The Automobile Industry Eighty-Five Years Ago


| 1/2/2014 11:23:00 AM


Tags: automobile industry, marmon motor, automobile topics, general motors, reo motor car company, looking back,

Marmon Roosevelt
The 1929 Straight-Eight Roosevelt made by Marmon Motor Car Co. of Indianapolis, Indiana, and advertised at $995.00. (June 8th, 1929 issue of Automobile Topics in the author’s collection.)

In 1929 the “Roaring ‘20s” were in full swing and there seemed no limit to what America could accomplish. This was especially true of the automobile industry, with new models being introduced by several manufacturers, and new dealers being signed up all over the country. A copy of Automobile Topics, a trade paper published weekly in New York, gives us a glimpse of the optimism during that heady spring, just a few months before the bubble burst.

New car registrations for March were 46.9% above March 1928, and the trend was continuing with April registrations 27% over March, and 63% more than the previous April. Nash claimed that sales of the Nash “400” for the first four months of ‘29 were up 59.3% over the same period of 1928.

The new Roosevelt Eight, billed as “the world’s first straight-eight to sell below $1000,”and “Smart Transportation for the Thrifty,” had just been introduced by the Marmon Motor Car Co. of Indianapolis. A two-page ad told of the thousands of people who visited Marmon showrooms to see the new car. One big New York dealer reported: “Roosevelt introduction was a record breaker. Closed yesterday with 269 orders. Sitting on top of the world.” A Cleveland Marmon dealer claimed 6000 people and more than 300 orders in the first two days.

Meanwhile, Buick was gearing up to build the new Marquette; “...to answer a country-wide demand for a product of Buick craftsmanship at a moderate price.” To go on sale June 1st, the Marquette was said to be: “The most complete car in America priced under $1000.” It had a 6-cylinder engine (L-head instead of Buick’s famous valve-in-head) that could accelerate from 10 to 60 MPH in under 31 seconds, deliver 68 to 70 MPH, and climb any 12% grade in high gear. (Today’s drivers, used to automatic transmissions, don’t remember the days when a car that could climb a certain steep hill in high gear was endlessly bragged about by its owner; in my case, it was Steffen Hill leading up out of Beaver Falls, PA, although I don’t think I ever had a car that could do it.)

General Motors, Chrysler, Stutz, Stearns-Knight, Packard, Auburn, Jordan, Willys-Overland, Graham-Paige, Studebaker, and Hudson all reported banner sales, and the Reo Motor Car Company. signed 32 new dealers during April of 1929