The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

Miniature Factory Show Cars

Added to museum: 1/29/09

The 1921 Marmon 34 Coupe was tracked down in the 1970's by former Road & Track publisher John R. Bond and now belongs to his nephew, Paul Bundy, seen here with the model. Of the remaining two known Marmon models, this is the only one that has been restored. (Click photo for larger image.)


Some companies like Bugatti have made miniature replicas of their cars to sell to rich clients, but miniature cars served a more practical purpose at one point in our automotive history. In the 1920’s, auto shows were becoming popular as a way to show off the styling and features of your product line to the public. However, they were not the huge events they are today, which are held in giant convention centers. In some cases, companies were only allotted enough room in their booth for two full-size cars. Luxury cars in those days were also quite large in comparison to today’s average car. How were they to show all the various options to the public? Their answer was to build ¼ scale models made to look exactly like the big production cars.

This is one of only a few photos of the craftsmen at work in the Marmon shop building the 1/4 scale models. Unfortunately, we cannot put names to any of the men in the picture, but their work has survived 80 years and is still being admired. (Click on photo to view a larger image.)

Honoring Unknown Craftsmen

We have decided to include these cars here even though we cannot identify any individual names of the craftsmen who built them. But craftsmen they were. They had access to the original factory plans, materials and techniques. The companies also employed a host of talented pattern makers back when many parts on cars were cast rather than stamped. It may also have been the case the apprentice workers in the shop were given this task to test and improve their skills much like apprentice gunsmiths made miniature firearms as their "master piece" before they could attain "master" status in their trade. These men were most likely the ones responsible for turning out models that would be so attractive, a rich customer would be inspired to order a full-sized version after seeing just the small model. This would not be practical today, of course, but skilled labor was cheaper and more plentiful then, while materials were expensive.

We know of several such models that have survived the past century, but unfortunately, most did not or may still be hidden away in barns somewhere. Paul Bundy is lucky enough to have one of them and has collected quite a bit of information about it and some of the others still known to exist. He has a ¼ Scale Marmon that was acquired years ago in the 1970's by his uncle, long-time Road & Track magazine publisher John R. Bond. His story follows as a salute to those unknown but talented industrial model makers of the past. If anyone reading this has knowledge of any other existing factory models or a family history of any of the craftsmen who helped make one, please contact us. We would be glad to add more information to this page.

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The Story of the Miniature Marmons

By Paul Bundy

“Replica Marmons Attract the Crowds” Those were the headlines in newspapers and trade magazines throughout the east and the mid-west in 1921. The cause of this excitement was six ¼ scale replicas of the Marmon body styles available for the 1921 season.

The Marmon Motorcar Company built cars from 1903-1933. The Marmon Wasp won the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911. A 1921 Marmon 34 cost $2700, while a 1921 Ford Model T cost $370. In 1932, a Marmon 16 with its 16-cylinder engine cost the same as a Duesenberg.

A page from the brochure prepared for the New York Auto Show of 1921 shows the Coupe on the right-hand side. (Click on image for larger view.)

Auto expos of the era, including those in Chicago, Indianapolis, Toledo, Detroit and New York had space for only two regular cars in each booth, so Marmon built exact ¼ scale replicas of their 1921 line-up of eight different body styles. There were built by the company’s pattern department apprentices. According to the Marmon Post, the company newsletter, two replicas of each body were built for a total of sixteen. A mystery surrounds the number of miniatures built. Only six show in photos of the time and they are always the same six. The builders possibly ran out of time and couldn’t complete all sixteen.

This two-seat Marmon Speedster model is now hidden away in a back room at the Los Angeles county Museum of Natural History. It has been seen and photographed by only a few people since it ended up there. (Click on photo to view a larger image.) —Paul Bundy Photo

For more than fifty years, only one car, the 2-seat Speedster in the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, was known to have survived. In 1977, my uncle, John R. bond of Road & Track magazine, after a 20-year search, found a second survivor, the Coupe, which I now have. Amazingly, in 2007, Ron Barnett, editor of the Marmon News received a call from an auctioneer in Vermont asking about a Marmon model. It turned out to be the Town Car, and Ron was able to acquire the car. Ron passed away in December, 2008.

