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.


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 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

The Great Bantam Fuel Pump Mystery

It looks like a pile of junk! Broken bits, corrosion, missing essentials, and wrongly described on ebay; this is an easy engine to look past if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. This isn’t a 1934-1935 Austin engine, it’s actually a 1940 American Bantam three main bearing engine; the famous Hillmaster. However, it is a Hillmaster that had a very hard life.

While it appears that nearly every component modified or compromised in some way, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that it is a three main bearing engine of which approximately only 1000 were made. If enough people are interested, I can post some comments on the condition of the lot itself so you can have a better idea of what you’re bidding on. However, that isn’t the reason I’m posting this engine. I’m posting it primarily for two reasons.

Firstly, the number 65589 does not appear in the production log. Every other number from 65580-65590 are listed, but this number appears to be entirely absent. Perhaps it was a replacement engine, an industrial engine, mismarked on the log, or even for an export car. There are numerous possibilities.

The second reason this engine is interesting is not only because it has the fuel pump mount opened up, drilled, and tapped but because there is a fuel pump included in the lot. As you probably know, Bantams used a gravity fed fuel system which obviated the need for a fuel pump. However, beginning in 1938 all Bantam crank cases had a provision which was designed to allow a fuel pump to be run and all cam shafts supposedly have a lobe to actuate the pump arm. There have been mentions of fuel pumps in club news letters but never which part was actually used. In recent years, there has been little to no discussion on this matter so the knowledge as to what pump could have been installed has essentially vanished.

Does this information really matter? Probably not. However, if you’re like me and have a couple of engines sitting with gaping holes where fuel pumps can be mounted, you may be interested. If you are building a car which is day one authentic, this probably isn’t too helpful but should still be pretty interesting.

I have a hunch as to what the fuel pump may be and will update you if the hunch is correct.

Click here to see the American Bantam 3 main bearing engine

The Tail End

In 1940, Bantam was nearing the end of its run, but the factory kept improving the cars until the very end.  You would think the factory would have just cranked out cars with whatever parts they had left, but no; that wasn’t the Bantam way.  There is a list of improvements throughout the cars which range from the braking system to the clutch lining mounting.  Some of the 1940 drawings, at least the early ones still exist, but many of the later ones appear to have vanished.  Many of these improved components are hidden safely from the environment by aluminum or steel casings, but some were exposed to heat, salt, water, and inexperienced mechanics; so some can be verified by observing original components while other original bits have been entirely lost.

For over a year, I have been trying to pursue the final improvement to the Bantam exhaust system exclusive to late 65 series cars, a tail pipe that exited out of the side of the car ahead the rear rear wheel. (See AABC Authenticity Manual, at section 249 (2nd Ed.)).  While this may sound exotic and make you think of mid-sixties Corvettes, this setup was not executed nearly as suggestively.   While the Authenticity Manual describes the pipe, it has been very difficult finding out the exact shape of the pipe as well as the exhaust hanger.  Below is a photo from the internet of a nicely done 1940 Riviera showing off its new looking side exit exhaust.

1940 Riviera side exit exhaust

This is a sharp car isn’t it? The person who restored this car should be very proud!

There is a company in Michigan, Waldron’s Exhaust, which sells a stainless steel American Bantam (and presumptively Austin) exhaust system.  However, their setup features slightly larger tubing than the original and only exits at the rear of the car.  This is fantastic news for a majority of Bantam owners, but what about those of us working on the latest and greatest Bantams?

Well, late last week, this crate of wonders came in:

20180611_161803.jpgWhile not quite the lost ark from Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Arc, this large crate was chock full of parts from a late 1940 Bantam Deluxe Coupe.  I had a decent idea of some of the other parts which were supposed to be inside, but after ferociously unpacking it I came across this pleasant surprise:


This website still directs to

It looks like a rusted piece of junk but it is an original side exit tailpipe and hanger from a 53,000 mile original 1940 Bantam coupe which was parked in the 50’s.  Perhaps information on this unit is out there, but I wasn’t able to find it.  So far as I know, this is one of a very few original tail pipes left.

