Posted May 25, 2009

American Bantams
The models, their numbers, comments and current values.

These are the random comments of the writer about these cars and as such are his opinion only.

The Hollywood/ Convertible Coupe. Made in 1940 there were only 134 Hollywoods made, and 60 of the very slightly less 'de luxe' CC's. All CC's  were black like the one above. All Hollywoods should have a three main engine (start at #65500). It could be argued that this is the best civilian car Bantam ever made. With roll up windows and a really secure, substantial top it is genuinely an all weather open two seater. A drop head coupe the English would call it. . The 800cc  three main and Zenith carb make it just enough faster to almost be a usable  car for suburban or rural roads. Designer Alex Tremulis, in driving it coast to coast said it handled better than his MG TC. Hmmm. Where the Roadster has a sort of raffish, college boy air to it the Hollywood is a more elegant ride, suitable for an adult to drive to the Country Club or the yacht basin. The interior starts out nicer, and, being protected more, stays nicer. Given the low numbers produced, the survival rate of this model is quite remarkable, possibly around 15% or more of restored or complete restorable cars. There are about 23 listed with club affiliation with only a handful in the genuine show category. Are there 30 left worldwide?  The primary advantage to a Hollywood today is that it is for the time being quite under-priced. We know of a previous Roy Evans Trophy winning car, an older but still good restoration, for $17,500. This is unusual, and a solid correct car properly restored should bring as much as twice that figure. A solid running ten footer would be in the $22,500-25,000 category. However, it does not enjoy the universal appeal of the Roadster and likely will always trade for slightly less. The Hollywood can also boast of the design work of two of America's greatest car designers: Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, and Alex Tremulis. Tremulis, commissioned to do so by Roy Evans, converted a standard Bantam Coupe into the Hollywood in his Beverly Hills chop shop. BUYING ADVICE. This is an extremely rare, historically significant car that, done right, looks great, and because they are so rare, no one really knows about them and they are generally way under-priced. Despite rarity, for the restorer, for most things anyway,  the parts are no more difficult to get than other Bantams. One difficulty in this regard is that the cranks, crankcases and blocks for three main engines are virtually unobtainable. Do not buy a car that doesn't have these on the theory that you will find them. You won't, and many of these cars have been re-powered which should cut your offer at least in half as it will be very difficult and expensive to bring back. However, the ABS welcomes such modified cars in its ranks and even has a modified trophy so, if you want a bargain participation car, a Hollywood with an Anglia engine in it might be just the ticket. Even if your three main is running, unless you are sure of its rebuild history,  my advice would be to rebuild it from scratch and make sure the engine is line bored, a process we think may not have been done at the factory which makes the cranks so rare. Figure on a 3-5000 dollar bill if you have a core.  Monroe hydraulic shocks can be a puzzle. © wm spear 2009.

