Local car enthusiast invited to show 1939 classic at Pebble Beach

Posted: Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Juneau designer and classic car enthusiast Bill Spear has been invited to show his 1939 American Bantam Roadster at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance this year.

The California event, widely considered the worlds' most prestigious classic-car meet, is set for August 17. Invitees regularly include internationally known collectors such as Ralph Lauren and Jay Leno, both of whom have won best-of-show trophies in recent years.

Spear, a relative newcomer to the car hobby, has spent more than five years in a from-the-frame-up restoration of the diminutive Bantam, one of several he owns.

"Pebble is pretty much the Kentucky Derby for classic-car people and it is a real honor to be asked," Spear said. "A lot of people spend a lifetime trying to get a car invited and as it turns out this will be pretty much my first car show of any kind."

American Bantam was the successor to the American Austin company, both of which successively struggled in vain from 1930 to establish a market in the United States for an economical compact or second car. Derived from the Austin 7, a popular car in the rest of the automotive world, the Bantams did not suit American driving conditions or attitudes. Moreover, with a wheel-base of just 75 inches and a 750cc engine, the cars sold for just a little less than a contemporary Ford Model.

Although not a commercial success, Austins and Bantams were popular as objects of affection among Americans, especially in Hollywood where they starred in many humorous movies with the likes of Buster Keaton and W.C. Fields. Mickey Mouse's first car was an Austin (Traffic Troubles) and to this day he still drives a Bantam to work every day in the Disneyland parade at Anaheim.

The last civilian Bantams dribbled out of the factory in 1941. But on September 21, 1940, a Bantam rolled out of the Butler factory which was destined to change the course of history. The Bantam Reconnaissance Car or BRC was scratch-built in just 49 days and was received with immediate enthusiasm by its purchaser, the United States Army. Today the car is known as the jeep.

Spear owns and is restoring two of the very rare BRCs, which he describes as the best all-around motor vehicle ever designed.

The car Spear is showing is a dark blue, two-seat open roadster designed by the renowned Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky and reflects the "art deco" or "streamline" style so popular in the late '30s.

Spear was attracted to it because "they were so beautifully conceived as design objects," he said. "No other small car is so well proportioned and fits the human body so gracefully."

On the Thursday (August 14) before the actual event, the Concours also features a 50-mile Tour of the Monterey Peninsula where the cars can be seen by the public at large.

For more information contact Bill Spear or Susan Kirkness, 907-586-2209, or e-mail bill@wmspear.com.

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