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American Austin

Overview

1930 - 1934.

The Austin 7 had been introduced to the English motoring fraternity on the 21st July 1922.  A small car, designed by Sir Herbert Austin of Birmingham, England, it was a gamble that paid-off and saved his ailing Longbridge company at the time of the slump in the early 1920's.  It's popularity spread to the Continent in the late 1920's, where it was built under licence, with a slightly revised body, both in Germany as the 'Dixi' and in France as the 5hp Rosengart.  Pleased with the reception that it had received abroad, Sir Herbert decided to target America and Canada. His ambition was to convert those countries to the practicality of owning a version of his simple to maintain, economical to run, unique little car. But various small cars had been offered to the American's before and their inadequacies had seen them come and go without making any impression whatsoever. Small cars were now regarded by the American's purely as objects of amusement.

America is a huge country, petrol was cheap, cars were cheap, it was natural that the much larger, more comfortable car was favoured. Undeterred and with the utmost confidence in his little brainchild, Sir Herbert pressed ahead with his idea and eventually, in February 1929, the American Austin Car Company was set up in the former Standard Steel Car factory at Butler, Pennsylvania. This was close to steel and coal supplies on the East coast and also allowed easy import of parts from England.

Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky was asked to design a body for the new car, based on the current American design trends and keeping the body as light as possible to compensate for the low powered engine. The new car made its debut in New York at the Hotel Shelton in January 1930 and it went into production in May of that year at a list price of $425. Within a week, more than 180,000 orders were received. But the timing had been wrong. The Great Depression hit the United States and the total number of actual sales was reduced to only 8,558 by December 1930.

The American Austin was totally different in appearance to its English counterpart and was naturally left hand drive. The American brief was to give maximum leg room on the very short chassis that was of similar size to the original. This restricted the design to two seats and the chassis 'A' frame itself was extended to the rear axle to support the body. Suspension was as the original; non-independent front suspension by transverse semi-eliptic spring, with quarter eliptic springs on the rear. In an effort to save weight and at the same time give maximum strength, the entire body and floor were welded to the chassis. The bonnet sides had horizontal louvres and the mudguards (wings) were more substantial. Larger headlamps were fitted and all cars sported bumpers front and rear, which the English Austin never had. 18" pressed steel wheels with detachable rims replaced the original wire spoked wheels and 8" diameter mechanical brakes were used.

The engine, with its crankshaft running in two main bearings, was still a side-valve, in-line four cylinder unit of 747cc. It had a 2.20" bore x 3.00" stroke and gave 13 bhp at 3,200 rpm. This was coupled to a three speed, plus reverse, manual gearbox and a top speed of 55 mph was claimed, with an economical 40 mpg fuel consumption, although these figures were not achieved at
the same time. A thermo syphon cooling system was fitted. All bolts and screws used were changed from Whitworth threads to the American S.A.E. standard. The first two designs were a 2-seat saloon and a 2-seat coupe, but other bodies were introduced later, including light commercials in the form of a panel van and a pick-up truck. Despite this, sales in 1931 dropped to only 1,279 vehicles.

In 1931, Hal Roach produced a comedy film, 'Our Wife' featuring Oliver Hardy and an equally plump Miss Babe London, trying to climb aboard an American Austin 2-seat coupe. The 'joke' theme was carried on in other films later. 1932 saw a slight improvement with the sale of 3,846 cars, but targets were way off expectations and despite reducing the prices the factory closed in 1932.
It was re-opened by 21 years old Roy S. Evans, a car dealer in Georgia, who disposed of the unsold stock through his own car chain priced down to $295 and 1933 saw total sales of 4,775 cars.

In 1934, when parts ran out after an estimated 1,300 cars were moved, the company went bankrupt. A final total of less than 20,000 American Austins had been sold.

The engines used on the cars from 1931 - 1933 were the series 'A' and the series 275 which had the cam-gear driven dynamo at right angles to the line of the engine. the distributor was mounted on the end of the dynamo furthest from the engine. These were referred to as the 'L' engines. Later engines, the series 375 and the series 475, had the dynamo mounted parallel with the engine block and were known as the 'M' engines.

The American Austin had been an ambitious attempt to get the American motorist interested in a tried and proven small car. But unforseen circumstances at the time of its introduction had been catastrophic and as the depression eased, it couldn't compete with the full sized cars that were available and selling for approximately the same price.

However, the story didn't end there and the American Austin was given another 'bite of the cherry' to reappear in a new guise with a brand new name - the American Bantam!

Information supplied by Reg J. Prosser

Models produced by American Austin

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