Press Photo of a Belgium Bantam Sedan

A pair of press photos has appeared on eBay from the same seller who had listed the original BRC parts book, Eddie Rickenbacker photo, and possibly NOS emblem.  One photo is a press photo of a 1939-1940 round bed pickup truck that has been circulating on eBay for ages.   You may be familiar with it: American Bantam press photo Round Bed pickup

However, the second photo is more interesting.  It is a photo of a custom bodied Bantam flanked by nature and backed by a body of water.  It is picturesquely posed and strikingly European looking.  The roof line appears to have been extended slightly to potentially accommodate rear passengers in greater comfort and the side panels appear to have an interesting lack of reflectivity.  Here is the photo:

American Bantam press photo Sedan European

Someplace on the internet, there are a few photos of a similar car which attributed it to Belgium.  However I cannot find the link to share.  Yet, if you have a copy of the AABC Authenticity manual, a 3/4 shot of this car is featured on page 134.  The coachwork is apparently the work of Metropolitan Cammell-Weymann Motor Bodies, Ltd. of London and comprises canvas stretched over wood framing.  The ultimate destination of these custom bodies was Belgium and the Authenticity Manual goes into greater depth.

If you don’t have an Authenticity Manual, you should consider picking one up from the AABC club store.

If you’re interested in making this press photo part of your collection, click here to see the custom bodied Bantam..

Welcome Back / Black Friday

Hectic is a word that I find myself using more as I get older.  Work is hectic.  Life is hectic.  Yada yada.  Hectic isn’t bad, it just means that we have to keep our priorities in check.  My last post here was on July 16.  Since then, I’ve thought about posts, but just haven’t had the chance as so many other things were given priority over updating the blog.  In all honesty, there also haven’t been too many amazingly interesting items on eBay.  So, we haven’t missed out on too much.

Today, there are a few neat items which I’ll get to below.  However, I’ll get to a bit of housekeeping first.  Parts reproduction efforts are still going at full bore.  We completed a short production run of new brake cables which have mostly found homes at this point.  There will be a few surprise items coming out early next year.  The locating service has helped several eager Bantam enthusiasts find the cars of their dreams.  Most of our used parts have been sorted and are awaiting final inventorying in order to be readily available for you.  We have added a few new cars to the showroom.  We are also working on aggregating more information for our virtual library.

Just as rust never sleeps, neither do we!  So, with that, welcome back!

If you’re still reading, you may be interested in the following items:

Bantam BRC Parts Book:

The owner asserts that his father worked at the American Bantam Car Co. until 1941.  This is presumably an original book.

Click here to seethe Bantam BRC Parts Book

American Bantam Grille Badge:

Please note the badge does have some damage visible from the one photo of the face.  The chrome appears to be entirely worn off in the boxed area and scuffed where the lines are drawn.  The enameling appears to have some slight dimpling, but it is difficult to tell from these photos.

American Bantam Emblem damage

Click here to see the Bantam Emblem

American Bantam Eddie Rickenbacker Press Photo:

Click here to see the American Bantam Eddie Rickenbacker Press Photo

Many Happy Returns of the Day

After Roy S. Evans, there was Francis Fenn.  Each man sought, in their own way, to turn Bantam’s Butler factory into a productive and profitable machine.  You can read more about Mr. Fenn here and here.  A lot of the history I am familiar with describes Evans as the initial savior of the little car company that could.  However, there were several key people who were in charge of steering the company to eventual profitability during the war.

While all has been quiet on this page for a while, our shelves are being rebuilt and stocked, this morning something appeared which I needed to share.  So, please forgive my absence and enjoy this  simple but elegant book with F.H. Fenn scrawled on its cover:

FH Fenn's scrapbook 1

Apparently, in 1943, some of the American Bantam Car Co.’s workers put together a scrap book commemorating Mr. Fenn’s efforts with the company and their thankfulness for his time at the helm.

The seller has shared some of its magnificent photos which some of us may have never seen before.

Photos of factory workers and administrative officers abound.

