476.5ci (5⅜ bore by 5½ stroke) T-head 4-cylinder Engine
Listed as 50hp
4-Speed Manual Transmission
Front and Rear Underslung Leaf Spring Suspension
2-Wheel Drum, and Transmission Brakes
*Offered from long term ownership
*Exceptional provenance, a forming part of D. Cameron Peck's collection
*Shown at Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance in 2014
*One of the earliest American Sports cars
THE AMERICAN UNDERSLUNG
The innovative American Automobile company of Indianapolis, Indiana is best remembered today for their famous "Underslung" models. These striking designs placed the frame rails below the axles, giving a significantly reduced center of gravity along a sporting profile. The problems of ground clearance were remedied by the use of significantly oversized wheels. This design innovation resulted in a chassis with remarkably sure handling while still retaining the necessary clearances to handle the poor road conditions of the day.
The effect of the underslung chassis, with its big wheels, was dramatic and memorable and helped make the Underslung both a style and performance icon of the pre-war era. These charismatic machines have been prized since the day they were built, evidently by the list of the car's owners – a who's who list of automotive luminaries. Captain Larz Anderson bought one new, and another became one of Briggs Cunningham's first and most prized antique automobiles.
Today the American Underslung is regarded by the Museum's founder, historian and collector, Dr. Fred Simeone, as the first American sports car. In his book The Spirit of Competition he states "...the American Car Company only made an automobile specifically for sport, at least in 1907 when the famed underslung chassis was introduced. Thus, arguably they are America's first exclusive sports car maker."
THE MOTORCAR OFFERED
One of the oldest known survivors of its breed, this American Underslung has been part of the hobby since at least the immediate post war period. According to information contained in the Detroit Public Library, it was purchased by D. Cameron Peck from noted West Coast collector Lindley Bothwell in the late 1940s. Both Bothwell and Peck along with a handful their contemporaries may be credited with ensuring that we have a hobby at all, as these pioneers voraciously hunted and secured old cars from various sources, be they wealthy private estates or scrapyards and put them back into service. The car resided in Cameron Peck's collection for a number of years and was occasionally exercised by him in Brass and old car tours.
In 1951, faced with a potentially life threatening illness Peck had a major rationalization at which point a great number of the extraordinary automobiles that he had been able to collect became available to other collectors. As has been the case a number of times over the ensuing decades, such major sales were feared to dilute the market. Instead, they broadened it, and it is undeniable that by placing these cars in a larger number of hands more cars were able to be used and seen publicly and the passion has certainly grown from these days.
At the time of the Peck auction, one fortunate collector from the Pacific Northwest, a Mr. Wallerich, was able to purchase five cars including a McFarlan and a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. Most importantly, however, he secured this – one of the very few early American Underslungs extant at the time. Until the Deemer family cars surfaced in the mid-1960s, it may well have been that this was considered the oldest around.
The Wallerich family would retain the 1908 American Underslung until the mid-1980s when they elected to sell a number of their cars. At this point the car passed into the current ownership.
With a mere 3 owners this side of the war, the lengthy periods of ownership and knowledgeable custodians that have owned the car have ensured that the car has survived extremely well; it ostensibly appears to remain exactly as when photographed by noted photographer Don McCray for Peck in the 1950s. It still sports the large wheels, decorated lenses to its headlights and its single set back seat at the rear - so often referred to as a Mother-in-Law seat, complete with handles on the back of the main seats for any scary moments. In fact, any passenger posed in this position in a car that is capable of 50mph or more might well feel that every moment is scary!
In the current ownership the car has been sympathetically maintained and exercised. It was last seen at the major gathering of Underslung automobiles at the 2014 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, where it was on display as part of one of the largest assembly of such cars ever put together in this country.
These cars are an important chapter in the history of the automobile in America and the connotation of its use for sporting purpose. Lest it be forgotten, they predate the likes of Mercer Raceabouts and Stutz Bearcats by a considerable period of time, and there really wasn't anything like this on the basic American roads in the pre-teen era.
Bonhams has been entrusted with the sale of a few examples of this marque in recent years, each finding new homes in significant collections. With its very fine provenance, this is an extremely covetable Brass Sportscar and may well be the last opportunity to acquire one of these cars for some time.