American Underslung Traveler

Another of the lessor-known autos in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit is the 1913 American Underslung Traveler.

1913 American Underslung Traveler

The American Motor Car Company is most noted for an innovative design referred to as the underslung. While most car frames of the period were mounted on top of the axles, the American built the chassis of its sports roadsters under the axles. This created a vehicle that was lower to the ground.

Fred I. Tone’s first assignment as chief engineer and designer for American 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.

When the 1907 Roadster was announced, American stated that output would be limited to 150 cars for the year. The Roadsters that garnered numerous headlines in races during the summer of 1907 inspired building a more powerful roadster. Soon, American cars were becoming well-known for attention to detail. The magnificent marquee of an eagle on top of the world adorned the radiator face.

In the summer of 1909, Tone designed a modified four-passenger roadster with a divided rear seat. Under American’s 1910 slogan “A Car for The Discriminating Few,” the company produced 300 units for the year.

This Company set out to reconfigure the American line-up to compete in the medium price market for 1912. These models rode on the underslung chassis, and the company adopted “American Underslung” as the car’s name. Model year 1912 became American’s biggest sales year, with an estimated 1,000 units produced.

The 1913 Scout was priced at $1,475 and sported a new 105-inch wheelbase. Prices on the Tourist rose to $2,350. The Scout three-passenger coupe sold for $2,000. The Tourist Limousine, priced at $3,500, was finished in black leather on a 124-inch chassis. All models included electric starting and lighting systems.

The company announced the 1914 American Underslung Six on April 12, 1913, in the Saturday Evening Post. Yet, this proved to be an inopportune time for new automobiles because the country was trying to shake off the effects of the disastrous floods in late March and early April. This natural phenomenon virtually wiped out the anticipated spring business boom. In November, however, the Federal Court adjudged American bankrupt and appointed Frank E. Smith as receiver. By the spring of 1914, Smith deemed it advisable to suspend operations.

Supplier Ralph R. Teetor of the Teetor-Hartley Motor Company, purchased the last American Underslung built in 1914. The car was a magnificent, 75 h.p., six-cylinder, seven-passenger touring car painted a brilliant lavender. Perhaps Teetor has provided the best epitaph for this Indiana-built car: “I do believe that the American Underslung cars had the most dramatic appeal of any cars that were ever built, and ever since that company failed, have wished that it could have survived.”

The American Underslung is an interesting story for one of America’s first sports cars. Thanks to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum for showing it. For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.

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