Fighting Above Your Weight Class: The Bantam American

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Bantam originated north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and this producer of small cars is almost unknown in the automotive world. The automaker started by selling copies of British Austin Sevens, but they would go on to be better remembered as the original creator of the World War II Jeep.

American Austin

Bantam initially started as American Austin building the Austin Seven under license from 1930 through 1934. Throughout the Depression an inexpensive car like the Austin Seven would have looked like a frugal option. Sold for $445, the price was lower than  a Ford V8’s $495… but still didn’t appear to be a  great value due to their diminutive size.  In the four years of production 20,000 American Austins would be manufactured and yet the Bantam’s existence would be very short lived.

American Austin would return three years later in 1937 under the moniker of  Bantam American. Once they broke their connection to Austin, they manufactured their own designs for the next four years. 6,000  Bantams would be produced in various body styles from convertibles to pick up trucks.  Although most of the survivors would end up as the basis for hot rodders, the design of the Bantam was very attractive. That is until you got up close to the vehicle and realized how small they actually were.

Powered by a 20-horsepower, 747cc inline four-cylinder engine, this was seen as under powered by the standards of the day. Those who restore them today know they are not capable of being driven on a modern highway due to the low top speed.

Bantam Jeep
Bantam’s place in history hasn’t been without its own bit of controversy. During the competition for the US Army’s reconnaissance car, Bantam would release the first vehicle that would look like the classic Jeep. Unfortunately for Bantam, the military didn’t feel they would have the capacity to produce enough Jeeps for the war effort  and awarded their design to Willy’s while having Ford produce them. In spite of this, Bantam’s war time production still reached  2,765. With the loss of the Jeep contract, Bantam ceased producing vehicles and would ultimately disappear in 1956.

1939 American Bantam

Microcars had a second renaissance during the 50’s with, among other brands, the Crosley. Today, we’re once again faced with a new run of microcars in the US thanks to the Smart Car, Fiat 500, and Scion iQ. The premise behind the microcar is sound but we, as Americans, simply do not trust vehicles of this size.


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