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The Only Luxury Convertible Delivery Van Ever Made Has A Fatal Flaw

Td1 Bantam

It’s odd to think about, but some car companies have managed to find so much success that they erase themselves from history. American Bantam is one of these companies. They started out as one of America’s earliest builders of small, economy cars, but their development of a car known as the Bantam Reconnaissance Car, which later evolved into the famous WWII Jeep, eventually eclipsed most of their other work. And that’s a shame, because some Bantams were truly fascinating, like this one I got to drive for our first Torch Drives episode, the Bantam Boulevard Delivery. It may be the only vehicle of its kind ever made, and it’s very charming and very strange.

The reason I say the Bantam Boulevard Delivery is the only vehicle of its kind ever made will become clear as I describe it: it’s a compact, luxurious, elegant, convertible delivery van. I’m fairly certain that peculiar combination of traits has never all been used to describe one vehicle.

Delivery vans, even small delivery vans, are by no means uncommon; Japan is crammed full of useful little Kei-class delivery vehicles, for example. But, none of those are convertibles. And, they sure as hell aren’t luxury-spec vehicles, and the reasons for that are a convertible, luxury, tiny delivery van is simply not something humanity has really expressed any need for, ever.

And yet here the American Bantam Boulevard delivery sits, defying all logic and reason.

It’s a charming thing, as all American Bantams were. They were derived from the British Austin Seven, which you can think of as Europe’s Ford Model T, just on a smaller scale. The Seven was wildly successful, and copies or license-built versions of it started some really big-name carmakers: BMW, Datsun, and, as we mentioned, Jeep.

In America, American Austin was established to build licensed Sevens, but the company went bankrupt. The pieces of the firm were resurrected as American Bantam, who changed the mechanicals and design just enough to avoid license fees.

Ukranian-American designer Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky was responsible for the Bantam’s dramatic deco looks, which proved remarkably flexible, when you consider the number of body styles the little company made:

(American Bantam, Autopaper)

Down there in the lower right you can see this one, the Boulevard Delivery, in all its charming bafflement.

It’s baffling because it’s a delivery van with no good way to get anything in or out of it–arguably the entire reason delivery vans exist. There’s no rear or side door for cargo loading or unloading, even though we know Bantam was familiar with the concept of a “door,” as their other deliver vehicle design, the van-like Panel Truck, had a nice big one at the rear:

Imagine that, no rear door on a van

(Hyman, Barret-Jackson)

I fundamentally do not understand this lovely little enigma. What the hell was it for? If everything had to be loaded in, awkwardly, by flipping down the driver’s seat and the only way of locking up the cargo was via an absurd hand-cranked sliding panel, what exactly would one be delivering in this thing?

A handful of cupcakes? A couple throw pillows? A ceremonial tiara, perched on a satin cushion? I have no idea, but whatever it was, it needed carriage lights on the sides to do it.

It’s strangely fun to drive, as you’ll see in the video, and David and I manage to get it up to a screaming 30 mph, which took some doing.

I’d also like to point out that this new Torch Drives series will feature many, many more fascinating and ridiculous cars, and I’m delighted to say that the theme music was specially composed, just for this, by the composer of the Pokémon Anime series music. 

I know. I can’t believe it, either.

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44 Responses

  1. Well it’s funny Jason wrote this when DT is the Jeep fan. People ignored my knowledge on this vehicle.
    So Butler PA the home of the Bantam predecessor of the the Beloved GP. is have its yearly celebration of the Jeep in the second week of June. At some point in time I hope to get DT to be the grand Marshall but let’s be honest noone seems to know Jeep history here past the 60s.

  2. Don’t be gauche, Jason – this is simply the delivery vehicle for the clipboard telling the butler that there IS a delivery. The actual delivery vehicle must not be seen in front of the main house.

  3. I am here for the American Bantam content. I’ve been infatuated with them ever since getting to sit in one in the AACA museum in Hershey PA (a place I strongly suggest any motorhead visit!). Super charming little things – and, critically for a large man like me, surprisingly roomy enough that I could actually drive it (unlike, say, an S2000, or an NA Miata that still has its door armrest installed).
    I want to see an Autopian American Microcar Shootout – American Bantam vs. Crosley Hot-Shot in the sports car category, and the Bantam Recon Car vs. the Crosley Farm-O-Road! Remember, a Crosley won the inaugural Sebring endurance race…
    We’ve (randomly) got a cutaway Crosley CoBra engine display in the dyno lab where I work, it’s cool to see how it was put together out of sheet metal – bevel drive SOHC, the whole deal. I’ll get a few pictures of it to share the next time I walk by it.

