1927, the cars were in demand nearly everywhere in the world. Sir
Herbert had already expanded into several other countries and was now
looking toward America. He negotiated with representatives from several
localities, finally deciding upon Butler, Pennsylvania.
American Austin debuted in 1930, at the National Automobile Show. In
little more than a week more than 52,000 orders had been received. By
mid-June, a production rate of 100 vehicles a day was achieved at the
Butler plant. Unfortunately, the Great Depression continued and American
families had less and less money and sales fell drastically. The factory
closed in the spring of 1932.
the fall of the same year, the factory was acquired by entrepreneur, Roy
S. Evans, who, at age thirty, was the largest automobile dealer in the
South. Austins again rolled off the production line in Butler. By
of 1935, more than 20,000 cars and trucks had been built. But the
stockholders decided to sell all the assets of the American Austin Car
Company. Evans was able to acquire these assets and reorganize the
company as the American Bantam Car Company by 1936, but had no money
left to build cars.
wasn't until 1938 that the first Bantam "60" passenger cars and trucks
began rolling off the production line. A recession later that same year
resulted in far fewer sales than expected. In 1939, five new models were
added to the line and prospects seemed bright. Over a two and one-half
year period, the company produced approximately 6,700 cars and trucks,
but at an average loss of $75 per vehicle. By 1940, those bright
prospects had dimmed considerably.
had already consumed Europe and Evans saw the handwriting on the wall.
He had tried to interest the government in a military version of the
Bantam for some time. Meanwhile, a military committee had been formed to
develop a midget combat car. Before deciding upon specifications, the
committee members came to Butler and each drove a Bantam roadster. The
report of the committee indicated the potential of the vehicles and the
capabilities of the plant.
bid requests were sent in 1940 to 135 manufacturing companies. By the
time Bantam received the request, the Engineering Department in Butler
had been disbanded. With less than two weeks to develop a design and no
engineer on the payroll, the company contacted Karl K. Probst, in
Detroit. He reluctantly agreed to come to Butler and make an attempt. Within days, Probst, factory manager, Harold Crist and Cmdr. C. H.
Payne, Bantam's military sales representative, presented an actual
layout of the design to the committee.
Willys Overland Company of Toledo, Ohio, also presented a design.
(Ironic since Evans, himself, had helped keep the Toledo factory open
through a financially hard time several years before.) But only Bantam
said they could deliver a prototype within the 49 day time frame
on the morning of September 23, the prototype began a day-long drive to
Camp Holiburd, Maryland. It arrived with only thirty minutes to spare.
The vehicle was rigorously tested by the Army for several weeks, and
then declared to exceed expectations. By this time, both Willys and Ford
had submitted their own prototypes. Both companies had the advantage
both of watching the testing of the Bantam, and having free access to
the blueprints of the Bantam.
the end, the government decided that the American Bantam Car Company plant
in Butler was too small to produce the number of vehicles it needed and
the contracts were given to Willys and Ford. But the Bantam "jeep" had
already begun to revolutionize surface warfare.
1940, the American Bantam Car Company of Butler, PA, developed the Bantam
Reconnaissance Car in response to a U.S. Army request for an all-purpose
military vehicle. This vehicle became the prototype of the Jeep, later
manufactured by Willys and Ford, and is the direct ancestor of the
four-wheel drive vehicles of today.
May of 1943, the Fair Trade Commission charged Willys with false and
misleading advertising by claiming that Willys had created the Jeep. The
court determined that the Jeep was fostered and conceived in Butler,
Pennsylvania, by the American Bantam Car Company.
the end of the war, the tools and dies had been scrapped at government
request and Evans sold the company in 1946. New management continued
building trailers at the plant until 1956, when the plant was sold to the
American Rolling Mill Corporation, commonly known as ARMCO.
administration building still exists and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum
Commission has placed an historic roadside marker on Hansen Avenue in
Butler, commemorating the development of the Bantam Reconnaissance Car,
the "jeep." The small building where the prototype was built was torn down many years ago.