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The American Bantam Car Company had its roots in England, but its branches spread from Butler
throughout the world. In England in 1921 vehicles were taxed according to
horsepower and the price of gasoline was extremely high. These two factors led
Sir Herbert Austin to design a tiny automobile, unlike anything produced
before. Known as the Austin Seven, it enjoyed immediate popularity.
By 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,
The 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.
In 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 summer 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.
It wasn't until 1938 that the first Bantam 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
6700 cars and trucks, but at an average loss of $75 per vehicle. By 1941 those
bright prospects had dimmed considerably.
War 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.