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How to Shop at the Show (1924)

(This article originally appeared in Hemmings Classic Car #133, October 2015)

“An automobile show is more than a spectacle. It is an opportunity to judge all motor cars by comparison, an opportunity which you do not have to quite the same degree any other time of the year.”

In 1924 there were more than 80 manufacturers selling passenger cars in the Unites States ranging from the $350 Model T to the $14,500 Rolls-Royce.  Competition was fierce and the industry sold more than 3,750,000 cars in 1923.  Imagine yourself the grand opening of the 1924 New York Auto Show eager to buy a new car but overwhelmed by your options.  To help navigate the event, the Marmon Company produced a catalog titled “How to Shop at the Show” and it helped prospective buyers analyze all of their options using twelve different criteria.

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Using a just a few of the criteria, let’s “shop” the show using the Marmon catalog.  Our first consideration will be the body. The catalog instructs us to ask vendors the following questions: “Do you make your own bodies? What materials are used? How high is the floor level? How is the body mounted?”  The catalog then explains why you should ask these questions and quickly points out that Marmon cars have bodies made by Marmon, feature aluminum fenders and hoods, ride only 24 ½” from the ground providing a low center of gravity and state that Marmon open bodies are mounted directly upon the frame in replaceable sections.

In conjunction with the Marmon’s low center of gravity, the catalog also instructs a potential buyer to consider balance and weight by asking “Is your car balanced? Where is the gas tank located? Where is the transmission located? How much does your car weigh?” The catalog answers these questions for the Marmon by illustrating a car placed on four scales with a caption that states there is only a 30-pound difference between front and rear axles.  Marmon is also proud to show that its gas tank rides in the cowl, the transmission is carried at the forward end of a torque tube and the weight of a Marmon ranges from 3,608 – 4,343 pounds. In Marmon’s opinion, this is a perfectly balanced and suitably heavy vehicle.

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A major consideration for any new car buyer would be the vehicle’s power plant.  Here the catalog recommends a buyer ask representatives “Do you make your own engines? How many cylinders has it? Is the crankshaft large and strong enough to eliminate torsional vibration?”  Marmon made their own six-cylinder engines in house and the catalog emphatically states “Only in a six or a multiple of six can the crankshaft be so built that the cylinder explosions are equalized, balanced and free of vibration”.  Obviously they would change their tune about six cylinders in just a few short years but, for 1924, they were clearly proud of their Six.

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The catalog ends with an interesting last consideration for a buyer and that deals with the company’s clientele. It asks the reader to consider this: “Are the people who own it (motor car) of a type which will reflect credit on you? When you buy a house you insist upon a good neighborhood, and the same element of pride enters into the selection of a motor car.” This snob-appeal was not unique to Marmon in the high-priced automotive field. Several other manufacturers asked similar questions in period advertising and as they us it to close their catalog, I like Marmon’s swagger.

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Naturally all of the questions in this catalog would lead the “discerning” buyer toward a Marmon.  The catalog presents a tremendous amount of technical and general information in an easily digestible and interesting format.  What better way to get your message across to the buyer than a guide loosely disguised as a map to navigate the Auto Show.  A map that leads them back to the Marmon display every time.  Marmon produced around 4,000 cars in 1924, reached its peak in 1929 (29,216) and then became another victim of the Great Depression in 1933.