Last modified 20 July 2008

Is there a Bantam near you like this?

If so, it may not be worth much, but somebody needs it! Let's keep 'em rollin'

...if you have or know of an Austin or Bantam or other A/B related stuff that might be available or need rescue..or just a good A/B story send me a note by email or a fax or letter to the address / numbers below.

Especially among the old timers in your area and send me some email about it. Nothing is too trivial, and very little is "too far gone" for some of these A/B restorers to bring back.

Now...Let's get down to it.....

The Facts of Life.
©Wm Spear 2008

Even though, like all car sites, the "classified ads" section is the "I can dream can't I" part, and as such is one of the the first places visitors go, I took my classifieds down . For one thing it's a pain in the neck to keep up with. For another, people will sell a posted car, often as a result of the ad, but never have the courtesy to tell you the car sold, (let alone thank you for the help). The real reason is however that I have found it much more helpful to the people and cars, and easier in the long run to put potential buyers and sellers together "by hand" after I have pre-sceened both of them both as to the rough value and location of the car and as to the suitability/ability of the buyer.

Some will bridle at this saying 'he's trying to play God'. Well, bridle away, it's my page and if you can't live with that, see you on eBay, bidding on a piece of junk 3000 miles away you know nothing about. The fact is there are some problems out there in old car land. I will interview myself on a few topics that seem to recur over and over.

Mostly for BUYERS

Q: Why are you so vague in answering my inquiries about obtaining a car?

A: (1) DUH. Because you haven't taken the broad hints I have given you and joined even one of the Clubs let alone the Austin Bantam Society in which I am most active. There are 4 or five of us in both of the Clubs who spend a big portion of each and every day keeping this marque afloat, giving technical advice, writing articles, helping with shows and museums, helping people physically with their cars in rebuilds, tuning transportaion , creating illustrations and diagrams, writing manuals, locating forgotten cars, putting buyers and sellers together, doing historical research, writing a newsletter, maintaining and paying for websites out of our own pockets, dispelling Willys lies about who invented the jeep, BEGGING even existing members to send in their dues ever year so that we can at least get the money together to print and mail out the newsletter once written. So, why am I going to spend even MORE time answering YOUR questions when you can't even drop 20 bucks for a bunch of great newsletters and personal help and expertise in helping to preserve the cars? As far as I am concerned, if you are not a member of the ABS,or at least another Austin/Bantam club you are not only not serious, you are NOT QUALIFIED to own one of our cars. If you try to restore an Austin or Bantam without having the authenticity and technical expertise available in the Clubs, you are going to make a mess of it, a mess that someone else will have to straighten out assuming it doesn't ruin the car.

(2) I suspect that you are a hot-rodder pretending to be looking for a solid restoration candidate when in fact you are looking for a very rare car to hack to pieces and turn into a mail order hotrod of which the world already has too many. This problem has gotten VERY serious. ABS gives a trophy for the Best Modified car, so, it is not like we are stuck up about it. The most famous Austins in the world are "modifieds" after all. I personally would love make a Bantam special (not a boring street rod like every other yahoo in the world though), and we have many modified cars in the Club. Stan Betz, the legendary Orange County street rod painter is an active and valued member of our Club for instance, and brings his wonderful little Bantam street rod to our meets with clockwork regularity. The David Kipp modified (!) Bantam Roadster is breath-taking. If you want to do a Bantam based specials project, be up front about it and let us try to find the parts you need which are generally available rather than destroying a restorable car or valuable part.

Bottom line: if you want a car, A) join the Club and B) don't try to BS us about what your intentions are.

Q: Is an Austin or Bantam the car for me?

You will get more "bang for your buck" with an Austin or Bantam than almost any other make of car you could name. For one thing, SIZE COUNTS, and in car restoration your expenses increase with square inches, every one of which must be unwrinkled, derusted and patched, painted and polished, not to mention waxed and shined for years to come. Have you priced out chrome prices lately? You will appreciate Bantam's use of stainless steel and few chrome parts. Same with cubic inches under the hood. Everything in a Bantam restoration is smaller and requires less material and labor than the big cars which are often 2 or three times the size, and who knows how much more surface area? Do you have limited space? You can put two Bantams in the place of one big one, and one in a 12 foot building. You can rebuild an engine on the kitchen table and have the kids carry over the block or crankcase. Parts are scarce, but available to serious, active restorers, and reproductions are constantly coming on line. There are two active Clubs in the US, both of which have a lot of knowledgeable, helpful people.

