1940 American Bantam Roadster

Small cars have never enjoyed much success in America. The poster child for that statement is the American Bantam, a cheeky little automobile built in Butler, Pennsylvania under the aegis of super-salesman Roy Evans. The Butler factory was established by the British Austin company in 1930 as American Austin to build a small car based on the Austin Seven.

Even in the grip of the Depression Americans were not beguiled even by American Austin's claim of 40 miles per gallon fuel economy, perhaps because the tiny American Austin cost $5 more than a Model A Ford. $5 bought a lot of gasoline in 1930, about 20 gallons. The company folded only four years after it started up, but the plant was bought by Evans for a pittance and he set out to create a new American Bantam.

A new stronger frame supported a completely redesigned engine with pressure lubrication, three main plain bearings and a intake manifold designed by Harry Miller. Power went up to 20hp, not bad for a 45 cubic inch engine in the mid-Thirties. The defining feature, though, were the body designs contributed by Alexis de Sakhnoffsky with a rounded grille, pontoon fenders and a cute factor that is still impressive today.

The most distinctive body was the Speedster, with a Duesenberg-like sweep panel painted contrasting color. The American Bantam's appeal was such that it became the model for Donald Duck's first automobile, a Speedster featured in the 1937 cartoon 'Don Donald' and still inspiring cartoon cars in animated comedies (q.v., 'Who Killed Roger Rabbit?').

This 1940 American Bantam Speedster is one of the last thousand or so cars built before the company turned its full attention to the war effort in which its design for the Jeep would be an important contributor. It is a beautiful car finished in black with a golden beige sweep panel, tan leather upholstery and brown carpets. The steel wheels are painted golden beige to match the sweep panel and are dressed with hubcaps, trim rings and new bias ply whitewall tires.

The body features a folding windshield (important in raising terminal velocity with only 20hp), wind wings, spare wheel and tire set into the rear deck and rear fender skirts accented with three thin chrome spears. An older but very pretty restoration, the paint and chrome are good, the interior upholstery and trim are very good and the engine compartment is orderly and presentable.

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