Monday, October 29, 2007

Crosley and the American Austin

As many auto enthusiasts know, the American Austin and the American Bantam preceded the Crosley automobile in the pantheon of economy cars in the U.S. The Austin Motor Company of England began making the diminutive American Austins here in 1930.

Powel Crosley, Jr. owned a least one American Austin (the predecessor of the Bantam). He kept the Austin at his Florida estate, Sea Gate. Neill Prew, the son of the realtor who sold Crosley the 63 acres on which Sea Gate was built, remembers that the first time he saw Powel Crosley, the radio magnate was in his American Austin.

Prew, who was 8 years old at the time, remarked that, "He looked like a whole bunch of clowns climbing out of that little car." This confirms that Crosley had some enthusiasm for diminutive autos, and it's easy to imagine him thinking in terms of the novelty value of a really small car. One of Crosley's biggest marketing strategies was to be different, and a tiny car certainly fit that criterion. By 1935, when Crosley was developing the first pre-War Crosley automobile, the American Bantam had supplanted the failed American Austin, but was about to fall on hard times. To Crosley this may have represented a hole in the automobile market--a hole that he felt he could fill and exploit.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

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