1909 American Underslung Traveler
Chassis Number : 1687 Horsepower : 60 Displacement : 4-cylinder, 9.34 L Wheelbase : 124"
The American Car Company, in 1907, was the first to focus on a sports car production. Although this subject is argued by some, because sales brochures of a few makes, such as Duryea and Stanley indicate “speedy roadsters”, the American Car Company only made an automobile specifically for sport, at least in 1907 when the famed Underslung chassis was introduced. Thus, arguably, America’s first exclusive sports car maker. This chassis was designed to produce a lower center of gravity, thereby improving handling and certainly adding to the racy appearance of the car. With the center section dropped, the top of the hood was in line with the top of the flat fenders, producing a particularly sinister effect. In order to compensate for the compromised ground clearance, 40 inch wheels were required.
These cars were involved in racing, but without much success, piloted by their Designer Fred Tone. But the cars themselves were among the most attractive ever built. The company continued until the mid-teens, at which time it succumbed to financial difficulties. The 1909 model, as illustrated here, is the pinnacle of the American Underslung sports car idiom.
The history of this car and the others which were discovered along with it is one of the great tales in the annals of the automotive hobby. Mr. Walter Seeley essentially devoted a decade of his life to the discovery, research, and restoration of four American Underslungs. These cars were affordable to only the wealthy, and, the company advertised that they were made for “the discriminating few”. One such individual who had the finances to afford such a car was coal baron F. C. Deemer of Brookville, Pennsylvania.
Mr. Deemer purchased one of the original 1907 American roadsters at a time when this foresighted company was producing a pure sports car, in the absence of such activity by virtually any other automotive maker in this country. In 1908, he ventured out on his honeymoon with his bride and they stayed overnight in Oil City, Pennsylvania, where their car was stored in a local garage. That garage caught on fire during the night and the cars stored in it, including the American Underslung, were almost destroyed.
The remains from the incendium were shipped back home and he and his bride took a train to the American factory in Indianapolis where they purchased the last 1908 American roadster, following which they continued on their honeymoon. While at the factory, Deemer noticed a brand new four passenger Underslung speedster, later to be called the Traveler, and this car was ordered with instructions to have it delivered to Pittsburgh when it was completed. This is the car in our collection. Mr. Deemer subsequently bought a 1910 model as well.
Years later rear seats of our 1909 American were replaced with a box like structure and the car was used for a while as a truck. Mr. Deemer loved these cars so much that he put all of them in storage even though the burnt out car was in disrepair and the others were generally in used shape. Occasionally, throughout the ensuing 45 years, they would be tended to by his employees in a rather casual manner.
When he died in 1959, the cars passed on to his two sons, Alex and Frank. In 1960, Mr. Seeley heard of the existence of such cars. Although the cars were not for sale, Mr. Deemer did allow Mr. Seeley to see the cars and the revelation of finding four early American Underslungs was intoxicating to Mr. Seeley. A deal was subsequently struck whereby Mr. Seeley would restore the cars and would then be allowed to keep one for himself.
Subsequent to these restorations our 1909 Traveler, passed on to two other owners before coming to our collection. It is meticulously restored with great attention to detail. An excellent runner, the powerful engine propels its great weight admirably but, as with so many others of this vintage, it is a challenge to stop the car when it has gained some forward inertia.
The design of the car itself, as well as its excellent mechanical features make it a showpiece in the collection, the earliest car we have, but mainly representative of , perhaps, “America’s first sports car”. A luxury car with the selling price over $4,000.00 at the time, and its 571 cubic-inch six-cylinder engine was capable of 60 horsepower, one of the strongest cars of its time. However, most exciting feature was the Underslung frame which was hung below the axles by half-elliptic springs.
This lowered the center of gravity of the main body of the car and produced greater driving stability, better handling, but in addition, a beautiful low-slung look. Tall radiators with arched fenders commonplace so that luxury cars of the era suffered a certain uniform appearance which is not seen with the American Underslung.