The Roadster. 1938, 39 and 40. If a person knows anything about civilian Bantams they most often think of the Roadster. It had one of the longest production runs and it is usually selected by anyone representing the marque in overall reviews. And why not? They are wonderful looking little cars which when analyzed are truly a design tour de force. Even so, of the 6000 some-odd civilian Bantams produced, only 971 of them were Roadsters. Club affiliated cars alone amount to 141 survivors, nearly 14% and it is possible that that many again lie outside. For a prewar car that is quite remarkable. We suspect many survived the WWII scrap heaps because they were easy on tires and gas. And, it would be sort of like drowning puppies wouldn't it? It seems like every large collection of cars has a little Bantam or Austin tucked away somewhere. The differences in the years were mostly trim details. My own preference is for the later 38's or, as shown, an early '39 which preceded the migration of the headlights to the outside of the fenders (outies) and still had some tasteful streamlining on the hood sides, although not as nice (or practical) as the earlier long, often  stainless stripped louvers of the '38. Many like to emphasize the "LeBarron Sweep" and paint the inset a color. The body-tub was a carry-over from the Austin and when it was re-designed as a Bantam this feature was something of an embarrassment and "old-fashioned" so, stock cars came solid. However many customers then, as restorers today could not resist and specified it a different, usually contrasting color. My personal taste would be solid, or at least two very similar related colors and pin striping. A bold paint job may grab the attention of a passing observer, but, if you have to live with it, it may begin to cloy. The late '39's and 40's had the three main engine which is a help (#65500 and up). BUYERS ADVICE: You can expect to pay $22,500-30,000 for a good solid, un-modified number 2 or 3 car, although at auction not long ago we saw one go for twice that, which is what a concours car should run you, minimum. You can find them for 10 or 12, or even less, but, buyer beware: real deals are rare. Rusted out floors and doors, and that tail end area of the body tub where water always collects and conversions that cut up the fire wall are common areas of concern. A three main is a plus if it is do you know? Headlights have often been modified or replaced which will cost you a minimum of 1,000 dollars to get right. Instruments? Not easy to find, and expensive to restore. The advantage of buying a Roadster is that it is a sort of "made man"..there is a ready market for it because people are familiar with it. BTW, if it's a concern, these are REAL chick magnets. Drive into a Corvette or muscle car show or your local drive in with one of these and watch the girls eyes light up. Invite one for a ride, but pick one of the smaller one!
Station Wagon. Another "made man" on the collector circuit, there are only 21 Bantam Station Wagons known to exist out of the 317 that left the factory with their attractive little Mifflinberg (PA) bodies, and if you have a good one with an original body you are in the 45,000 to 55,000? range, getting right up there where a "recreation" might tempt someone.These are the smallest production woodies ever made, and as such have a sort of 'extra-Bantam' appeal like the BRC...a following outside the Marque. Here you see Jim Markell's '38 with the long hood louvers and the early version of the grille. The brown one is John Tuthill's 40 with less bars in the grille. Commercial vehicles, as Station Wagons were considered, continued with "innie" headlights for all production. BUYING ADVICE. Go for it. They are the most difficult restoration project of all Bantams, and when you are finished you can't see out of them unless you are under 5 feet tall, but, you will get your money out of it. There are two categories here. As you would suspect, several of the bodies have been completely re-fabricated, some more accurately than others. And then there are cars that carry the original wood work and even the original decals. The former tend to be flashier, restorations and the latter are more vanilla looking, as were the original cars. Suit yourself. You can't blame people for wanting to gussy up Bantams because they respond so well to treatment, having as they do wonderful "bones" and proportions. However, for the purist, we have to remember that these were originally economy cars intended for the bottom of the market, not little doll babies to dress up. © wmpear 2009

The Riviera/Convertible Sedan. The Open 4 seater version of the Hollywood, also the work of Alex Tremulis. They were a late (1940) development and all had the three main engine. 130 were made, with 60 CS's. Riviera's have even a better survival rate than the Hollywood as we count 34 club active units. The differ from the Speedster n the same way the Hollywood differs from the Roadster, with a fixed windscreen, roll up windows, and a decent top. This one of John Lyfords has incorrect rear fender trim which should be the 4 diagonal bars like the Hollywood above. Riv's can look a bit misshapen and dowdy and are often inartfully restored with poor "art direction". As John has shown here, done right they can come up very nicely. They are also among the most practical of all Bantams. Were I going to go long distance touring, if I am taller than six feet, or if I have a couple of kids or dogs I want to take along, or was going to use it for local shopping and errands, the Riviera is the obvious choice. It is weather tight and has the desirable 3 main. What's not to like? BUYING ADVICE: A couple of years ago we had a very nicely turned out, fully restored Riviera in our classifieds for two issues and could get no takers at 17,000. A dealer finally bought it and spun it for 28,000. On the other hand, we recently saw an ad for a dowdy little duckling needing all kinds of expensive corrections being advertised for 40K. If you find a restoration candidate you've got to do a little math, because, despite the rarity and practicality, the model has yet to find mainstream demand. I say to hell with that. If you like the car, restore or refurbish it to whatever level you like and enjoy the car. I think as the tasteful restorations we know about  begin to come on line this model will get considerably more play, so, if you can get in now at a decent price it's a good bet. © wm spear 2009

The Speedster, all years, is the original open 4 seater and is like the Roadster with side curtains and top bows. In some ways this might be the Civilian car most like the BRC which used the same cowl and windscreen and has nearly the same WB and seating. Take the rear fenders off and you will see the "sardine can" wheels incorporated into the body that the Army likes to flatter itself as having "invented". Only 323 Speedsters left Butler, and of those there are about 19 registered, making them among the rarest of existing Bantams (or any other American production car of the era). BUYING ADVICE: Well, you get everything a Roadster has, plus two seats. What you don't get is the up market recognition of a Roadster. Since they cost exactly the same to restore, you'll have to get out your calculator. We know of an excellent one that sold for 25K recently, but, they don't change hands very often, so, it's hard to pick a price range. © wm spear 2009.

