Could it be that America’s first sport cars were built in Indianapolis? Looking back over 106 years of American automobile styling, that seems to be the case. The 1907 American Underslung Roadster debuted American sports car styling.
The American Motor Car Company of Indianapolis began offering conventional automobiles in 1906. Fred I. Tone’s first assignment as the new chief engineer and designer was to design a completely “All-American car from American-made materials.”
Interestingly, the inspiration for this low sports roadster design came serendipitously. One day in 1906, when the frames were delivered to American, they were unloaded upside down. Tone seized upon the idea to mount the frame under the axles. The “underslung” was born. From that day on, American built all roadsters underslung while continuing to make touring cars and sedans on conventionally overslung chassis.
On the underslung, the engine and transmission were also drastically lowered between the frame rails. The roadster also used 40” wheels with the fenders about even with the top of the hood and body to enhance the styling.
Tone and the entire staff worked non-stop to bring the American Roadster to market.
When the 1907 Roadster and the conventional Tourist–both selling for $3,250 were announced in November 1906, American stated that output would be limited to 150 cars for the year. The American Roadsters that garnered numerous headlines in races during the summer of 1907 inspired building a more powerful roadster. American suspended operations in 1914.
At American’s cross-town rival Stutz Motor Car Company, the famous Bearcat sports car appeared in 1912 for a run of 10 years. It followed the usual Stutz recipe of a low-slung chassis, a large engine, and other bare necessities–hood, fenders, a right-hand raked steering column, two bucket seats, a fuel tank behind the seats, and wooden spoke wheels. The Stutz Bearcat was a popular car in the $2,000 price range. Its ap¬peal was boosted by Stutz’s success at the race track. Bearcats finished fourth and sixth at the Indianapolis 500 in 1912 and won numerous other races that same year. The next year a Bearcat finished third at the Indianapolis 500, and by late fall Stutz driver Earl Cooper was crowned the National Champion after winning six consecutive races.
So, that’s the story of America’s first sport cars being built in Indianapolis over 100 years ago. The next time you spy an American sports car think back to the American Underslung and the Stutz Bearcat beginning this sports car evolution.
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