Along with a pair of factory photos, with one photo illustrating civilian car crankcases and another showing the dutiful BRC/firetruck which still exists.

 

While the starting price is a hefty $500, the action kindly shares a few photos with us.  The entry price and lack of seller feedback may thwart some people from buying this, but it’s the sort of thing that deserves to be in a collection where it will be both preserved and shared with Bantam enthusiasts.

FH Fenn's scrapbook 93

 

Click here to see Mr. Fenn Scrapbook

The Austin Saleman’s Trophy

A cocky alloy rooster perched haughtily atop a cast aluminum base.  Polished to produce a glint in any potential customer’s eyes, it was clear that this rooster meant business.  Wouldn’t it mean business to have it perched atop your sporty roadster?  Wouldn’t it give other motorists the idea that your bantam car packed more than pint sized power?  You’d probably dole out the additional few dollars for the Custom Line Austin or if that was too much you may just buy the accessory cap.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t a trophy per se back in the day, but this ash tray is marvelous.  Given that the base has a corresponding casting number to the Rooster, it is likely that these two pieces have been long time mates.  My best estimation is that this served as a promotional piece to help Austin dealers up sell potential buyers or served as some sort of reward for successful sales agencies.  Personally, my money is on the former.  So, it probably padded his wallet and was quite the piece to hang onto.

Many experts agree that these roosters were originally available in a pewter toned finish which was a product of not polishing the casting.  This is what an original NOS unit looks like:

Austin Rooster Mascot

Posted to the AABC Facebook group by Cathy Cunningham, the Rooster perched above an ash tray is quite a find.  As you’ll see below, this rooster (who has likely been exposed to decades of secondhand smoke) is a bit more polished and glamorous looking.

American Austin Rooster Ash Tray 1

Yet, both the NOS cap and the polished rooster share similar casting numbers and mounting means:

 

In a slightly zoomed out photo, you can see that the casting number on the ash tray base has a similar suffix as the rooster cap itself, indicating that the base was likely designed to compliment the cap around 1933 rather than being a more modern addition.

American Austin Rooster Ash Tray 92

The cap is AA-2840 while the base is 2840 (Thanks for catching this Drew)

 

The seller has rejected offers of over $500 and is waiting to see where the auction goes.  As of now the starting bid is $425 with a little over two days left until the hammer falls.

So, even if this wasn’t a salesman’s trophy, perhaps it will be the trophy of your collection.

Click here to see the American Austin Rooster Ash Tray

A Brief Interlude

It has been over a month since our last post.  Fret not, we are in the process of moving our inventory to a new warehouse.  In the next months, our items will be better inventoried and easier to access to meet your needs.  Thank you very much for checking in!

Back to the Drawing Board

Perhaps wrangled from some dingy long forgotten corner, a Pepsi drinker in Ohio has unearthed a wrinkled, soiled, and cigarette burned piece of paper 35 inches by 15 inches.  Imprisoned in a glass cell thinly trimmed in black molding is a yellow and black doodle of a somewhat familiar profile flanked by light pencil sketches of  a foreign face and rump of the same object.  The object is a landau iron embellished yellow coupe with black fenders.  It is a drawing by an artist of some skill and the seller is seeking several thousand dollars for it.  Here it is, as presented for sale for the first time:

American Austin Concept Drawing 1

The seller included a few close ups of the drawing to highlight the front and rear sketches as well as the damage.  Unfortunately, the best shot of the artist’s style is in the zoomed in photo of the damage to the sketch.

From the listing:  “HERE IS A NICE OLD ORIGINAL ARTWORK DRAWING OF A 1929 AMERICAN AUSTIN CABRIOLET STYLE CAR BODY BUILT BY HAYES BODY COMPANY OF DETROIT. ORIGINAL DRAWING ATTRIBUTED TO ALEXIS de SAKHNOFFSKY BUT NOT SIGNED OR MARKED AS IS THE CASE WITH A MAJORITY OF CONCEPT CAR DRAWINGS. I DO NOT BELIEVE THIS MODEL WAS EVER MADE, IT SHOWS A WHEEL BASE OF 85″ AND HEIGHT OF 61″, AMERICAN AUSTIN HAD WHEEL BASE OF 75″. THIS DRAWING IS POSSIBLY ONE OF THE FIRST MADE IN AMERICA BY SAKHNOFFSKY  SHOWING HIS LONG AND LOW APPROACH THAT HE ALSO DESIGNED FOR PACKARD, CORD, AUBURN, LaSALLE AND AMERICAN BANTAM.