So what does this mean?  Does it mean we will suddenly start reproducing these bits?  Not necessarily.  There are quite a few other reproduction efforts ahead of this one, however it will be cataloged and preserved to ensure that other enthusiasts have access to the information necessary to pursue economy car perfection.  If you are restoring a 1940 Bantam and need information regarding this unit, feel free to contact us to see how we can help.  This is another way in which we hope to help you build a better Bantam.

I bet you’re wondering what else was in that crate…

The paradox of choice.

Listed as a 1940 Roadster, a seller in Kansas City, MO has offered up a lovely two toned vehicle which I know I will be watching.  Before I get a bit too verbose, here is the car:

American bantam roadster KCMO 4

Click here to see listing for the: American Bantam Roadster

There is something about this car that I like.  It’s certainly not very authentic, but I like it.  It has the worn in look of a favorite pair of shoes.  You could slip right into it and hopefully putter off with minimal effort.   Beside the fact that the car is too small to probably get door dinged in a parking lot, you still wouldn’t worry about them too much in this car, even if you had to.

As I mentioned, the seller has listed it as a 1940, but that likely is not accurate.  Then again, does accuracy really change the way the wind feels in your face or the feeling of your mouth tightening into a smile?

Some things to note:

  • Buyer states the vin number is 60134, which would indicate a 60 series 1938 American Bantam and the car has numerous details from an early car
  • Two main bearing engine which appears to have the early 1938 aluminum head with separate water outlet


If you are looking for something a bit more authentic, there is always this car:

1938 American Bantam Roadster st louis 7

Click here to see this: 1938 American Bantam Roadster

Or if you’re looking to bring an original car back from the brink, this may be just the thing for you:


Click here to see the 1939 American Bantam Roadster

The last of the three cars above is my own project.  However I would probably want to get into something like the top car to start with rather than a complete project.  The best way to do it is to buy the driver and restore the project as you see fit.

It’s funny, when I first started my Bantam journey, there were very few options available.  Today, you have three examples in varying condition on ebay alone.  There are multiple for sale through this website, and scores for sale on the current Everything Bantam Lead Sheet.  If you’re looking for a car, this is a pretty good time to be looking.



Shop Project: The List

In March of 2016, I blogged about creating a shopping list of sorts with the intention of keeping Austin and Bantam parts out of scrap yards.  About a month later, I had begun to pursue the project, you can read about it here.

the shopping list

I honestly can’t believe that it was over a year ago that I last worked on this project.  Yet, somehow, I have lost track of time and have ended up neglecting something that could be very useful to the hobby.

As most of you already know, the AABC sells an excellent authenticity manual which is something you should consider adding to your collection.  The new edition is supposed to have some added features which my copy does not have, including the spiral binding and some factory drawings.

The purpose of this creation is not to allege authenticity or to step on the toes of the AABC’s manual, but to help create a spotter’s guide to ensure that the hobbyist who buys a basket case can identify what parts in the garage go with the Bantam or something along those lines.  I am hoping to not only include the bits that came with the cars from the factory but oddities which cropped up along the way and reproduction efforts of the past.

I will be posting updates on the blog informing you as to changes that occur.  Your comments, questions, and feedback are welcome and hoped for.  Some of the photos which I use may be sourced from the internet as I don’t have an example of every part to photograph, so please bear with me as I go.  If you would like to contribute, please feel free.

If there is a demand for it at the end, this may make a heck of a coffee table book, or maybe even an App for an Austin or Bantam enthusiast.

Mystery in plain sight- Round Bed Lamps

I don’t have a copy of the newly updated version of the American Austin Bantam Club’s Authenticity manual.  So, perhaps I’m writing this a bit prematurely, but I don’t believe this matter has been covered.  Should you have an updated version of the manual and this subject is covered, please let me know.

If you have been to the Everything Bantam facebook page, you have likely seen a photo of a man and his faithful pet Bantam pickup truck.  I’ve been staring past this photo for months and have only now come to realize a small detail which has thus far eluded me.  Take a look at the photos below and see if you can spot it.  Open the photos and look hard.

