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Rhode Island Gem: American Underslung Type 54 Traveler

Back in its day the American Underslung Type 54 “Traveler” was one of the most distinctive and attractive automobiles on the market. It was constructed by the American Motors Company based in Indianapolis, Indiana, and sold for $4,250. It was the shorter and more visually pleasing 124-inch w.b. four-passenger demi-tonneau version of the 140-inch w.b. Type 56 “Traveler Special.”

Both of the large 50 h.p. four-cylinder models used a very unique chassis that features a frame underslung by 40-inch long front and 54-inch rear springs. The engine and transmission are placed on a subframe that locates the center of the driveline at the same height as the rear axle. The Type 54 rides on very large 40 x 4-inch front and 41 x 4.5-inch rear tires.

  •                             From an American advertisement in “The Automobile” September 8, 1911.

The lead photo and the enlargeable version of it below are one of three images found via reader Erik Rapp picturing the circa 1912 American with a fleet of seven other vehicles which may be salesman’s cars. The lineup includes two Model “T” Fords, a White touring car and an early single-cylinder Cadillac converted into a truck.

The setting is located in or near Providence, Rhode Island, on a body of water next to a pair of automobile garages, with a factory building on the right and possibly the office building on the left behind one of the garages.

Tell us what you find of interest in this set of images. You can learn about and see many other photos of other Americans and other underslung cars here on The Old Motor. The photographs are courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

25 responses to “Rhode Island Gem: American Underslung Type 54 Traveler

  1. I would venture to say that the Underslung was the owner’s car, because in todays money , $ 4250 equates to
    over a hundred grand !!

  2. Here is what I see for cars in the 4th picture. from L to R
    1: Overland model 59 2: Model T 3: Mitchell? 4: Overland model 59 5:? 6: American Underslung
    back row
    7: Cadillac Model 30 8: Model T 9: Cadillac truck

    • I want the garage behind!

      Since Model 59 had a brass radiator, I believe the left car is a 1913 Model 69 Touring, 1913 Model T (windshield folds forward), 1913 Overland Model 71 Foursome (45 hp with trademark rear window), 1914 Overland Model 79 Touring, unknown, American Underslung.

      Once again beautiful photos!

  3. The same AMERICAN UNDERSLUNG “Traveler,” with the same individual behind the wheel, is featured in all three photographs.

    Taking an educated guess, the body of water is fresh water as there is a 5 story mill building with a tower in the background of the 1st photograph. Construction of this mill looks like it is from the 1870s to 1880s. The upper part of the tower can be seen above the building on the right in the 2nd photograph. This would have been a steam powered mill [either cotton or woolen]. If you have a Rhode Island mill expert as a reader, he or she should be able to identify the location by this tower.

  4. Great pictures! The “base price” of this American Traveler likely did not include the larger size Solarclipse headlights which it sports. The cowl lamps are electric, which makes me think that this would have been a late 1912 or slightly later model. I’m guessing that the car has a Warner Autometer, 0-100 mph and call your attention to the 3(+) twist horn that is shown. $$$$$

  5. Last night,on the Velocity channel program”Wheeler Dealers”they were restoring a 1916 8 cylinder Cadillac,and in their search for parts they located a gentleman in Providence who had an old warehouse full of early cars and parts.He had a 1916 Cadillac V-8 truck,from which he loaned the engine to Mike and Ed to facilitate the build up for their car;plus,he had all the parts necessary to get their car finished!Great story!

    • That guy in Providence did have a treasure trove of parts and I bet they were not cheap; but what is with old cars especially early brass cars?

      Though I really enjoy the show, the numbers Edd was talking about didn’t make sense to me. He said at the beginning of the show cars like these can bring a 100,000 dollars after a quality restoration. Then they decided to buy the “donor” car for roughly 50 grand which looked like was in great condition. I don’t know values of these cars but I think they are way upside down on this project. After all the parts they had to buy plus putting the car together including paint I wonder where’s the profit. After-all, that’s what the show is based on.

    • Peter, the gentleman from Providence with the Cadillac parts is Dick Shappy, known locally as the ‘Cadillac Man’ as that is what he traditionally has specialized in, especially the early tulip-bodied examples.
      Ironically, Dick has also owned an American Underslung recently as well (since sold) which I believe was once part of the Imperial Hotel & Casino collection in Las Vegas.
      He still maintains a showroom on Charles St. in Providence.

  6. So, with different sized wheels, you had to carry two spares at a minimum. If you popped the front two, I guess it was patch time.