PLEASE NOTE THERE ARE NO MARKINGS ON THIS DRAWING FOR AUSTIN, AMERICAN AUSTIN, HAYES BODY CORP. OR ALEXIS de SAKHNOFFSKY .

BODY STYLE AND SIZE  ATTRIBUTES THIS TO THOSE COMPANIES AND PERSONS.

FRAME SIZE IS 36″ X 15″ , DRAWING IS AGAINST FRONT GLASS, WE HAVE NOT ATTEMPTED TO REMOVE FROM FRAME, DRAWING HAS WRINKLES AND CIGARETTE BURNS AND STAINS, DRAWING SHOWS HAND COLORED SIDE VIEW AND PENCIL FRONT AND REAR VIEW WITH SOME DIMENSIONS AND FIGURE OF BOWTIE MAN STANDING NEXT TO CAR.”

Regarding authenticity, I have some doubts.  While I can appreciate art but I am by no means an expert.  I cannot tell you if this is actually the work of the Count, but to my lay eyes it appears to be drawn in a different style.  Here are a few authentic examples of his drawing style for comparison:

Bonhams Sakhnoffsky original design

This example sold at Bonhams for around $1,500

Original sketch on antiques roadshow.png

These sketches were featured on Antiques Roadshow.

The next thing to consider is the “cabriolet style” Austin which was eventually built looked like this:

American Austin Cabriolet Factory Photo

There is a vague resemblance, but mostly in the fact that there is a landau bar.  However, the car above is a smaller car with a 75″ wheelbase and no trunk.

Now, think about another Austin Seven derivative.  Think of one having an 85 inch wheel base built around the same time.  The car I’m thinking of is the Rosengart.  Here is a photo of a 1928 model:

1928 Rosengart

Notice the similarities between this and the drawing?  Click on this photo to see the Wiki page for Rosengart cars.

A lot of the design elements are present in the Rosengart, especially in the proportions as provided in the sketch.  While the actual Rosengart is missing some of the smooth elegance of the sketch, I would not entirely count it out as the recipient of the design work laid out in black and yellow.

While my rambling are not conclusive one way or another, I wanted to share my thoughts with you to spur on your own.  In the end, the sketch is way over my budget for such extravagances, maybe yours as well.  Either way, we should be thankful that the owner shared it with us.

To see the ebay listing, click here Austin or Rosengart Sketch

Prairie Homes, Falling Water, and Cherokee Red

Frank Lloyd Wright, the ubiquitous American has had a deluge of words dedicated to his life, his work, and his unique vision for American life.  More than a half century after his death, he is still a source of conversation, study, and interest.  While I can revel at the magnificence of the Darwin Martin home, I am more interested in FLW’s preference for American Bantams.

If you are a member of the AABC, Cathy Cunningham authored an article delving deeply into Wright’s large fleet of tiny cars. (“The Wright Bantams for the Job”, The American Austin Bantam Club News, Vol. 37, No. 6, November – December 1999, pgs 6-9).  Cathy’s article points to a number of then extant accounts of FLW’s fellows who were part of the traveling caravan of Bantams.  Since the publishing of her article, another book has been written purely about Frank Lloyd Wright’s automotive choices.

There is a member of the clubs who has a Station Wagon which is purported to have been the FLW station wagon.  The only problem is that the previous owner merely relied on an oral history of the car and did not have the paperwork to support its provenance.  Although the American Bantam Car Co. had some great records of cars which were built, no records appear to have survived indicating who originally purchased a vehicle.  It seems that a lot of that information was kept in the hands of the specific dealers and would have only made it to the factory if the original warranty information made its way back to Butler.