Did you spot it?  There on the drivers side rear corner, this car has what looks to be a Lux style taillight.  The same sort of assembly which was found on Bantam Coupes, Hollywoods, Rivieras, and Speedsters.  From past assumptions, I was under the belief that all Bantam commercial truck supposedly had the NACO style taillights.  Every one restored truck appears to have been given this treatment.  In fact, I believe my parts list also supports the usage of the NACO on round bed pickups.

Here are some photos of Bantam round bed pickup trucks sporting NACO taillights or similar variations.  They don’t look incredibly wrong, and these were definitely used on Panel trucks, Roadsters, and square bed pickups.  So, arguments can be made that these lamps are correct.   In fact, they look quite comfortable one each of these cars.

You may say to yourself, ‘Hey, that’s just a photo of one truck.  Maybe the guy could only get that assembly from a Bantam dealer?’  Your admonition may be right.  However, take a look at this factory photo:

Factory photoClick here to find a copy of the above factory photo for sale: 1940 Round Bed Pickup

That little round glass orb has made an appearance, indicating that the truck may in fact have a Lux style tail lamp.  The car also has an earlier style hood ornament which makes you wonder exactly when this car came to be.  Again you may hesitate to take this photo as meaning much because there are many factory photos that do not represent cars as they actually came from the factory.  Again, you would be justified.

So, going back through some photos I found a photo of the original bed from a pickup truck which had sat unmolested after one of the wrist pins scored one of the cylinder bores in about 1958.  Sure the truck had 7 coats of paint, but it was remarkably original.  Under all of the layers of paint you can see the original steel as it likely left the factory.  Here is a photo of the original bed in its glory:

1940 Bantam Pickup Truck Bed

The top and bottom mounting holes around the large central hole are identical to the ones used by Lux lamps in the above mentioned cars.

I was only able to dig up two photos of round back pickups with Lux style lamps, one is the convertible pickup (a dream car sort of thing) which was built by a club member in Florida and another is a 1940 pickup restored by a club member on the West Coast.

Now, I’m not saying that one lamp is right and another is wrong, but I like the look of the Lux lamp and it may be nice knowing you have some options in restoring your car.  This also may give you some wiggle room when restoring your car or some fodder for thought as you look over your next car.   This also reminds me that I need to order my new copy of the Authenticity Manual to see what it says on this topic.

Sportsman 3: Choosing the Right Foundation

To replace the many pieces of the shop project which were ravaged by the elements and pilfered over time, I had to quickly develop a careful eye toward Bantam parts.  I learned early on that it is very easy to waste money and time on incorrect parts.  The series on the build for the Sportsman is not only an advertisement for our locating and parts services, but also serves as a primer to help you with your project.  If you don’t have a project yet, hopefully this will inspire you to take one on and arm you with information necessary to avoid common pitfalls.

Considering that many of the production changes of the American Austin and Bantam cars were more evolutionary than revolutionary, you may not have expected there to be a large divergence between the underpinnings of each car.  While the chassis of each sort of car should fit under the other, they are all very distinct and each have their own eccentricities of which you need to be mindful.

American Austins, of all shapes and sizes, used one style of frame.  The Austin frame was essentially a v-shaped unit, with no connection at the rear end of the car.  If you’re building an American Austin, your chassis selection is pretty simple.  If you are hoping to underpin your American Austin with a Bantam Chassis for added support and driveline flexibility, you should continue reading.

Austin frame

An American Austin chassis fitted with some Bantam parts.  Note the parallel central crossmembers which are joined by a perpendicular piece with numerous holes along its length.  Also, note the terminal ends of the chassis, they are straight once they get to the center-line of the rear axle.  They are also not connected by anything other than the rear bumper on some models and a thin bracket and bumper on others.

When production resumed as American Bantam, the new cars found themselves equipped with a new frame.  This new frame looked identical to the Austin up until the forward transverse crossmember.  A pair of members now extended from that forward central crossmember to two partial members extending out of the frame just before its upward flare near the rear wheels.  This pair of members formed a V shape and allowed Bantam to switch from a torque tube based drive line to a more modern drive shaft.