  7. The thing that I noticed was the vertical bend in the drivers “door” area on the Underslung, guess that stiffened things, can’t recall seeing that feature on other cars of that era. My grandfather drove a 1912 Regal Underslung, have to dig out the photos and send them along. Bob

  8. A beautiful set of photos, of which most makes are indeed rather straightforward. The only car, which is slightly out of the ordinary is most right of the line of five on the bottom picture: it is a 1913 Marion, probably a model 37A. To determine the exact model of the Overland tourers is always somewhat tricky, because often only chassis and engine dimensions change. On the basis of cowls and side lamps I would make the following guess (from l. to r.): model 59-T (oil lamps; flat dash); Ford; model 71-T (electric side lights; torpedo dash); model 69-T (electric side lights; flat dash); Marion. The 69-T seems to be a transition model: most still had oil side lights, probably electric was an option. All electric side lights on the Overland models are of the large type, from the 79 on these were smaller.

  9. The American Underslung is my all-time, I mean ALL-TIME favorite antique automobile. The saga of Walter Seeley (Jamestown NY) and his restoration of four of these magnificent automobiles appeared in at least two issues of “Antique Automobile”. The two issues I have are July/August 1972 and Sept./Oct. 1980 .

    • I share your affection for the Underslungs. I also have those issues of Antique Automobile and re-read the story every few years! American Underslungs were the Lamborghini’s of their day.

  10. Jeff Perkins…

    You might also enjoy the 1983 issue of ” Automobile Quarterly,” Volume 21, Number 3, article “American Underslung and Otherwise” by Dave Emanuel. You will see an American listed as owned by the Seal Cove Auto Museum, and an Underslung Victoria listed as being owned by Briggs Cunningham. Sadly, the American was sold after the Seal Cove’s founder, Richard C. Paine Jr., passed away, but the ex-Cunningham Underslung is now in the Seal Cove’s collection. Prior to Briggs Cunningham, the car was owned by Isabel Weld Perkins Anderson, the wife of Larz Anderson. Like you, the Underslung is one of my all-time favorites.

  11. David –
    Wonderful posting and images. The American is one of my all time favorite autos as well. I decided to dig through my files a bit and see what I had, because back in 1909, little Salt Lake City had an American agency. The Rooklidge-Gilmer Co. opened in July with no Americans on the showroom floor, but much interest from the public. When a single Traveler arrived, it caused quite a stir in Salt Lake as nothing like it had ever been seen before. It was quickly sold. “No noise but the wind.” was the tagline Gilmer used in all the advertising. Eventually, more inventory arrived and by the end of the year, Gilmer was offering seven different models including The Tourist, a Speedster, and a short wheel-base model called a “Gunboat” finished in a particular shade of grey.
    By 1910 the agency was called The Utah Motor Company, still selling Americans, but also Cadillac, Packard and Detroit Electrics. That year they took delivery of a Traveler that was unlike any they had offered before. It was specially equipped by the factory, and was quickly dubbed “The Chocolate Traveler” because of its unusual milk chocolate brown paint job with black accents and striping. It also sported all sorts of accessories, including a short, folding windshield with two wonderfully long strut supports and a pneumatic horn. All of the brass bright work was nickel plated as well. It apparently turned quite a few heads as it drove around the streets of Salt Lake. Such a great post and photos!

  12. How easy it is to forget the difference in earlier purchasing power of “then versus now” , — for our money : A Klaxon (right angle drive) Motor Driven Horn , in 1922 (1909 Patent) Sold for $20.0) — which would now be equivalent to today’s:$422.50 to purchase this Top Quality Signaling Device!

  13. From what I’ve read, Harry Stutz was involved with the original concept of the underslung chassis. His next venture was to strike out on his own to design and build Bearcats. Anyone else confirm this?

  14. In the last photo, could the auto on the left, in the back line possibly be an early Winton. The shape of the radiator and the large “W” in the rear window seem to be a good indication to me

  15. Great pictures! I know exactly where the pictures were taken! They were taken outside the Crompton Mill in West Warwick, RI. Crompton was a booming village during the textile era and was known as the “Velvet Village.” They also produced some of the world’s best corduroy at the time, Crompton Sky Leader. The garages used to be used to house carriages, but may have held those cars in later years! My guess would be they had some connection to the owner of the mills!

  16. The location of these photos hasn’t changed much. I’d share a link for those who are interested, but apparently, that’s not allowed.

  17. Indeed it is the Crompton Mill! Thank you for sharing that Adam.
    Intersection of Main St. and Manchester St. in West Warwick for those interested. Those garages still stand and still look fabulous if Google’s shot of it from 2012 is to be believed.

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