In Cathy’s article, there is a photo at the bottom of one page showing the fleet in a 1938 Bantam salesman’s showbook.  Here is the photo:

Frank Lloyd Wright Bantams cropped

As I don’t have a copy of this showbook, I do not know the information that was originally attached to this photo.  However, by accident I stumbled upon the original publication of this photo:

Frank Lloyd Wright Bantams

The original fleet was sold by Madison-Bantam Sales at 531 State St, in Madison, Wisconsin.  (Please be careful when you try to look at this address on Google Street View.  I appear to have interrupted some sort of meditation class).

531 state st

Oops, this would be the class.

In any event, the clipping above is from the November 20, 1938 Wisconsin State Journal as you can see below:

November 1938.png

This would tend to show that Frank Lloyd Wright’s Station Wagon needed to be built and delivered in Madison prior to November 20, 1938.  As such, the latest possible Wagon which could have been his would be 62922.  So, it would seem that around 60 Wagons could have possibly been Wright’s.  Maybe it would be a good time to take a look under the hood of your car and see if it’s yours.

For more reading on FLW’s cars, you may be interested in this book:

The Car Is Architecture

Click here to view The Car Is Architecture – A Visual History of Frank Lloyd Wright’s 85 Cars

Building a Better Bantam: Cast Austin Caps

This morning, as part of the Building a Better Bantam series, I would like to introduce you to John Larson. He is an active American Austin enthusiast on the west coast. So active in fact, that he arranged the 2017 Austin Bantam Society meet at the Santa Anita Racetrack. (Here is a video of that meet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lBwQt6Jx0I). He has a nice collection of these small cars and has been making sure to get fantastic exposure for the brand at car shows and over the internet. Perhaps you have seen his fantastic early American Austin panel truck at a show or posted someplace. It’s a great car, finished with an orange body and black fenders.

Just before the holidays, John unveiled his recent reproduction effort; cast aluminum American Austin hub caps. If you have restored an Austin or are looking to, you know that the original hubcaps are often very badly destroyed due to over-tightening with the rims pushed in from damage, running into curbs, having holes drilled into them, being taken off with pliers, and probably a multitude of other equally heinous acts. Personally, my car had three holes drilled in each so the caps could support 1937 Ford hubcaps in an effort to make the car seem more modern.

20181227_083832

To add insult to injury, our Austin hubcaps don’t come up for sale all that often on places like ebay and as a result, the few that get listed find themselves conjoined with astronomically high asking prices.  One such listing advertises a single cap with a distorted face as being the only example in the world for the low price of $149.

Click here to see The only ONE anywhere in the world

Mike Larro, of California, contributed an excellent article to the ABS’s Rooster Tails which details how you can repair an abused cap using a custom made anvil and copious amounts of patience. His article has given life to a lot of cast off caps and could be a fun, albeit time consuming, project. You can see his article in the ABS technical dvd available through the club store.

Although repairing the hubcaps could be fun, I love the idea of building a Better Bantam. Creating parts designed to look and function better than the original parts; items that will last longer than we’ll ever know. For hubcaps, that would mean a cast aluminum part machined to perfection. I didn’t know this had been done before, until I happened upon one on ebay about three years ago. It was a thing of beauty.

In searching for my cap’s history, I learned that in the past, a couple of people have reproduced Austin hub caps. The finest examples were undoubtedly crafted by Lynn James. Lynn’s work is always perfect and his patterns ensured that the cast Aluminum caps would be machined to the correct size, that the Austin lettering was perfect, that the hexagonal wrench interface was correct, and that they would survive the test of time. Lynn’s hub caps were made in a short run over a decade ago and have recently traded hands for as high as $200 each; a small price for perfection.

John teamed up with Lynn to put those magnificent patterns back to work again. Lynn also gave John invaluable advice in searching for the perfect foundry to pour the raw castings. Each casting then needed to be cleaned and machined to its final shape. As you can see, the patterns provided additional material all around to ensure that the cap could be cut to the identical profile of an original.