But the first reality is that few other cars have so much crowd pleasing ability as an Austin or Bantam, and it doesn't matter what company they are in. A good open or woody Bantam or Austin will steal the show in any company, including as we have seen, at the Pebble Beach Councours d"Elegance. Several reasons stand out. (1) The cars are just great looking, and, even more important, look good with people in them. It is hard to find a mini or microcar of any kind that you could say this about, and I can't think of one save the A/B that is actually "pretty" (you hear the term "cute!" all the time. Get used to it). (2) The cars are very rare and very seldom seen, yet can be obtained and restored at still reasonable prices. Most people when they see one are seeing it for the first time, or for the first time since they were young. If you are restoring a Hollywood for instance you know that only 120 were ever made and that there are probably fewer than 20 runners worldwide of which maybe half get shown once a year at a small Bantam show. They have a big 'look-at-me' factor, and women and kids especially love them because they can relate to them. You might even be able to convince your spouse that even you could complete a car this small, and she might even consent to go for a ride with you in it when you finish. (3) The cars are real thoroughbreds and have a bona fide important place in American automotive history as our first economy cars, and include the direct involvement of people like Harry Miller, Thomas Hibbard, Alexis de Sahknoffsky, Roy S Evans, Alex Tremulis, Harold Crist and others. And there is the crowning achievement of designing and building the first jeep, arguably the best all around car ever made and vying only with the Model T as the most important car in American history. As the ABS includes the prewar English and other derivitive marques, the A7 and the Jeep make three out of the top ten most important cars in automotive history. There is a whole racng class based on the engine (F750). Not bad for a car with a 750cc 4 banger designed by a 23 year old. (4) The cars have real and evident character : a genuine presence that you don't find in any but a classic car. A Crosley looks like a fridge on a dolly. A Bantam looks like a pocket sized Delage.
Unfortunately the only exposure many people have to an unusual car like a Bantam is in pictures, or at best, one they have seen fleetingly at a show. Since they look so great in that context, the inexperienced person just assumes that the actual performance of the car will match the looks and that it will run like a new Toyota. (Hey, what are those streamlines all about on the fenders?) When they find out it doesn't go fast they either are disappointed and lose interest or sell, or worse, decide to try to uprate or hot rod the car. If going fast is on your list of criteria for an older car, get a Jaguar. A well tuned Austin or Bantam can provides loads of drivng fun, and several of our members specilize in long regional trips (Five of them just completed Peking to Paris). That being said, they could not be in any way be taken on a freeway, or even a busy arterial. They don't go fast enough and they don't stop fast enough, and the steering and handling is even in a carefully set up car vague to say the least. Finding this out, many inexperienced people think they an have it both ways..the charm of a classic Bantam with the power and drivability of a modern car. Forget it. I know of only one conversion that can be made without altering the sheetmetal and it is a complex and expensive project for even an experienced person. Hotrodding the stock engine is also a no no and almost always ends in the destruction of increasingly rare Bantam crankshafts and crankcases.

Mostly for SELLERS

Q: I (or my neighbor) have an old Bantam in my backyard (or I inherited one) I'd like to sell. I've saw in a show about Pebble Beach that these cars are very rare and I saw one go at auction for for $57,000, so I can expect big money, right?

A: Wrong. The difference between that piece of junk you threw a tarp over and forgot about 30 years ago and a car qualified for the likes of Pebble Beach is about 3 years of someones free time, 50,000 dollars and an exasperating amount of hassle, negotiation, threats, bribes and boring swap meets trying to find that one missing piece of hood trim (that you ruined by throwing rocks at the car when you were a kid).

The value of a candidate for restoration depends primarilly on the following factors.

