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The American Austin Car Company was an attempt to popularize the European idea of an economy car for America. In 1929, buoyed by the success of the tiny Austin 7 in Europe, Sir Herbert Austin of the Austin Motor Company of Birmingham, England traveled to America with plans to license out production. With access to East Coast ports for importing British components, the American Austin Company started in Butler, Pennsylvania at the Standard Steel Car Company.
The first American Austin was a 2-passenger, 5-window coupe designed by Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, known for the Packard 1108 Sport Phaeton for LeBaron. He rethought the Austin 7 with amended American styling: horizontal hood louvers, fixed disc wheels with detachable rims, larger headlights, added bumpers and generous fenders. Built on the Austin 7 chassis, they were also very small; 16” narrower and 28” shorter than any other vehicle built in America at the time. Imagine a car with a 75” wheelbase, almost 20” shorter than that of the future VW Beetle!
Even with the onset of the Great Depression, the future of the company appeared hopeful. There were 8,558 American Austins sold in 1930. But the low $475 list price was still slightly above Ford’s Model A prices for that year at $435. True to form, Americans preferred bigger cars and remained loyal to native automobiles.Even though the Austin (with its frugal 750cc flathead-four) returned 40mpg, the low fuel prices of the day negated the appeal of its economy. After producing 20,000 vehicles, American Austin filed for bankruptcy. By 1934 they were completely out of business.
The company was revived in 1937 by chairperson Roy Evans and renamed it the American Bantam Company, simply known as Bantam. Production was more ambitious, with a larger plant capable of 44,000 vehicles a year. But Bantam remained more of a curiosity, and the company’s production ceased completely in 1941. Bantam would go on to produce the first Jeep for the US Army, designed by Karl K Probst. But even that was truncated because of the inability to meet demand, losing the bulk of the orders to Willys and Ford.
Manufacturer: The American Austin Car Company
Country of Origin: USA
Drivetrain Configuration: Front engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine: Water-cooled, flathead, inline four, 15hp
Transmission: 3-speed manual gearbox
Top Speed: 50 mph
Year of Production: 1930-1934
Number Produced: 20,000
Original Cost: $475