1940 Bantam Coupe Frame - center cross members


At the rear of the chassis, Bantam used at least three different styles of rear crossmembers which were used for different cars.  Roadsters and coupes had the two rear frame rails unified by a length of thin c-channel in earlier years.  In the final year of production, that thin c channel was replaced with a heavier c channel with a shallower c-shape.  Bantam commercial cars utilized a tubular rear crossmember which also served as a spare tire carrier.  This rear member consisted of two tubes connected by a flat piece of steel.  Bantam four passenger convertibles utilized the larger tubular member from the commercial frames, but forwent the smaller tube, prohibiting the crossmember from serving as a spare tire mount so as to clear the unique floor for accommodating rear passengers.

bantam rear xmember

Here is a photo of a Commercial Style rear cross member.  For a four passenger convertible, the chassis only utilized the larger tubular member and deleted the reset of the components.


For series 65 Bantams equipped with the three main engine, these cars featured a new drive train mounting method which also included a new means of attaching the radius rods.  As such 1940 frames have cast brackets riveted into the corners created by the full transverse crossmember and the frame rails which are absent on all earlier models.  The 1940 also has a ball style socket for the radius rods to couple onto providing for a greater freedom of motion for the rods as compared with the earlier style mount.


1940 vehicles equipped with hydraulic shock absorbers, primarily passenger cars, had a pair of cast brackets riveted to the frame in the rear above where the axle would ride and had a pair of bent steel front mounts riveted where the forged front cross member meets the frame rails.  These should not be mounted on other frames, unless the vehicle was equipped with dealer added shock abosorbers (I’m still hoping to learn more about cars with added shocks).

1940 Bantams also had an extra pair of floor supports located on the V shaped frame members.  These brackets were not available previously.

1940 floor brackets

The next difference between a 1940 frame and earlier style frames is the manner in which the central transverse crossmember is clearanced for the exhaust system.  For a 1940 Bantam with a three main bearing engine, your chassis should look like the photo on the left.  For any other Bantam, your chassis should merely have a hole cut through the crossmember.  This hole will likely be larger than the hole on the driver side of the chassis.


The final difference between the frames revolves around the parking brake assembly attached to the chassis.  The earliest Bantams featured a hand brake on the passenger side of the transmission which protrudes from the floor and is pulled back to engage the brake.  This assembly requires a mounting bracket attached to the transverse crossmember.  It also requires that the transverse brake actuation bar has a pinned member which can be actuated by the pulling of the lever.  This pinned member will be located the passenger side of the bar, between the center line of the frame and the frame rail.  I will have to find some photos of this set up and add them here later.

In 1939, Bantam introduced a new brake assembly which was also floor mounted, but was located under the drivers legs and pulled up.  This assembly featured a bracket which would support the floor riveted to one of the members making up the v shaped crossmember.  This set up also included a cast or forged lever through which the brake actuation bar passes at one end and can be moved by the raising and lowering of the brake handle.  The lever rides free on the actuation bar and pushes against a pinned member when the brake is engaged.

The final variation arrived at some point for 1940 cars.  At this point, the brake bar was endowed with a second pinned lever identical to the standard pinned lever which the brake pedal actuated.  These levers should be fairly close to each other.  This added lever was actuated by an adjustable link attached to a pivoting bar pinned to the chassis.  The pivoting bar was moved by a brake cable which ran into the passenger compartment to a parking brake handle mounted to the underside of the dashboard.  To limit unwanted motion, the cable was fixed at one end to in cabin assembly and to the chassis by a brake cable retention bracket similar to those used elsewhere of the chassis.

1940 brake setup chassis bantam

As you can see, Bantam chassis are not very interchangeable despite a similar appearance.  You can take one chassis and likely modify it to accommodate your required functionality, but please be aware that such a procedure is very time consuming.  There are a lot of bare frames out there waiting for love, you are likely best off taking a bit of time to scour the available parts for just the chassis you need rather than modifying an original chassis.  As you follow along with this project, you’ll see that I have learned this lesson the hard way.

If you are seeking a four passenger or commercial chassis, you may need to consider modifying a standard chassis for the correct model Bantam and acquiring a tubular rear cross member assembly.  As a warning, original tubular rear cross members are difficult to find in decent shape, however we can now supply you with fantastic reproductions.