After years in Sedalia field, rare car headed to UK

Sunday, April 18, 2010 | 4:10 p.m. CDT

SEDALIA— An 81-year-old car will soon make its way from a mid-Missouri field to an unnamed buyer in the United Kingdom.

Loy Holman, owner of Holman Auto Sales, told the Sedalia Democrat he offered the 1929 Marmon Model 78 Sport Roadster on eBay as part of the estate of a Sedalia construction company owner named Daniel L. Wolf, who died in October 2008.

The closing bid was $3,377. Holman said the car was originally purchased by Wolf's grandmother as a new car in 1929.

"It spent the last few years in a field and it will take a lot to restore it, but this is just so rare. It's a fantastic car," Holman said.

Fewer than 1,000 Marmon cars still exist.

Years of exposure to the elements have left the straight-8 roadster with the rumble seat little more than a rust-colored shell, but this did little to deter the new owner — an unnamed buyer who will now pay to have the car packaged and shipped overseas.

Holman said he was surprised that the winning bidder was from the United Kingdom and said he had multiple bids from all over the U.S. He said he resisted buyers interested in spare parts from the car, which still has an intact, original windshield and dashboard.

The original engine, part of the bid package, was replaced with a Buick engine and the original was sent away to be rebuilt in the 1930s. The rebuilt engine was never reinstalled and spent decades on a pallet in Wolf's barn. The package also includes parts of the cars wooden substructure around which the metal frame was fabricated. The wood has rotted over the years, but the pieces can be used to make patterns for the parts when the car is restored, Holman said.

"The original engine still turns over. I had plenty of calls on that alone, and for some other parts, like the dashboard, but I was determined to sell it in one piece to someone that was going to restore it," Holman said.

George Bradley, of Miami Shores, Fla., is the president of the Marmon Automobile Club of America. He said although many people don't recognize the Marmon name, it was "was one of the premiere vehicles of its time. It was in the class of the Pierce Arrow, Peerless and Packard."

Marmon, which was based in Indianapolis, helped pioneer the 6- and 8-cylinder engines and began manufacturing cars in 1903. The company was in competition with Cadillac to produce the first V-16, but Cadillac beat them to the market and the company ceased production in 1933 during the depths of the Great Depression. Of the roughly 100,000 cars Marmon built, only about 650 have survived, Bradley said.

Bradley said the Model 78 would have sold for about $1,400 brand new. Sales of the 78 would be eclipsed the following year when Marmon introduced its Roosevelt the first straight-8 car to sell for less than $1,000.

"Marmon's were marketed for their endurance and durability, but people knew they were getting plenty of bang for their buck," Bradley said.

He said the company made a name for itself with the Marmon Wasp, which won the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911.

Bradley estimated that it could cost between $100,000 and $125,000 to restore the car from its current state if the buyer had someone else do the work, and between $15,000 and $20,000 "if they have their own shop and are able to fabricate most of the pieces themselves."

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