After being threaded to match original American Austin hubs, they were cleaned up to a dull luster. In this condition they can be adapted by their new owner for any car and can be finished to a blindingly bright high polish if so desired.

Here are some photos of the finished product:

Austin-Hubcaps-B1

John has done a terrific service for the American Austin hobby in recreating these fantastic caps. Making these are available to his fellow enthusiasts will ensure that our cars can be restored properly and adorned with their few pieces of sparkling jewelry. You won’t need to settle for a banged up, smashed, torn, or otherwise mangled hubcap. You won’t need to pray you can get it “good enough”. These hubcaps will make some Austin owners very happy.

If you’re interested, please use the contact form below and I will put you in touch with John. Please note, these were made in very limited quantities and are being sold on a first come first served basis. If you are interested in a set, don’t delay!

 

A Day to Be Thoughtful

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone celebrating.  While I am typing this, I am savoring the memories of turkey earlier consumed and am relishing the thought of pie to come.  In the North East, record cold temperatures are making Turkey Trots and pre-black Friday queues a bit more daunting.  Nonetheless, it is easy to usually think of a plethora of reasons to be thankful.

This morning, I was forwarded a photo reminding me that not every one had it so easy today.  In the west, wild fires have decimated communities and unfortunately claimed many lives.  The last toll of destruction I saw estimated that nearly 250,000 acres have burned, around 14,000 structures were turned to ash, 80 people were confirmed deceased, and around 1,000 people are still unaccounted for.  This is an ongoing tragedy.

For those of us who are far removed, it can sometimes be difficult to fully grasp the full gravity of a situation so remote.  Personally, for me, I saw photos on Facebook from my cousin’s backyard of a fire looming ever closer.  Each hour, the situation seemed more dire.  There have been videos and photos circulating that can show the tremendous power of the infernos.

This morning, I received this photo:

Arts Hot Rod 1

On the left, there is what appears to be an American Austin next to the hulk of a 1955 Chevrolet.  Although saddened for the owner and his neighbors who likely lost more than just two cars, I didn’t at first realize what I was looking at.  Then I scrolled down and saw this:

Arts Hot Rod

This was indeed an Austin and a 55 Chevrolet.  I don’t know too much about the Chevy, but the Austin belonged to Art.  This was a five window coupe which was certainly a source of pride and joy for him.  Folks are saying he and his family are safe, but they have endure a tremendous hardship.

I’m sorry to hear about Art’s loss, as well as that of his neighbors, and the entire swath of California devastated by these fires.  The Austin Bantam Society has a large membership in California, I’m not sure all of them have been accounted for as of yet.

I didn’t post these photos for you to lament the lost cars or to feel for our fellow gear heads.  I posted these photos help illuminate how people just like us found large parts of their lives swept away.  Whatever your thoughts are on climate change, whatever political ideologies you subscribe to, and whatever other extraneous things have run through your mind, we should put these things aside and consider the plight of our fellow countrymen (or fellow people, if you’re reading this outside of the USA).

Hopefully your Thanksgiving is going well and has been joyous and reflective.  Please take a moment to think about those who have lost so much and consider how you could perhaps help.

I don’t have any fancy suggestions as I am still thinking myself.

Art, I’m sorry for your loss and hope all those you love are safe.

 

Black Dial Gauges and Caring Too Much?

“I just repainted them cream and printed the art onto them” he said confidently as I cringed.  It was a frigid February day accentuated by the gloomy grayness of a mid-winter Binghamton, New York sky.  He was talking about a pair of black dial Bantam gauges as mist turned to slushy snow.

“Why did you do that?  You know how rare they are to find!” My frustration got the best of me.  I pulled off the road into a gas station.  Up to this point, I had only held one pair of black dialed gauges in my hands and had seen photos of only one speedometer and one triple gauge.  “Did you at least take photos of them like we talked about?”

