From the John Cleland Collection
1940 American Bantam Roadster
Chassis no. 65793
When the imported English Austin was restyled by Alex de Saknoffsky in 1935 to celebrate the launch of the new Bantam Corporation, it was cutting-edge American design.
More than 20,000 of the American Austins were built under license to Austin of England, but even though the boxy style had been restyled in 1929 by de Saknoffsky, to look like a small Chevrolet, by 1935 it was looking dated.
The market for very small cars was tough in the US anyway, because of the size of the country and only 6,200 of the stylish new roadsters, pickups and woody wagons found buyers between 1937 and 1941. But they were improved in significant ways.
Nobody made much money on the redesign de Saknoffsky was paid only $300, for example, but racing legend Harry Miller converted the 747cc, splash-lubrication engine to full-pressure lubrication and converted it to Babbitt-bearings. The result was much better durability and the price for the whole retooling was a bargain $7,000.
By 1940 the Bantam was part of the American landscape, at least as a surburban commuter and local delivery truck. This example was originally sold by Fergus Motors in New York City and is equipped with a period Motorola radio and a heater. It's from the collection of Bantam expert John Cleland in Oregon and appears to be a survivor, or at least a very old restoration.
Only 800 Bantams of all bodystyles were sold in 1940, but they boasted 3-main bearing engines, bigger brakes, Monroe shocks and headlights in the fenders. The last Bantams to be sold in 1941 were 138 cars left over from the previous year, so this really is the last variant.
At the start of WWII, Bantam designed the Jeep, but weren't big enough to build it in sufficient number. Bantam's contract was for 2,645 Jeep. Ford and GM built 600,000.