Tag Archives: Automobile Factories

INTRODUCING AMERICAN AUSTIN – Part II of the American Austin Bantam Story

By Robert D. Cunningham:

Late in 1929, two American Austin prototypes were hand-crafted at Hayes Body Works in Grand Rapids, Michigan for display during the 1930 New York Auto Show. The Austins were 28 inches shorter, 16 inches narrower, and 1,200 pounds lighter than the lowest priced Ford Model A.

The $445, two-passenger American Austin Model A Cabin Coupe was similar in style to a three-quarter-scale Ford Model A Coupe, but with the rumble seat area lopped off. The 3-window Austin Special Delivery was based on the Coupe, but used blind rear-quarter body panels (without the small side windows). Only one bucket seat was installed in the Special Delivery, and the remaining space was available for parcels.

The American Austin engine and Warner Gear three-speed transmission assembly

The American Austin engine was a water-cooled, 4-cylinder, in-line arrangement. Bore and stroke was 2.2 by 3 inches, resulting in 45.6 cubic inches, producing 7.8 taxable horsepower at 3,500 rpm. It was basically the same as the English Austin Seven power plant, but mirrored to allow for left-hand controls. The prolific use of aluminum combined with a crankshaft mounted in a double row of ball bearings in the front and a special cylindrical roller bearing in the rear gave the little engine a disconcerting growl. Top speed was 47 miles per hour.

The prototypes were displayed during the New York Auto Show in a nearby hotel lobby. Response was sensational. Four-thousand dealers signed on and company representatives took orders for 184,117 cars worth $82 million – enough work to keep the 300 factory workers busy for three years.

American Austin bodies were stamped, assembled and upholstered at Hayes Body Works, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where they rolled on assembly conveyors through the paint and detailing lines intermixed with upscale Chrysler, Marmon, and Peerless shells. The completed shells were shipped via railroad and truck to the Austin plant in Butler, Pennsylvania. At Butler, the bodies were dropped through a hole in the second floor to be mated with awaiting chassis on a U-shaped assembly line. Austins were among the highest quality American cars for the money, and the most expensive by weight.

(Above) Workers in the Hayes Body works polishing paint, (below) American Austin bodies on the line along with a full-sided sedan body for another manufacturer, a worker pin striping a completed body with a striping tool

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Full color, full page national advertising highlighted the Coupe, but another body style was taking shape behind the scenes. The Roadster prototype was introduced in the fall of 1930, and production began in December. The striking little car featured a rakish body with small doors without exterior handles. Behind the seat, the deck sloped down to meet the rear bumper, and the belt line followed the bottom of the deck-mounted spare tire. A Duesenberg-style cove across the door was highlighted with a two-tone paint treatment. Buyers had a choice of black body and fenders with cream sweep panel and pin striping, or black with green, or black with red.

In spite of the Austin’s stylistic appeal, few Americans could justify buying what most considered a high priced toy as the economy continued to unravel. By year-end Austin sold only 8,558 cars. The company ended the sales year in 30th position behind Pierce-Arrow, and lost more than $1 million along the way.

                

L to R (above): A Cabriolet Coupe, two views of the Special Delivery model with a Mifflinburg Commercial Body

In an attempt to attract more customers, American Austin president Arthur J. Brandt authorized development of additional body styles. Customer feedback requested a commercial vehicle with more capacity, so in July, 1931, Austin introduced a panel delivery truck, bodied by Mifflinberg Body Company, of Mifflinberg, Pennsylvania. A few months later, a handsome Cabriolet Coupe joined the line-up. The Cabriolet was a gussied-up deluxe Special Delivery that had been modified with a bench seat, padded top and blind quarters, and graceful landau irons that swept down below the belt line.

Illustration of an American Austin Roadster alongside a Buick touring car

During the dark Depression days, America needed an economy car more than ever. But sales continued to falter. Only 1,279 Austins left the factory in 1931 and the balance sheet showed a staggering deficit of $2,748,600. The factory closed down in the spring of 1932, and 1,500 unfinished cars were locked up to be sold off with the company’s assets.

Fortunately, the world’s largest used-car dealer was about to pay a visit with checkbook in hand.

To see the first part of this series follow is link, The Austin Comes to America – Part I. You can find Part II HERE. You can also see many other interesting American Austin photos here on The Old Motor.

