1939 Bantam Roadster Project

It all started with a call in 2017 from a person who’s Dad had a soft spot for American Austins and Bantams.  Apparently, around 1947, he pulled a 1939 Bantam Roadster into his basement.  Like many others before it, he planned to  buy it, fix it, use it for a while, and sell it to earn a little extra spending money.  However, this car never quite made it back onto the road.  Instead, it sat in the corner of a basement where it served as a loyal work bench for a while before the owner started pulling parts from it to keep his own trusty 1939 coupe on the road.  Perhaps he envisioned restoring this car some day in the future, but that day never came.  Slowly, as time waned on, it found itself at the bottom of a pile so deep that it would take nearly seventy years until it would see the light of day again.

The woman who called invested a lot of effort into cleaning the workshop/basement out to get the car where it was beginning to be visible.  She had memories of the car driving into the basement, but even then couldn’t remember exactly what it looked like.  Devoted to making sure it got into the right hands, she worked tirelessly to exhume it.

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Can you spot the Bantam in the above photo?

Once it got cleaned off to the point in the above photo, I was allowed to come and view the car.  So excited by what was potentially under the pile, I crawled around and tried to take in every view possible.  What swamp creatures potentially lurked in the dark crevasses of the basement didn’t thwart me from crawling under old full workbenches with a flashlight and a camera.  I needed to know what this time capsule was and what was left of it.

Here are the remainder of the photos I took that day:

All I could tell was that the car had had suffered body damage to the driver side rear fender, that the sporty back deck had been cut open to convert it to a roadster pickup, and that some parts had been torn from it including the engine and gauges.  I knew then that I needed to save this lost roadster and made arrangements to buy it.

After a few weeks, the archeological dig was completed and the owner had it ready for us to pull out.  I didn’t know what was waiting for me, but I can say I was quite surprised to see it when I walked into the basement.

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Isn’t she something?  Although so many of her jewels had been lost, her original paint and pinstriping make you realize how much potential she has left.

There the roadster was, parked in her corner.  It was clear that the basement didn’t protect her as much I had hoped.  The window above her been broken decades earlier and had gone unnoticed.  With every rain and snow, water would accumulate in her little corner of the block basement.  Much of her original paint remained, however it was clear how much of the car had been lost to time.  Besides brightwork and headlamps, much of the sheet metal on the underside had become rust deposits on the concrete floor.  Yet despite the deterioration, it was clear that this was an excellent restoration candidate because it had never been the subject of shoddy restoration work and was ready for someone to undo and replace original factory spot welds.

In the ensuing days, I began going around the car, learning what was missing and what I would need to buy in order to be able to restore it to its original monochrome black sleekness.

Here she was in daylight for the first time, after I replaced all four wheels and found an early style windshield with stanchions to add to the car.

As you can see, I had a long job ahead of me to find and secure parts to bring this car back to where it needs to go.  The front fenders and grille were heavily damaged in the damp basement and  through prior years of abuse.  The rear deck was cut out to create a makeshift truck, and the driver side rear fender was beaten into oblivion.

 

Along the driver side, the lower rocker panel was still present, although the lower beading on the body had been rusted out on the cowl.  Otherwise, this area look pretty decent.

The passenger side metal was a bit more friable, but it still is quite repairable.

 

The rear passenger side fender is quite solid and the parts of the rear deck that remail are quite nice.  The roadster also still sports its original single taillight bracket, although the taillight has long been lost.  Even the original trim that held the roof permanently in place was still evident on the rear deck.

As you can see, the sheet metal under the rear deck has some issues, but isn’t terrible.  The inner wheel houses are quite nice and the pan that extends from the package shelf to the bottom of the deck is surprisingly solid.  The worst part of this is the package shelf, but that’s not too bad of a problem.  Why you ask?  Because this car comes with a brand new package shelf!

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The high quality new package shelf floor pan is stamped in the US from 16 gauge steel, which is far superior to the original material.  With a piece like this, you don’t need to worry about the rough panel the car currently has.

Underhood, the driveline is missing.  Engine, transmission, driveshaft, and radiator; all gone.  The inner fender aprons are unmolested and all of the appropriate brackets seem to be present.  Even the firewall insulation was still present, although I have removed it and the hardware to get these parts reproduced.  The gas tank looks good and the cowl looks to have been treated properly.  Someone did enlarge the battery box, but they did so by cutting toward the passenger compartment.  As the correct batteries are not almost impossible to obtain, this could be an excellent way to improve the drive-ability of this car when finished.

While spartan, the sporty interior of the Bantam is quite intact.  The original pleating is evident on the seat back as is the original upholstery on the door cards and kick panels.  The gauges have been lost as has the horn button.  As you can see, the floors are completely shot.  However again, this car comes replete with newly stamped interior floor pans.

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These are the new floor pans awaiting the roadster.  Perfection stamped into 16 gauge steel.

 

Underneath, she’s all there.  A little crusty, but ready to be brought back to life.  If I recall, at least one of the rear wheel brakes is stuck which may make transporting it a bit more difficult.

So, now you’ve seen what this car has to offer on its own.  As I said earlier, I’ve been searching for parts to make it ready to enjoy a new lease on life.

Sheet metal:

A very solid pair of front fenders were sourced with nice inner mounting surfaces.  Some bodywork will be required, but overall, they are quite nice.

A nice usable fender was located for the drivers side.

An original rear deck panel was sourced to patch the part of the roadster which was long ago modified.

Trim, lights, and accessories:

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A pair of aftermarket lights which will look appropriate in the fender wells were located to complete the front end.

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A late 39-40 Roadster windshield was found to complete the cowl.

new thumb screws

Along with a pair of newly reproduced stainless steel thumb screws to retain the windshield to the stanchions.

A new reproduction Bantam badge or a repairable original as well as an original hood ornament.

Mechanical:

brake cables

Brand new brake cables with a stainless steel inner core built to factory specifications.

Engine and transmission:

This car comes with a 1938 American Bantam roadster engine and transmission which is in rebuildable condition.

 

As you can see, this car is an excellent restoration candidate that is quite complete.  Known missing components are: convertible top frame and side curtain irons, speedometer and instrument cluster, inner windshield retaining pieces, headlight switch, shifter handle, cylinder head, taillight, some miscellaneous hardware and finishing moldings, rearview mirror, air cleaner, and Bantam hubcaps.