(1) Originality. In the 60 or 70 years since the car left the factory, how much has been done to change it? Have the headlight buckets been replaced or destroyed to make them 12 volt? Has the battery box been sawed out because someone couldn't find the right size for it? Has it been "improved" or customized? Someone cut out the fender skirts? Does it have numbers and do they match?

(2) Rust and condition of sheetmetal. Rust is the main issue, and it doesn't take much to make the car almost valueless. To a seller a little dent in the turtle deck and "a few rust holes in the floor" are minor issues. For a restorer, to be put right professionally let's call this an 8 thousand dollar fix. Sure, someone might have bought MIG welder at COSTCO and think they can replace the floor, and a fist full of bondo applied 3 inches thick can make the trunk sort of look like a trunk, but to RESTORE the car is a different matter. There are no shortcuts. Rocker panels do not grow on trees.

(3) Completness. Does it have all the trim? Headlight buckets? Instuments? (no not something that looks like a mini aquarium with some faded letters and numbers in the background). Are all the electical acessories there? Okay, it has a steering wheel, but is it something that can be used or will buyer have to try to beg Lynn James to run off another reproduction for 300$?

(4) Type and condition of engine. Does it have one at all? If so, is it the right one for the car? You say the engine has been "rebuilt"...but, by whom and when and using what parts? Is it an Austin, English Austin, Bantam or Bantam 3 main? Or what? A core of these (Bantam) engines with solid crank, crankcase and cam, correct, usable block and head seems to be about a 500-1500$ item. To properly rebuild a Bantam engine is running a good 4 or 5 thousand dollars these days (plus a lot of your time disassembling, assemembling, sandblasting, cleaning etc) An Austin because of it's easier to obtain ball/roller bearings is cheaper to rebuild..say $3-3500. Unless you can do some pretty good convincing, like putting the engine on a stand and running it, most engines must be thought of as "cores" as they will all have to be disassembled at least for inspection if not rebuilding. Acessories like generator, alternator, distributor, carburetor and transmission have individual value and should be considered in the total price.

(5) Location. If buyer and seller are even half the country away you can figure buyer will be footing the bill for a 1200-2000 dollar transportation expense, and that does not include any presale inspection trip he makes.

A seasoned buyer will look at your car and try to compare it as against the kind of car he would like to finish up with: maybe a cosmetically okay driver; maybe a concourse winner. He will take the price of examples of that dream car as a top figure. Let's call it $35,000. He then looks at what you are selling and tries to estimate what it will cost to get your car to the desired condiditon. I personally have yet to find a restoration candidate that is less expensive to buy and work up than buying an existing car, and usually it is at least a two to one ratio. Ask the buyer to tote up what he sees and you will see that the ultimate value will never outweigh the costs unless the car has been well cared for and stored.

If I'm right here, why then would anyone buy your car? Why not just give it away? Or even pay someone to haul it off? Well, frankly, that's a good question. And, I hate to say it, but depending on the car, you might be better off parting it out (carefully) and selling the parts on eBay (Don't do this to any good complete car please). But there are some legit answers. A lot of buyers, like me, are just plain fools. There is definitely that factor and you might get lucky. Others are not buying a car, but are buying a project: they like the resortation work; it's their hobby. And here there is often a bit of altruism here. I like restoration because it adds another car to the world fleet. I have seen a surprising amount of altruism among sellers too by the way, people who aren't trying to make a lot of money on something they have little or no investment in, but who want to see a car get into the right hands. "A good home" as it were. That is a noble and worthy trait, and if you think your potential buyer is sincere (ask to see other restoration projects) and not attempting to be a middle man, maybe give him a break. On the buying end it is far easier to spend money than to do work and people will buy a car telling themselves they will get to it. Or will gloss over or exaggerate skills, or just be naive and not know how expensive it is.

If you want to make a lot of money selling a rapped rusty old out Bantam there IS a way. If you find a BRC-60 "round nosed" jeep (and there were at least 70 made with only one known to exist), or, the Holy Grail itself, the Bantam pilot car, you will be a rich person overnight. It would not surprise me in the least if the pilot jeep were found in pretty good shape somewher that Christies or someone would be able to sell it for a million or more. Start looking.