Dieselpunks.org | January 25, 2013
Am Interbellum compact car made in the United States? Is it possible? Sure it is!
There was a true American Mini – the Crosley. But it wasn’t the first try to re-engineer Yankee & Dixie drivers’ mind, directing them towards smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles. As early as in 1929, the American Austin Car Company was founded in Butler, Pennsylvania in premises that had belonged to the Standard Steel Car Company. Their intention was to assemble and sell in the United States a version of the legendary Austin 7. After some initial success the Great Depression set in, and sales fell off to the point that production was suspended. In 1934 the company filed for bankruptcy.
Small cars such as never made it big in prewar America, but that didn’t stop people from pushing them. Among the more energetic proponents was Roy S. Evans, who took over the moribund American Austin Car Company in 1935 with hopes of succeeding where Sir Herbert Austin had failed.
Evans’ hopes were tempered by the Depression, which still seemed endless, and Austin’s formidable debts: $75,000 in back taxes and interest, plus a $150,000 property mortgage to the Pullman Standard Company. But the federal court overseeing American Austin’s bankruptcy felt Evans might salvage things, and gave him the place for only $5000 cash — a mere 1/2000th of its appraised value. Evans secured a $250,000 loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, then hired the necessary talent to help him create a new car called American Bantam.
American Bantam Roadster by Zappadong, on Flickr
Like American Austin, the Bantam was styled by the artistic Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, who conjured a new front with a smooth hood and rounded grille, plus reworked fenders and rear deck. His bill was only $300, and Evans was able to retool the entire line for a mere $7,000.
1937 American Bantam De Luxe & Standard Coupe brochure artwork by Austin7nut, on Flickr