Tag Archives: American Underslung

1912 American Scout one of America’s first sport cars

This article is from the 1912 American Underslung brochure and is about the American Scout, one of America’s first sport cars.

1912 American Scout

“The “American Scout” fills a long-felt want. There are men and women in the world who, while to them the cost of a chauffeur’s hire is of no concern, want a little car to drive themselves. But they want it good throughout. Their dignity and pride forbid their being satisfied with the ordinary type of “Runabout” and they, therefore, want a real “Roadster” – small, yet bearing all the earmarks of class and style – and in which the true mechanic’s art is clearly stamped. The “American Scout” is expressly intended to serve and please this particular class, and it will.”

“The “American Scout” is strictly a two-passenger car. Price $1,250, wheelbase 102 inches, tires 36 x 3½ inches front and rear on demountable rims. Regular equipment includes: underslung frame giving low center of gravity, top and top boot, five gas lamps with Prest-O-Lite tank, Bosch high-tension magneto, combination circular luggage box and tire holder, jack, tools, tire repair outfit, and horn. Weight with standard equipment about 2400 pounds.”

With the photograph and description, the American Scout sounds like a sports car of that early era.

Can you imagine driving on a twisting road in the early 1910’s in this flashy, low-slung Indianapolis-built car? Today, whenever I see one of these American Scouts at a car show, I marvel at its low-slung design and exciting styling and visualize it blasting down the road.

The American Underslung is one the fine Indianapolis-built cars of the era.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.

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.

Mileposts in Indiana automotive history-Part Two

In this series of posts, I’m sharing some of my list of Indiana’s mileposts in automotive history. I share this automotive heritage to energize and excite auto enthusiasts to get involved with collectible cars.

1906 American Motors Company of Indianapolis develops the American Underslung car, one of the first examples of low-center-of-gravity engineering.

1906 Maxwell-Briscoe, (predecessor of Chrysler Corporation), builds its plant in New Castle. It is the largest automobile plant in the nation.

1906 National Motor Vehicle Company introduces a six-cylinder model, one of the first in America.

1907-American-Underslung
1907-American-Underslung

1907 Willys-Overland Motors is established by auto dealer John North Willys, who takes over control of Overland Automobile of Indianapolis and moves it in 1909 to the old Pope-Toledo plant in Toledo, Ohio.

1909 Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, Arthur C. Newby and Frank H. Wheeler pool $250,000 in capital to form the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company and transform an Indianapolis west side farm into a two-and-a-half-mile oval that becomes synonymous with automobile racing. The Speedway is designed as an automotive testing ground for U.S. manufactured automobiles to establish American auto supremacy. After the August motorcycle and auto races, the macadam track is repaved with 3,200,000 ten-pound bricks.

1911 The first Indianapolis 500 Mile race is held May 30. A Marmon Wasp averages 75 miles per hour to win. The Wasp employs streamlining via elongated front and rear sections and adds the innovation of a rearview mirror.

1911 Haynes Automobile Company is the first to equip an open car with a top, a windshield, headlamps and a speedometer as standard equipment.

1912 Stutz Motor Car Company is founded by Harry C. Stutz, who merges his Stutz Auto Parts with Ideal Motor Car.

1912-Stutz-Model-A Roadster
1912-Stutz-Model-A Roadster

1912 The Davis car is the first to have a center-control gearshift and the Bendix self-starter.

1912 The Stutz Bearcat is introduced with a design patterned on the White Squadron racing cars that won victories in 1913. Stutz also produces family cars, while the Bearcat provides lively competition for the Mercer made at Trenton, New Jersey.

1913 On July 1, the Lincoln Highway Association is created with Henry B. Joy (president, Packard Motor Company) as president and Carl G. Fisher as vice president. The Lincoln Highway is conceived as America’s first transcontinental highway.

1913 Premier and Studebaker concurrently introduce a six-cylinder engine featuring mono bloc engine casting.

1914 The Haynes is one of the first autos to offer the Vulcan Electric Gear Shift as standard equipment.

1914-Haynes-Model-28-Touring-Car
1914-Haynes-Model-28-Touring-Car

Mileposts in Indiana automotive history -Part One

To learn more about Indiana’s automotive innovation, I invite you to pick up a copy of Indiana Cars: A History of the Automobile in Indiana click here.

Indiana’s Top 10 Most Significant Automobiles

A group of historians from the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) named 10 of the most significant automobiles. The historians’ selections were based on the automobiles’ social, technical, and market contributions.

Twenty Grand Duesenberg
Twenty Grand Duesenberg

I would like to offer my selections for Indiana’s Top 10 Most Significant Automobiles in chronological order.

  • 1902 Marmon, the first auto engine with a pressure lubrication.
  • 1906 American Underslung, the first low-slung American sports car.
  • 1911 Haynes, made by Haynes Automobile Company, the first company to equip an open car with a top, a windshield, headlamps, and a speedometer as standard equipment.
  • 1922 Duesenberg, the first auto with hydraulic brakes and a straight-eight engine with overhead camshafts.
  • 1926 Stutz, the first to introduce safety-glass windshields.
  • 1929 The Cord L-29, the first series produced American front-wheel-drive car.
  • 1929 Marmon, the first factory-installed radio.
  • 1932 The Duesenberg SJ, the first auto engine with a centrifugal supercharger.
  • 1936 The Cord 810, the first to introduce disappearing headlights, concealed door hinges, rheostat-controlled instrument lights, variable-speed windshield wipers, electric gear pre-selection units, and unit-body construction.
  • 1937 Studebaker, the first to introduce windshield washers.
E. L. Cords 1937 Cord Beverley Sedan
E. L. Cords 1937 Cord Beverley Sedan

My selections are based on the criteria used by the AACA panel. Indiana’s contributions to automotive history have been numerous. Yet, we take these innovations increasingly for granted as part of today’s automobiles.

So, the next time you drive your car, you might wonder where you’d be without Indiana’s continuing automotive innovations and contributions.

For more about the history of automobile in Indiana check out our book Indiana Cars.

America sees first sport cars in Indiana?

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.”

1907 American Underslung
1907 American Underslung

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.

1914 Stutz Bearcat
1914 Stutz Bearcat

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.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies follow this link.