From the John Cleland Collection
1939 American Bantam Roadster
Chassis no. 62189
Best known as the inspiration for Donald Duck's car, the 1930s American Bantam was a serious attempt to convert Americans to smaller cars. But like the Crosley which followed in the 1940s, it failed to catch on.
The Bantam's origins began with the American Austin Car Company, which was founded in Butler, PA in 1929. Like the BMW Dixi in Germany, this was an attempt to sell English Austin Seven cars under license.
The rather stodgy designs were rethought by Russian émigré Alex de Saknoffsky to look like miniature, and rather stylish, Chevrolets. They were powered by a 747cc 4-cylinder engine, which gave a top speed of around 50mph, with 40mpg.
At $445 the cars were not cheap not much less than a Ford V8 but 8,000 were sold the first year in the teeth of the Depression. Production stopped and started again and after about 20,000 cars were sold, the company went broke in 1935, when it was bought by American Austin salesman Roy Evans for a reported pittance of $5,000.
Evans brought back de Saknoffsky to redesign and Americanize the cars and semi-streamlined models like this one were made from 1937-1941. Engines were boosted to 22hp and pickups and even woody wagons were built for a total of about 6,000 cars.
This handsome two-tone roadster was built in 1939, one of 1,229 Bantams sold that year. From the collection of Oregon Bantam expert John Cleland, it's a tasteful older restoration of a very sound car to driver condition, and will certainly attract attention. The roadster is presently fitted with a Morris minor engine, with nearly double the power of the original, so that it is certainly capable of modern traffic speeds. The tires are new Michel "Stop X" and the odometer indicate a mere 107 miles.