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The Kaiser-Frazer Go Round

In the post WWII era, the pent up demand for new automobiles encouraged newcomers to the industry to dive in with both feet. Industrialist Henry J. Kaiser was one whose wartime production experience made him especially well suited to take on the challenge. He had revolutionized the building of cargo ships during the war by adopting mass  production methods to his “Liberty Ships”. At one point, his crews finished one in four days and fifteen hours, a previously unheard of pace.

In 1945, Kaiser partnered with veteran automobile executive Joseph Frazer to establish a new company from the remnants of Graham-Paige, of which Frazer had been president. It would use a surplus defense plant at Willow Run, Michigan originally built for World War II aircraft production by Ford. Kaiser Motors would produce cars under the Kaiser and Frazer names until 1955.

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Kaiser-Frazer Corporation’s first car was launched for the 1947 model year, an example of which is seen here. They sold well in a basically unchanged design until 1949, when sales numbers began to drop off. They touted many “modern” features like welded all-steel construction, between the wheels seating, and a low center of gravity and sold very well in ’47 and ’48. But by 1949 sales numbers slipped. Perhaps the public’s demand for anything with wheels and an engine had begun to slack off or maybe the new offerings that year from General Motors and Ford made the styling look old fashioned. Whatever the reason, the bloom was off the rose.

This modern looking, all glass, one car “showroom” (above) illustrates the innovative marketing methods used by the fledgling car company. This photo, taken in December of 1947, was one of of the first two-turntable showrooms (one inside, one on the roof), that were installed in the San Francisco Bay area. At that point, the company  was planning to use more of them around the country. You can read more about these interesting cars and the people who love them by visiting the Kaiser-Frazer Owners Club. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Ames (scroll down).

And finally, shown (above) is a similar 1954 Brooks Stevens-proposed Kaiser-Frazer pavilion with movable fins around the perimeter that directed cool air inside. The complete unit could be carried in a trailer truck, and erected within eight hours after arrival. The concept photo was found via Dan Strohl at Hemmings Daily.

Editors note: This post was written by Gene Herman, an automobile, truck and modeling enthusiast with many interests, who has come on board here to help us out with his writing and photography. We welcome him along with his knowledge and insight, which is especially strong in the post war era. You can take a look back at his earlier work here on The Old Motor.

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The Ever Popular 1932 Ford

  •             The very attractive and sporty new 1932 V-8 Roadster.

The 1932 Ford was the long anticipated replacement for the Model A Ford. With the help of Edsel Ford’s keen eye for great automotive styling and the new V-8 engine, the 1932 Ford went on to become one of the most popular Ford models ever produced.

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Illustrations from an original sales catalog showing the Phaeton and Three-Window Coupe.

The 1932 Ford automobile combined what basically was a larger and redesigned Model A with the world’s first low-priced, cast-in-one-piece V-8 engine. When the V-8 first made its appearance in the 1932 Ford, it raised the standard for low cost production automobiles. Offered as an option to an improved 4-cylinder Model “B” engine, the 221 c.i. V-8 power plant, with its down draft carburetor gave 1932 the Ford impressive performance.

  •       The Tudor Sedan and the Convertible version of the Sedan.

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One again Henry Ford set out to do something that had never been done before in the U.S., which was to cast a V-8 engine block all in one piece. Developing the methods, patterns and tooling to make these castings turned out to be a very difficult job. To successfully accomplish this complex casting, foundry practices had to be refined to a much higher level of precision than what had worked in the past.

                  

In a three page article found in the Automotive Industries, Nov. 5, 1932, issue (above), you can see and read all about how it was done. The difficulty was caused by it being an l-head or “Flathead” as it became to be known, with all of the exhaust ports running from near the center of the casting, out to its sides.

A quick study of the exhaust ports (center and ends) in the photo on the first page (above), will show you why these engines have a tendency to run warm under less than ideal conditions. The long exhaust ports transfer a consider-able amount of heat from the exhaust gases, into the water jackets on their path out through the block.

                    

Photos left to right from an original Ford sales catalog; The new 65 h.p. V-8, an early version of the chassis the frame of which was later given x-member and the lower end and pistons and rods.

Photo at the (top) courtesy of the AACA Library, you can also learn more about the 1932 Ford and see many more photos at  Macs Motor City Garage.

Below you will find a very interesting film, from the Benson Ford Research Center showing Henry Ford’s “Prosperity Drive” when the long anticipated new Ford was finally ready for the start of production. You will see the River Rouge Plant, new Fords being put to test, the assembly line and the full line-up of all the Fords offered in the landmark year of 1932.

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