Meet the Marman Twin, a Breathtakingly Gorgeous Vintage Bicycle With a Boxer Engine

Marman Twin Pittsburgh Bicycle Heaven 9 photos
Photo: Benny Kirk/autoevolution
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Is it a bicycle, a motorcycle, or some odd chimera of both? Those are the kinds of questions you'll ask yourself when you see this ultra-rare, ultra-valuable Marman Twin. A very typical bicycle chassis with an especially atypical powerplant.
The truth of the matter is the story of the man who designed this peculiar, but admittedly wonderful looking little trinket, is just as interesting as the bike itself.Its life began as a passion project of a man who accomplished just about everything there was to do in life in the first half of the 20th century, one Mr. Herbert Manfred "Zeppo" Marx, or just Zeppo Marx colloquially.

Zeppo Marx came from a family that was something like the Kardashians of the early 20th century. The kind of family known across the country as titans of the entertainment business over multiple generations. A familiar juggernaut consisting of Zeppo and brothers Chico, Harpo, Groucho, and Gummo, all of them trained actors, musicians, and entertainers.

Be it Broadway, Hollywood, T.V., radio, or even vaudeville, these brothers, managed largely by their own parents, set the standard for celebrity power families in American pop culture. So, what does any of this have to do with bicycles and motorcycles?

Well, with respect to most things in the 30s and 40s, the Second World War accounted for a significant portion of it. Because Zeppo saw his usefulness as being best employed outside of front-line service, he devised a plan that would assuredly keep him back in the States with vitally important war production matters. Not to say that Zeppo was draft-dodging.

Marman Twin
Photo: Benny Kirk/autoevolution
Zeppo was already in his late 30s by the time the Germans invaded Poland in September 1939. Using his substantial cut of the money earned from the Marx Bro's days in entertainment, he founded a machining company, Marman Products Co. Inc, in Inglewood, California. Interestingly, this city in the Los Angeles metro area was also home to North American Aviation, makers of the P-51 Mustang, the F-86 Saber, and the Saberliner jet.

The company is most famous for inventing a heavy-duty band clamp strong enough to hold many times the weight and pressure of other band clamp-type instruments. The tool was so strong that the U.S. Military came knocking, asking Zeppo's company to manufacture these clamps specifically for the purpose of transporting atomic weapons for the Manhattan Project.

This invention made the already wealthy Zeppo Marx a truly made man. So much so that he was willing and more than able to take on more specialized passion projects. Something like say a man-powered, internal combustion hybrid motorcycle, for example. And so, Zeppo managed to source a small batch of bare frames from the Schwinn company of Chicago, Illinois, which is still in business today.

Based on the MP97 architecture, these frames were perfectly capable of being sold as a standard bicycle. But they were also inherently designed with combustion engine accommodation in mind. With two models in the range, one for Marman and another for a small company called Whizzer, it was the perfect platform for the engine Zeppo was able to get his hands on.

Marman Twin
Photo: Benny Kirk/autoevolution
It was a 110 cc two-cylinder boxer engine derived from, of all things, the very earliest unmanned aerial target drones. These very earliest UAVs were of little use for anything other than target practice, as they only jetted 3.5 rampaging American stallions in their wartime configuration. But a result of these deficiencies as an aerospace engine ironically made it perfect for what Zeppo Marx had in mind.

The finished result is a bike so beautiful that we're surprised that every American citizen living in an urban setting didn't gobble them up like the second coming of the Model T. The polished metal fishtail exhaust pipe alone has us drooling.

In nearly every single respect, the Marman Twin was perfect for everyday city life. The peppy engine gave a top speed between 35 and 40 miles per hour. Because it was closer to a bicycle than a motorcycle, one can only assume the fuel economy was nothing short of fantastic.

Even in a rural or suburban setting, the prospects of running a few errands around town in something so delightfully peppy and life-like is something only a Hollywood movie could encapsulate. No wonder the thing was made by one of show biz's earliest superstars. If you ask us, the fact it was only made for two years in 1947 and 1948 is an absolute travesty.

Marman Twin
Photo: Benny Kirk/autoevolution
Why? Because it could have given cheap motorized transportation for the masses. Something Americans still struggle to find even 75 years later. Today, two examples of this ultra-rare bike found their home among a group of 5,000 other rare and special bicycles in the collection of Pittsburgh's Bicycle Heaven, one of the world's largest.
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