The miniatures are exacting in detail, especially considering the era. Each model is bolted together using scale nuts, bolts and screws. The bodies are cast aluminum like the regular cars with opening doors and working latches. The frame and cross-members are riveted. Closed car windshields open. Interiors of the closed cars were silk and open cars were leather. Drinking straws formed over a piece of hexagonal steel, cut to length and glued together made up the radiators. The dashboard is complete with ¼ scale photographs of the instruments put into ¼ scale bezels. All of the switches and controls are there including the motometer. Tires were made especially for the cars by Goodrich. The wheels are brass and are removable. The removable hubcaps and the grill badge were made by jewelers. These were the only parts not made in-house. Originally the headlights and dome lights worked, but they are no longer functional on the Coupe. The hood is removable and the latches work. The front and rear suspensions are fully operational with springs, shackles and friction shocks. The front wheels steer but are not connected to the steering wheel. Marmons of the era had only rear brakes. They are of the external contracting type and are fully detailed including cotter pins, springs and linings. There are no engines or transmissions, although two ¼ scale (non-operational) Marmon exhibition engines exist.

The wheelbase is 34 inches, the width is 17 inches and the height is 18.5 inches. Overall length is 46 inches and the Coupe weighs 85 pounds. The paint scheme on the replicas is the same as on their bigger brothers. I have the original shipping container. It is a specially built Hartman trunk.

The Town Car was sent to Lima, Peru for their Centennial Exhibition in July, 1921. The Sedan was sent to Mexico for their first auto show in April, 1921. The cars unaccounted for are the Sedan, possibly not returned from Mexico, the 7-Passenger Touring, the 4-Passenger Touring, the 4-Passenger Roadster, known as the “Cloverleaf,” and the Limosine. Considering the intended purpose of these replicas, it is remarkable that three have survived.

--Paul Bundy

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The 1/4 scale "Baby" 1906 REO is seen in front of the full-size "Mama" car in the same color scheme at a 1987 concours event at Seaport Village in San Diego, CA. (Click on photo to view a larger image.) —Paul Bundy Photo

"Mama" and "Baby" REO

In 1906, the REO company built the first miniature gas powered car known to exist. It was built as an exact model of their full-size offering for that year as a promotional idea. It was unveiled at the 1906 International Auto Show in New York and then toured the country with showings at dealerships and fairs to much acclaim. It was even leased to the Barnam & Bailey and Ringling Brothers Circuses for a while and used in their parades and shows, driven by tiny performers. It was lost and found twice over the years and finally purchased by automotive designer Dick Teague. It was re-united in 1980 with its full-size, identically painted “Mama” and has toured the country as a pair ever since, appearing at auto shows and exhibitions. In 2008 it was sold at auction and purchased by Peter and Debbie Stephens, the great-granddaughter of Ransom Eli Olds and now resides at the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing, Michigan, returning the car to its original roots.

For the full story on this car see a page on the RE Olds web site at:

Other miniature promotional cars

Other companies also made miniature cars that were separate from the major auto companies making the full-size counterparts. These were typically gas or electric powered, quite detailed and were not intended to be "pedal  cars" or toys but rather were mostly used by car dealers as promotional vehicles. The mid-1950's and early '60's was a popular time for this type of vehicle. See for some photos and stories about this rare type of miniature car.

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Examples of some of the known miniature show cars

(Click photos for larger images. Some will not display as large as others because they were only available in a small format.)

The Marmon Miniatures

Craftsmen from the Nordyke & Marmon Company work on a 1/4 scale Marmon model in Indianapolis for the 1921 auto shows. These cars were built in the same manner and using the same materials as the full-size cars in order to save space in the show booth.

The caption in this photo from the Marmon Post reads, "The Opportunities Department was established in the handsome "closing room" of the Marmon Automobile Company of New York. It not only was a factor in reaching prospective distributors, but it opened the eyes of the Marmon dealer organization to the scope of the factory's work."
The prize sedan and six miniatures at the 1921 Milwaukee show were the center of interest.  The two joint holders of the winning ticket took possession of the Marmon sedan given away by the Eckstein-Miller Auto Co. at the end of the show. In exchange for donating the car, Mr. Eckstein stipulated that 15% of the receipts from the show or a minimum of $7500 be divided among three Milwaukee charities. The show was a huge success as was the promotion.

Seen here are the miniature Speedster and the coupe which is now displayed in restored condition. These cars were privately shown before the show in New York and were an instant hit. These are two of only 3 remaining of the original 6 known to have been produced, although accounts at the time state as many as 16 were built.

 A 1999 show at the Muckenthaler Art Museum in Orange, CA featured a full size 7-passenger touring car along with the 1/4 scale coupe.
Details of the new Marmon spring suspension are shown in the illustration and as duplicated in the model. The claim was that this design allowed a new degree of passenger comfort by eliminating side sway. (Illustration from Marmon 34, a Clymer Publications reprint, 1951)
Marmon body construction consisted of the major cast aluminum components shown on the frame in the right-hand illustration. These castings were bolted to the frame. The second illustration shows the framework for the body section which was made from wood—seasoned white ash—and firmly braced. (Illustrations from Marmon 34, aClymer Publications reprint, 1951)

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The 1921 Marmon 34 Coupe

The Marmon Coupe on its display stand. The headlight and front suspension of the 1/4 scale Marmon coupe are also shown.
Looking through the rear window of the coupe one can see the steering wheel and dash.