Coupe. This beautifully restored '38 Bantam Coupe of Ron and Jill Sarver currently holds the Sakhnoffsy Cup, arguably the highest honor that can be bestowed on a Bantam. On top of that, although Coupes were the most numerous model produced, they are  quite rare today. We have but 77 in the rolls.. Hot rodders have taken their share, but, a lot of them have been sacrificed as parts cars for perceived  "higher value" Bantams too. Squint and you can see the American Austin Body tub sitting there. The Coupe perhaps did not benefit as much as other models from the Sakhnoffsky rehash in 1936, and people who want a Coupe may find the upright little Austin has more character. Of course these cars were not designed for the show circuit, they were designed for actual, practical and often hard use at a low price. The Coupe is really more what Bantam was all about, or at least what it thought it was all about. Again, the value of a Coupe is dependent almost entirely on the quality and art direction of the restoration. A really well done one can bring as much as even a slightly off key Roadster. As here, to my taste, they look best in dark colors. With blackwalls they could look almost Amish! BUYING ADVICE: The later ones had a three main, but, in this car, a 2 main seems just fine, and very appropriate. Moreover, the difference is hardly dramatic, but the pain in the butt and expense of rebuilds is. Break your crank and you are out of business in a three main. © wm spear 2009


Bantam Pickup Trucks. Truck people, like wood people and military vehicle people form a sort of larger group in the pantheon of car hobbyists, and so any pre-war pickup is going to draw attention in that circle, and when it happens to be a little tiny beauty like the Bantam everyone goes ga-ga. You might get an older restoration 20 footer for 15K but you would spend that much again at least making it into a show piece like this one of Mark Beckers (used to be mine), so, if you are buying one already restored you are going to be looking at 35 or 40K. There are some real alligators out all of these models...It's a question of how much you want to do not how much you are going to pay getting there. You have to look at any candidate and see what you have and what you don't have. Put a price on each thing you don't have and make a realisitic estimate of how much it will take to get it and you will know how much to pay for the candidate. If your list comes to over 30K, you probably don't ant to buy it. 580 PU's were produced, and they came in two versions, the "square back", much  like an Austin, and this one the "round back" where the corners of the bed have a radius. We count about 30 of them on the rosters. BUYING ADVICE. Hard to say whether the truck thing is a blue collar bandwagon thing, like Harleys, or a lasting category, but I would have to think the latter and give the PU  "made man" status". If there are under 50 of them nation wide, somebody is gon'na want it. If you have a  business, this is a great vehicle to use to publicize it because they are real crowd pleasers. Since it is commercial, you are likely not going to make it on the concours circuit. The seating position is upright and not adjustable, so, don't think of touring it. Visibility isn't great either. You are not going to be able to haul very big loads..maybe a bale of hay or something. I used it to carry visitors bags up to the house at the ranch. © wm spear 2009

Bantam Panel. Everything you can say about the PU, plus some in my book. One of the prettiest little commercial vehicles of the era. A lot of bang for the buck here. Bantam made 1,110 of them which means they had some appeal at the time too, but we are only counting about 18 of them that we know about. BUYING ADVICE. Go for it. If you don't want it, call me. All I need is a box to finish one up. © Wm Spear 2009

Boulevard Delivery. Only a handful of the 70 of these that were produced remain, and some of those are "recreations" from Roadsters. This one recently changed hands for about 50K. It was owned since new by the late Sid LeSeuer. BUYING ADVICE: Duh!

The Bantam BRC. This is Bantam's crowning achievement and a discussion of them in detail can be found elsewhere on the page. Since it was a scratch built car, one could argue it is the "most Bantam" of all the Bantams which owe a great deal to the Austin Seven design. Worldwide, in the Club and out we count about 70 of them left if you count even the rattiest bits and pieces. There are about 35 restored or running cars, more or less complete, and of those only 5 or 6 still have their original body parts. One such is 1911 above shown in a post card where it was included in the Harrah's collection long before anyone figured it out that the jeep is, perhaps next to the Model T the most significant car in American history and that it was designed and built at Butler. Debates will rage about the history, but there is no debate about the rarity and value of these cars. My guess is that the next good BRC will sell for 75K. Several have changed hands within the ABS in the past couple of  years  BUYING ADVICE. Call me. Well, you can buy whatever it is and probably come out okay. But, if your goal is a complete, restored, original BRC you have a long trail ahead of you. I began the restoration of one..or was it two....but realized as I began to bend and weld up the body tub that what I was going to have at the end of it was not a BRC so  much as a BRC recreation. There are a lot of cars in development out there which seem to multiply like the loaves and the fishes. If your car is not nearly complete you are not going to live long enough to find all the missing parts you will need. We know there are cars out there waiting to be found, or at least parts of them. Start looking and please do call me if you think you are on to something 907 586-2209.