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.





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: 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.


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:


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.


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

August 2, 1937

Not to sound ignorant, but I thought I had a late American Austin engine in my roadster.  It began life as a fire pump, it has an M series number stamped in it.  The casting date is either later 1934 or early 1935.  It seemed to me that the engine may have even post dated car production.  According to the AABC Authenticity Manual, the model 1935 model year (series 475) was built in 1934.  1,003 cars were built in that series.  Beyond that, all car production likely stopped while the company regrouped.

Yesterday, for lack of something better to do, I opened up an eBay ad for an engine crankcase which has been listed for probably over a year at this point.  It was once part of a rolling chassis with drive line which had a number of 375 characteristics. I don’t need another Austin crankcase, so I don’t even know why my curiosity was sparked by this one.

1937 Austin Crankcase 1

Here is a zoomed in shot of the casting date:

1937 Austin Crankcase 4

That’s right, August 2, 1937.  Historically, American Austin / Bantam Car Co. was in an interesting position.  It had a failed stock offering the year before, it had Harry Miller on the books, and it was preparing to build the next iteration of small car.  Rumors persist that Harry Miller helped the American Bantam Car Co. develop a modified engine which would help the fledgling company eschew royalty payments to Austin of England. While my historical time line is not exact, these items were all moving toward a car which was very different mechanically.

According to the AABC Authenticity Manual, Austin engines were produced from 1930-1935 with Bantam engines being introduced in 1938.  Hempfling’s log indicates that the first Bantam car was built on December 28, 1938 and two years ago an odd frame emerged which was allegedly part of a 1937 Bantam prototype pickup.  **Edit 11/11/2018: I decided to look at two of my early 1938 blocks today.  Both 60 Series engines from early 38 coupes.  One had a casting date of mid-October 1937. The other engine, which was featured in the engine Autopsy post of a few years ago, featured no casting date.**

So what is this engine?  It has an “L” number stamped with a different font style than what appears on original L series engines and it appears to be stamped in a slightly different place.

It would seem odd that a cash strapped company would actually tool up to have new replacement blocks cast for a car which was eight model years old and had been out of production for three years.  The 1938 Bantam parts catalog lists an ACJF 1306 as an Austin Crankcase which was available for $30.00.

What is this engine?  Was Bantam originally planning to use its original Austin engines initially for its relaunched car line?  Was Bantam hoping to make some additional money by selling parts for obsolete cars?

Perhaps someone has or had a definitive answer and any thoughts would be appreciated.  To see the late 1937 American Austin crank case, click here: Late American Austin Crankcase.

Good Bye Lead Sheets

Over the past two years, we have been compiling leads onto a bi-monthly publication which is distributed through regular mail or e-mail.  They were available for free to club members or for a fee to everyone else.  Compiled on these sheets were a multitude of items including restored Austins and Bantams, project cars, hot rods, imported Austins, and parts.  These sheets were fairly popular and provided interested parties with a plethora of options for hunting down what they were looking for and for giving car owners a decent idea of market health.

We have enjoyed sharing the leads with all of you, however two elements have held them back from being as useful as they should have been.  The primary problem that the construction of these sheets, including their formatting, was just too time consuming to put out more than six per year.  The unfortunate consequence of this was the death of leads before a new sheet went out.  As a result, too many auction cars were missed by not being timely included on a lead sheet.

So where do we go from here and what will I do with this windfall of time?  Firstly, I will find a way to get information on auction cars out in an appropriate manner to ensure they get into the right hands.  Secondly, I will be funneling the lead sheet time into building the informative portions of this website, including authenticity and historical information.

So, what can you do if your looking for a car?  Firstly, you can visit our showroom.  Secondly, you can inquire about our locating services.  One way or another, we’ll help you get into that Austin or Bantam you know you want.



It’s Almost Time to Break Out the Fleece

Labor day has finally come.  For those of us in the Northeast, that means Autumn is almost here.  On one hand, we end up with the crisp smell of decaying leaves and cool morning which give way to mellow afternoons.  We work outside in a fleece jacket or flannel shirt enjoying the temperate weather while partially rushing knowing that soon all outside work will be precluded.  In these last few weeks of warmth, we get to look forward to a few great car shows.

In a prelude to the Fall car season, here are a few items which popped up on ebay.  Enjoy!

Reproduction Bantam Hood Ornament

Note this is NOT NOS.

Click here to see the Reproduction Bantam Hood Ornament

American Austin Cufflinks

Click here to see the American Austin Cufflinks

Al Asher Bantam Manual

Al Asher Bantam Manual 1.jpgClick here to see the Al Asher Bantam Manual

Cunningham Bantam Owners Manual

This is a beautiful manual which should really get its chance at a second printing run.

