a Stromberg DDR 2-barrel carburetor—Marmon was among the first to adopt downdraft carbs in the early 1930s and boasted that this engine had equal fuel distribution to all 16 cylinders. An A/C mechanical fuel pump feeds the carburetor, assisted by an electric fuel pump hidden in the back of the chassis, and a heavy-duty air silencer is fitted to the carburetor with the most exquisite polished aluminum casting you’ve ever seen on a mere air filter.

The sum total of all this is 200 rated horsepower (some experts suggest 240 is a more accurate figure) with “Road & Track” magazine estimating 390 pounds of torque at 1800 RPM, all delivered with the effortlessness of an electric motor. It’s easy to understand how this became a favorite car to drive.

Unfortunately, with all that aluminum inside, time can be unkind to Marmon Sixteen engines. Many develop leaks in their cylinder heads where corrosion erodes the cooling passages, rendering them permanently inert. As a remedy, a group of enterprising Marmon enthusiasts contracted Edelbrock (yes, that Edelbrock) to cast brand-new Marmon Sixteen cylinder heads, enough for each of the estimated 70 or so remaining Sixteens to have a set. The cost was a staggering $10,000 per head yet the run sold out instantly, including a set destined for Alta’s Sixteen. Although the original cylinder heads on Alta’s low-mileage engine showed no major signs of distress, a full rebuild was commissioned at Frank Seme & Sons Rebuilders, noted experts on Full Classic multi-cylinder engines. In fact, the owner had already prepared for the rebuild by locating and rebuilding a SECOND V16 engine, complete with carburetor, generator, water pump, and starter, so that he would not have to stop driving his beloved Sixteen (that second rebuilt engine plus a significant cache of original Marmon Sixteen parts are available—please inquire). The rebuild was completed in 2015, the original engine was reinstalled, and today has fewer than 1000 miles on it.

The engine bay is beautifully detailed with polished aluminum valve covers, black enamel intake panels, and raw aluminum castings everywhere else. It is not as artfully styled as a Cadillac V16, which was the first engine designed to be admired, but the Marmon’s purposeful engineering has a look that is every bit as compelling. The quality of the 1932 aluminum castings compares favorably with the 21st century cylinder heads and the modern parts are so exact as to be indistinguishable from original. The generator, starter, distributor, and water pump were also rebuilt, as was the Stromberg carburetor on top. Ignition cables are stashed inside chrome conduit and every effort was made to hide wiring and plumbing out of sight. The engine-turned firewall is surely a nod to Marmon’s racing past (they were, after all, the winners of the very first Indy 500) and the butterfly hood rests on built-in stanchions so that both sides may be opened at once, presumably to best display the engine.

On the road, this Marmon is delightful to drive. It starts quickly and easily with just a little choke, and barks to life through twin stainless tailpipes with a sound that is quite unlike any engine you’ve heard before. The idle is buttery smooth, but it’s still there—it isn’t quite invisible and I think that’s the point. This was a luxury car built by racers, remember. It feels like a flexing muscle, and a big one at that.

Marmon bought the 3-speed manual transmission from General Motors’ Muncie Gear Division, complete with synchromesh on 2nd and 3rd gears, and it shifts beautifully and as advertised with no gear clash or double-clutching required. And speaking of the clutch, it is a double-disc arrangement that was fully rebuilt with the engine. Take-up is smooth and pedal action is light, although if you’re clumsy you’ll get a bit of chatter. No matter; the engine makes so much torque that it’s unlikely you’ll stall it. Marmons were advertised as being able to attain 70 MPH in 2nd gear and 105 MPH in high, numbers we have no interest in verifying but certainly believable given that there are relatively tall 3.69 gears in the rear end. Acceleration is as lively as you need it to be and there’s no need to rev the big V16 because a mountain of torque is available just off idle. Even in high gear, there’s plenty of pull on tap and this mammoth car does indeed cruise easily at modern highway speeds. It’s all rather remarkable.

Marmon’s suspension is standard early ‘30s fare with a dropped I-beam axle in front and a live axle in back, all supported by leaf springs secured to the frame using shackles with ball bearings in their mounts. Watson double-action shock absorbers are fitted, and with that bridge-like wheelbase the ride is superior to anything else you are likely to drive from 1932. Even large bumps fail to upset the Marmon’s composure and the rigid, well-built structure shrugs off the impact and prevents any unpleasantness from reaching the passengers. Howard Marmon the racer was a big believer in cars that could stop as well as they could go, so the Sixteen is fitted with 16-inch drum brakes that are considerably larger than those in its competitors—even the mighty Duesenberg J doesn’t have binders this effective. With Bendix vacuum-assist, these mechanical brakes are confident, pulling the car down from speed without drama. Combined with the Ross steering gear box and a built-in stabilizer, it’s not difficult to understand why the previous owner enjoyed driving this car well into his 80s—it’s exceptionally easy to handle. Chrome wire wheels are certainly flashy, but that’s how it was built, and it carries a set of 7.00-18 Lester wide whitewall tires that certainly look and feel appropriate.

Documentation is extensive, including a service manual, a collection of factory service bulletins collected by Harrah’s, and decades of receipts which are reported to add up to more than $1 million (while we have not added them all up, there are A LOT of very large numbers in there).

Marmon’s magnificent Sixteen has been trapped in the shadow of the Duesenberg J for decades, probably because of its conservative styling and rather limited bodywork choices. Today, that’s changing in a significant way and more than a few Sixteens have changed hands for seven-figure sums, reflecting the car’s true position at the very top of the pre-war luxury food chain. This particular Sixteen, with its unique open coachwork, exceptional history, and fresh mechanicals, is an outstanding opportunity to acquire one of the most significant pre-war American cars ever built and one that will delight you every time you climb behind the wheel.

After all, driving is what this car has always done best.

Harwood Motors always welcomes and encourages personal or professional inspections of any vehicle prior to purchase.

Vehicle: 1932 Marmon Sixteen by Waterhouse
Price: $Inquire
Stock Number: 116106
Mileage: 55,767
VIN: 16146769
Engine: 491 cubic inch V16
Transmission: 3-speed manual
Gear Ratio: 3.69
Wheelbase: 154 inches
Wheels: 18-inch wire wheels
Tires: 7.00-18 Lester wide whitewall
Exterior Color: Waterhouse Blue
Interior Color: Blue leather
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