1933 American Austin Bantam - $19,900
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  • Overview & History
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One of the first economy cars, it doesn’t look or feel cheap, and thanks to a design by noted stylist Alexis Alexis de Sakhnoffsky it has great proportions that neatly disguise its small footprint.

At a glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this diminutive little coupe is a British car. After all, Austin is a British company. However, this is an AMERICAN Austin Bantam, a company founded in 1929 to build British Austin automobiles in the US under license. The thought was, of course, that an inexpensive small car would be just what the consumer wanted as the Great Depression started to hit home. Sadly, even that idea struggled against the Depression, as the inexpensive Bantam could not compete with, say, a used Model T, with production ending in late 1932 and the company filing for bankruptcy in 1934. The company was reorganized and resumed production in 1937, including a vehicle that would become the prototype for the Jeep, and that venture lasted until 1941. An interesting story about Anglo-American cooperation that was doomed from the start by the same economic forces that doomed some of the biggest names. Who could have possibly dreamed that building an inexpensive car during the Depression wouldn’t work out?

The good news is that these are just wonderful little cars, and this 1933 model is a late-production vehicle (leftover ‘32s still in showrooms when production ended were titled as ‘33s). Bulletproof reliable with charming good looks and reasonable space inside makes a Bantam a great choice for the first-timer or experienced hobbyist. One of the first economy cars, it doesn’t look or feel cheap, and thanks to a design by noted stylist Alexis Alexis de Sakhnoffsky it has great proportions that neatly disguise its small footprint. It is as economical to own and drive today as it was in 1933 and you’ll quickly find that everyone responds to the cute little Bantam wherever it goes. The bright blue paint looks period-appropriate and you’ll note there’s a subtle two-tone effect with slightly darker fenders and frame, making it look a bit more upscale, along with the off-white pinstriping that accentuates the belt moldings. It remains quite correct, including the two-piece chrome bumpers, single taillight in the center of the rear-mounted spare tire, and big headlights that make it look formal. Accessories include a moto-meter on the radiator, mud flaps, and a spare tire cover with the Bantam logo on it. It isn’t perfect and it isn’t a show car, but it’s quite attractive and in great shape for driving and casual shows.

The tan mohair interior is neatly done and while it may appear to be a four-seater, the coupe will carry two. The upholstery is in excellent condition and looks right for the early ‘30s with wide pleats and brightly plated door hardware, as well as a big hard rubber steering wheel. Controls will be familiar to anyone who has driven an old car in the past, with the long-throw shifter offering unexpected precision. All the important gauges are arrayed across the center of the dash and they all work properly except the fuel gauge, which is one of those hydrostatic gauges that rarely lasted through the first year of ownership. The windshield tilts open for additional ventilation and there’s a handy storage box under the shelf behind the seat, so the small Bantam is surprisingly practical.

All American Austins used the English Austin’s 45.6 cubic inch inline-4 powerplant whose reliability and thrift were well-established. It’s got plenty of torque and since the Bantam is so light, performance is entertaining. Better yet, it’s famous for its economy, with some owners reporting as much as 40 miles per gallon in their Bantams, making it a hobby car for uncertain times. It’s neatly detailed under the hood with traditional Austin bright green engine enamel and correct manifolds and an updraft carburetor with a modern air cleaner that’s only a good idea. All the important hardware remains in place and fully operational and the engine springs to life with a gruff little 4-cylinder burble that’s rather charming and not unlike a Model A Ford. The radiator is oversized for the size of the engine, so it runs cool under all circumstances and obviously there’s a lot of recent work to the electrical system. Also like the Model A, the fuel tank is in the cowl, with the filler neck under the hood, so keep that in mind when you’re filling up. You’ll also find nice, heavy battery cables and plenty of grounds so that it remains a reliable starter, hot or cold. The exhaust system is recent, so it sounds right, and it remains ready to enjoy right away.

The three-speed manual transmission has well-chosen ratios for the engine’s modest output, and in high gear, it’ll zip along at 40-45 MPH without complaint. The hardware underneath breaks no new ground, with leaf springs and rigid axles at both ends and mechanical drum brakes, but it all works well enough to make the Bantam a fun driver that doesn’t mind working in today’s traffic. It isn’t a rusty car, and the undercarriage was nicely detailed at the time of restoration but now shows signs of use and age. Nothing critical—just don’t expect to display it with mirrors underneath. Disc wheels make it look substantial and carry right-sized 3.50-18 Avenger blackwall tires direct from England.

Microcars are suddenly very hot with collectors and few are as endearing and practical as the Bantam. You’ll find that it attracts more attention than cars that are five times as big and cost five times as much, and it will always be economical to own and operate. We love the look and the car’s eager personality, all of which make it a fantastic choice for not a lot of money. Call today!

Vehicle: 1933 American Austin Bantam
Price: $19,900
Stock Number: 115058
Mileage: 38,952
VIN: M19097
Engine: 45.6 cubic inch inline-4
Transmission: 3-speed manual
Gear Ratio: 5.25
Wheelbase: 75 inches
Wheels: 18-inch steel disc
Tires: 3.50-18 Avenger
Exterior Color: Blue
Interior Color: Tan mohair
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