Click here to see the Cunningham Bantam Owners Manual

Building a Better Bantam: 1940 Badges

In this installment of Building a Better Bantam, I am giving an update on a project introduced this past December.  The project was a reproduction effort to recreate the hood side Bantam badges used on Series 65 and 66 cars.  The reasoning behind this effort was that these badges seemed to be generally unobtainable and originals, when found, were expensive and were even more costly to properly recondition.  Rather than just emulate the original, I wanted to go a few steps further and make them better than the originals while visually identical.  Why would I want to improve on the originals?  Take a look at this pair of photos:

After posting about reproducing 1940 Bantam hood side badges, there was a large outpouring of interest in the potential reproductions which has nearly accounted for the entire intended first run.  Interestingly, also after that post, rumors began to surface about there being a large cache of NOS badges someplace that were last seen at a meet decades ago.  Back then, they were under $10 each and came in their original paper wrappings.  While one of our endeavors in the past was temporarily thwarted by the existence of a large collection of similar NOS units in existence, this cache of emblems remained unaccounted for.

The month following the announcement here, an ad ran in one of the club magazines announcing that NOS emblems would be available from another supplier.  Alas, the collection emerged.  The ad indicated that they were available in creme, black, and red; some needing to be repainted.  Then, at the meet in Georgia, another collection of NOS badges appeared.  Both sellers were apparently asking around $45-50 per piece.

The debut of these parts appeared to obviate the need for my reproductions.  However, I was able to get some photos of one of these NOS badges which was still wrapped up in the original tissue paper from the factory.

1940 American Bantam Badge Reproduction NOS 1

Mummified for over a half century, I was very eager to see what was inside.  The anticipation was eating at me.  I couldn’t believe how many times the paper was wrapped around the badge.

1940 American Bantam Badge Reproduction NOS 2

The threads on the rear pins looked fantastic.  I was very eager to see what beauty was lurking inside the yellowed paper.  So, I unfurled the paper the final turn and the face of the badge emerged.

1940 American Bantam Badge Reproduction NOS 3

What happened?  The chrome was cloudy and appeared to have rust coming through the surface.  Surely it was some sort of protective coating.  So I polished and attempted to clean it.  1940 American Bantam Badge Reproduction NOS 4

After those efforts, this is what I was left with.  A decent coat of creme paint, an unbent stamping, but mediocre chrome.  Surely this is great for someone who doesn’t have any badges or someone who has one similar to the lead images in this post.  However, to make this worth of being on the type of car you’re restoring, you would need to strip it entirely, rechrome it, and apply a fresh coat of paint.  While doing that, you’d need to be very careful of its ancient fragile structure.  This motivated me to keep progress moving on my effort.  About a month ago, a box arrived with my samples.  They were all too thin and needed to be re-engineered.  They looked great, but they weren’t correct.

This morning, this box came:

American Bantam Badge Deliver

Eagerly, I dug in to see what this round of samples looked like.  1940 American Bantam Badge Reproduction

That’s pretty snazzy looking in my mind.  It’s not an original or NOS part, but I was impressed with the finished product which the factory sent me.  This could look great on the side of our Sportsman project or the shop Hollywood.  You may be asking, how will this compare to an original.

The coat of red is very close to the original Bantam shade.  From the front, they are identical.  At the reverse, you can see what really sets the new badges apart from the originals.  These emblems are cast from a zinc alloy, allowing them to be rugged.  You should be able to bend them when installing them or dent them if you accidentally drop them.  They won’t crush if something gets pressed against them.  They also wont cut into the surface of your freshly applied coat of paint.  These are, in my mind, part of building a better Bantam.

For comparison sake, here is the creme sample at the bottom and far left of a line up with the smashed original, an original in need of chrome, an NOS unit.  I have a few tests I am looking to conduct on the samples before the final order is placed and the final pricing is announced.  I will be testing another chrome process and the addition of threads to the studs.  However, I will say the pricing will be very competitive with used and NOS units.  To make matters better, besides being available in creme, black, and red, they will also be available in bare chrome so you can paint them to match your car (as the factory intended).

If you’re interested in pre-ordering any badges to make sure you can have your order fulfilled in the first run, please use the contact form here:

It’s a survivor for sure!

Sometimes you find an old photo online and it captures your imagination.  You see the smiling kid and wonder where he is today.  You see a small suburb and wonder who lives there today.  You see a car and wonder what sort of Toyota it has been reincarnated as.

Last week, I saw the photo below for the first time:

1939 Bantam Roadster TX

The car looks well-appointed, but the nose is off.  You may think it was getting ready for a v8-60 swap, or maybe it was getting ready to become a dragster.

You would have thought that until you saw the next photo I was shown of it.  Here it is, just a couple of years later:

1941 Bantam Roadster Tx 91

Somehow, the car seems a bit sportier, a bit glossier, and the street a little more relaxed looking.  The car looks to have been refreshed and given a new lease on life.  However, the date on the photograph hints that it was taken in 1958.  Despite how good it looks, the question remains, what happened to it in the intervening five decades between then and now?

Would you believe it if I told you it was on the road until 1966 and then carefully stored for decades?

Would you believe that it was back on the road fifteen years ago?

Would you believe that it was put back into storage until not that long ago?

I wouldn’t have either, but here it is in all of its glory:

1941 Bantam Roadster Tx 5

Not only has this car been remarkably preserved, it’s currently for sale.  Will you be the lucky new owner of a survivor Bantam Deluxe Roadster?

Click here to see the listing.