1908 American Underslung Roadster


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In the late 1900s, the automotive industry in America was really taking off. Several startup corporations, including Ford, Cadillac and the American Motor Company of Indianapolis were becoming major players in an industry which would become one of the largest.

From 1906 to 1914, American of Indianapolis produced sporting cars that represented the upper-end of the industry. American described them as cars 'for the discriminating few', but really produced a range of cars to appeal to a wide customer base.

Designers Fred Tone and Harry Stutz designed American's first and very notworthy car, the Underslung Roadster. It sold alongside the more pedestrian Scout and a four seat Tourist as one of the first sports cars built in the US.

The Underslung received its name from it's unorthodox chassis layout, having axles above the frame, in a sense, flipped from the usual design. Attached by very long (36 in) leaf springs, these axles had to sit high in the car and demanded massive wheels to provide the necessary clearance. Despite the tall wheels, the chassis was one of the lowest in the industry. This low-slung design became the focus for most of the companies' advertising campaign.

Unfortunately, the Underslung was not a successful car on the track. Its large wheels, and high center of gravity, worsened by its raised engine sub frame, made for bad handling and frequent tire changes. Additionally, the eight liter engine did not produce the necessary power to complete with the aircraft engine specials at events like the Savannah Challenge Cup Race held in Georgia. However the design was good enough to boost sales and in that respect the Underslung was a success.

By 1912, the entire range of American cars featured the Underslung-type chassis and all adopted the Underslung name. At this time the company moved into more limited and expensive production, which, unfortunately, lead to its demise. After producing 45 000 cars over eight years, American went bankrupt. While the Underslung design was not successful enough to save the company, it was a remarkable design which still carries the American Motor Companies' legacy.

Story by Richard Owen for Supercars.net



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