  4. My guess is that these would be used in high end neighborhoods to deliver a society lady’s purchases from only best shops where even rear doors might look too “commercial”. The name of the store would be eloquently scripted on the side so that all the other ladies in the neighborhood knew you getting something from a special shop. Almost like a little Coupé de ville for your stuff

    1. Yeah. This was a way for the rich to keep the hoi poloi from knowing what was coming to their house while it was still outside the wrought iron fence. Perfect vehicle for milady’s repaired diamond brooch to be returned to it’s velvet case. Nobody on foot could open the back door and palm it if there was no back door.

  5. This was awesome and having David rush in to throw Jason out of the way is how I picture these two in a meeting. I want to see more of these.

    BTW – I love the Autopian shirt, is there a merch store up yet? 🙂

    As to the content itself, this is a strange niche van. I can see it as the well to do folks send Jeeves out to get the household sundries but do not want to have him drive just a van. There is an image to keep up dear.

    1. I have to say the video is now top notch production value. Between David quickly muttering “children shouldn’t know about death” and “It’s like yelling at a panda bear”, the banter and humor almost had a modern Car Talk vibe to it.

  6. I love this video and you guys are great together. However a little research would have helped. American Bantam was established in Butler PA. They created the Jeep, aka GP for General Purpose vehicle. There is a museum and preservation group in Butler PA. First the name Bantam isn’t from the rooster but boxing as in weight class. But that was from roosters so there you go. Now that lovely vehicle you are driving I’m guessing not original color or paint. The size was based on what Bantam had available but was designed for door to door residential milk delivery. And given economic conditions at the time locking in the product while walking an order up to a house was necessary to prevent theft. Yeah a locking back door would be better but the design was based on a milk delivery wagon of the time. It is actually an example of modernization eliminating jobs as due to the locking mechanism a 2nd person wasn’t required to stay and protect the other orders. BTW Jason at the beginning you spoke way to fast but after it was the 2 of you very entertaining.

  7. Could it maybe have filled a tax loophole at the time?
    For example, excise duties on cars where I live are based on engine capacity/electric motor output (from 0% to 100%), except for vehicles ostensibly made to transport goods where it only depends on it being single (10%) or double-cab (20%).
    You can thus get some sort of luxury pick-up truck with a big engine much cheaper than a comparable luxury car.

  8. “Who beeps at this? That’s like yelling at a panda bear.”

    “What’s a lady going to love more than an American Bantam Man *wink*”

    The Bantam banter was fantastic, y’all (along with the rest of the video). Keep ’em comin’!

  9. I think the Nash/Hudson Metropolitan, or some models thereof, had no opening trunk, right? You got to the ‘boot’ front behind the seats? Boot would be a better name on that case, like losing your keys or a scorpion in shoes next to your bed.

    Also the Gremlin in theory had a non-hatch version?

    My point is that those little cars, no trunk (boot) access is CRAZY. A van with no rear door? Doesn’t compute.

    1. Sedans with what I like to call passbacks – no rear opening so you have to pass your cargo back to the internal cargo space through the passenger doors and compartment – were once fairly common (the VW Beetle had a passback and a frunk). And that’s not even counting early sedans with no internal cargo space, either nothing at all or strictly a spare tire/tool storage comparment.

      But this is the first and only passback *van* I’d ever heard of.

    2. And the Henry J/Allstate. When I was a kid, a neighbor had one (I’m not sure which, but they were the same car with slightly different trim). You could mail-order the Allstate from Sears, of course.

  10. The early history of automotive coach building retained the practice of using wood framing and panels in the same manner as the horse drawn vehicles that preceded them. Whenever I see an old machine like this, I like to look for the framing and, where possible, embrace its tactile and aromatic sensory aspects. I know this isn’t practical at museums open to the public. But if I ever get to drive them, I make the most of it. You are very lucky to have had the chance.

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