With the door open, interior details can be seen on the coupe. Upholstery was silk on the closed cars and leather on the others.

The large rear brake drum can be seen in the first photo. The wire wheel runs the original white sidewall tire, now showing a few age cracks but still functional.
Jim Waters (Left) was retained by John R. Bond to do the majority of the restoration work in the 1970's. Here Mr. Waters has the coupe outside and displayed on top of the original Hartman trunk that served as a shipping container for the model.

The right-hand photo shows the model displayed indoors more recently on top of the same trunk.

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The 1921 Marmon 34 2-passenger Speedster Convertible

Though the 1/4 scale Marmon convertible has been in the possession of the LA County Historical Society for many years, very few people have had the opportunity to see and photograph it recently. These photos were taken on a rare behind-the-scenes visit to the storage area.
A front and rear shot of the Speedster.
An interior view shows the dash with photographs of the gauges inside the bezel with clear cover, gear shift, brake lever and steering wheel. The windshield can be laid down flat just like on the full-size version.
The wire wheels on this car are painted black, and a spare is mounted on the trunk.

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The 1921 Marmon 34 Town Car

The late Ron Barnett is seen with the1921 town car model purchased at auction in 2007. Though the condition is a little rough, all the major components are there. The second photo shows a rear view of the car.

The open driver's compartment is sparse compared to the luxury of the passenger compartment in the rear. The interior of the original contained a heater, dictaphone, vanity case for milady, smoking case with electric lighter and other niceties.
Details of the underside of the car can be seen in these photos. (The brass fixture on the end of the steering shaft is probably a later repair or addition.)
Rear axel detail is exposed here, including the unique Marmon spring suspension.
These and the following photos of the car were sent to the Barnetts before they received the car from its previous owner. They show some additional details of the car and its condition when they received it.
In 1921 this would have been an impressive car to arrive in.
Two photos show some interior detail. The first is looking through one of the side windows into the luxurious rear compartment. The second photo shows the comparatively stark driver's seat and steering wheel.

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The 1/4 scale 1906 REO

An old promotional photo of the "Mama" and "Baby" REO with people appropriately sized for each. (Photo: RE Olds Transportation Museum)

The second photo shows the car at a concours in San Diego's Seaport Village in 1987. The car was then owned by auto designer Dick Teague.

Making this model unique is the fact that it is complete with a running engine. In 1906, it was the first running miniature car. Details can be seen here with the bodywork removed. (Photos: RE Olds Transportation Museum)
The dash and steering featured all of the original gauges and even a small bulb horn. (Photo: RE Olds Transportation Museum)

For more on this car see the RE Olds Transportation Museum web site at

In 2008 the famous pair of display cars were reunitied under the ownership of the relatives of the company's founder, Ransom Eli Olds. Seen here are Mr. Olds' great grand-daughter Debbie (Anderson) Stephens and her husband Peter. After over 100 years of traveling, the car is finally back in Lansing, Michigan. (Photo: RE Olds Transportation Museum)

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Other Factory-Built Miniature Cars

Photo 1 shows a baby Bugatti at the Pebble Beach Concours. Photo 2 shows one on display in the Allan Stone Gallery in New York's upper east side.

This miniature 1/2 scale Bugatti Type 52 was actually built at the factory and powered by an electric motor. It was designed for children from ages 5 to 8. The original "baby" Type 52 was built for Ettore Bugatti's second son, Roland and was shown at the 1927 Milan Automobile show. The wheelbase of the model is about 1.3 meters. The seat is leather and the bonnet and spare tire are held down with leather straps like the full-size car. Only about 250 of the full-size Type 52 Bugattis were built. It is said that the miniatures were quite popular and about 150 were built between 1927 and 1930, but numbers vary depending on who you ask. Original's are much sought-after collectibles, and a company in Argentina called Pur Sang now offers hand crafted aluminum reproduction versions.
This 1934 V-12 Series 370D Cadillac Fleetwood sedan sold on eBay for $36,000. It is another example of a 1/4 scale factory show car, and speculation is it was produced at the GM "Art and Color" studio that was responsible for design and for building show cars. The auction did not note whether it was powered or not or how detailed the interior was. The Cadillac itself is a big car, and the model is almost 5 feet long. Unfortunately, we have no details on its present whereabouts or condition.

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