“I forgot, I mean, they aren’t worth anything without the cream faces.  I’ll get some decent money for them redone,” he boasted.  “And I never really cared for the little cars anyway, so taking photos didn’t really matter to me.”

I was aghast.  Why was my young mind enraged?  That was simple, black dial Bantam gauges are few and far between.  I held one set in my hands in 2013, I have seen a photo of a triple gauge in a 1940 Riviera, I have seen a photo of a speedometer in a 1940 coupe, and I had heard of these gauges.  That makes a total of six gauges in nearly six years.  The set I held in my hand was in my first year of joining the Bantam hobby, so I couldn’t appreciate their significance and my memory of them had faded.  The photo I found illustrated black dialed gauges with white gauges inset into them.  Could that be right?

Painting over black gauges to recreate something more abundant for financial gain and irreverence for the Bantam hobby just seemed wrong.  Worse things have happened in this world, but this small annoyance was easily avoidable.

Black dial gauges 8

Note that the font on this gauge is of a heavier style than cream and silver faced gauges.  Also note the boxed in nature of the scale on the oil pressure gauge versus the other two gauges.  The font on the oil pressure gauge is also different from the Amp gauge slightly, and there is an additional “MADE IN U.S.A.” in the center of the triple gauge.

black dial speedometer

The only previous photo I have seen of a black dialed speedometer.

If you look at the most recent printing of the AABC Authenticity Manual it states:

“Bantam used BLACK instrument faces on a few EARLY production vehicles. On the face is the Bantam logo as well as “Made In USA”. Needles are white. Speedometer needles has a ball on the short end and is flat on the indicator end.  So far these instruments have only been noted on commercial vehicles” (AABC Authenticity Manual, at 103 Section 646 (2nd Printing 2016)).

While not the most useful description, this does establish that black dialed gauges did exist.  However, whether they had black gauges insert into them, whether the art was the same, or what color the needles were all remain mysteries.  In the modern library being compiled here, I am working on ironing out all of the details specific to each part you may come across including gauges.  It is a time consuming effort, but has resulted in a number of parts being rescued which may have otherwise hit the trash.

Yesterday, on eBay, a closed car dashboard panel with black dial gauges appeared for sale with a price of $2,000.

Black dial gauges 1

Note the different font used on the Fuel gauge from the fuel gauge in the gauge in the photo published higher in this post and the similar AMP gauge.

The photos aren’t the best as it’s a bit difficult to see behind the fogged crystals, but they tell an interesting story.  The speedometer is remarkably similar to one of the 1935-1936 Hupmobile gauges, with only the scale and colors being different.

thumbnail_20181115_110016.jpg

The triple panel utilized similar lettering, with again the scale of the oil pressure gauge being different along with the colors.

Here are some enlarged views of the gauges on eBay:

Black-dial-gauges-5.jpg

Black-dial-gauges-6.jpg

Black dial gauges 4

The rear of the gauges do not betray any major changes that would account for the non-matching AMP gauge, however a closer inspection may.  The combination of the flat glass lenses and 15 lb oil pressure gauge lend credence to them being early 1938 gauges.  However not too much else is known about these.

Will I pay $2,000 for these just to be able to analyze and replicate the art?  No.  The asking price is far more than what Bantam gauges usually bring and is nearly the cost that some rebuilders charge for restorations.  However, the price is the prerogative of the seller and a potential buyer.

Would I have loved to have seen any photos of that lost set of black dialed gauges?  You bet!  They could have provided valuable insight into exactly what these gauges were supposed to look like.

Perhaps my frustration with the gentleman who painted over history is misplaced, but I do care for the little cars.  I care for their spry ride, their sporty and elegant looks, their history, and their owners.  I want to make sure that every restorer has the ability to refinish their car as perfectly as they wish.  Is this good business sense?  Probably not, but after all that isn’t what this is about.  This business is about keeping the cars on the road, putting smiles on our faces, and making sure that the Bantam hobby continues to grow into the twenty-first century.

To see the gauges click here: American Bantam Black Dial Gauges