The American Motor Car Company was founded in 1906 and based in Indianapolis, Indiana. It produced its first car in 1906 and the first 'Underslung' in 1907. However, the name 'Underslung' was not derived until 1912.
The underslung design was an attempt to make the car as low as possible. Harry C. Stutz, an engineer who would later produce cars under his own name, is credited with creating the design. Although Stutz created the chassis design, it was American's chief engineer, Fred I. Tone, who turned the chassis upside down. Tone decided to place the frame below the axles, instead of the traditional design of placing them above. The semi-elliptic leaf springs were mounted above the frame. Due to achieving such a low ground clearance, 40-inch wheels were needed to give the vehicle ample space between the frame and the ground.
The Underslung models provided safety that many other early manufacturers could not guarantee. The Underslungs were virtually impervious to roll-overs. Sales documentation stated that the vehicles could be tilted up to 55 degrees without rolling over.
The Underslung featured a four-cylinder, 6.4-liter engine capable of producing 40 horsepower. In 1908, the engine was enlarged to 7.8 liters and now produced 50 horsepower.
Even with the ground clearance advantage, the Underslung was not as competitive as other vehicles that featured larger engines. This was proven in 1908 when American Motor Car entered an Underslung Roadster in the Savannah Challenge Cup Race. The four-cylinder engine was not enough to keep pace and as a result, it finished last. Also, due to large wheels, and high center of gravity created partly by the raised engine subframe, the car suffered from poor handling and frequent tire changes.
Around 1909, American introduced a four-passenger Underslung dubbed the Traveler.
In 1910, the horsepower rating for the engine was increased to 60 by enlarging the cylinder bore and adding pressurized lubrication.
In 1911, the company faced financial difficulties. It's named was changed to American Motors Co.
In 1912, the entire model line now used the underslung chassis. As a marketing ploy, the vehicles were named the American Underslungs. Due to the size of the Traveler, a larger engine was required to make it more competitive in the market place. A six-cylinder engine was used.
In 1913, electric starters and lights became available on the Underslungs. The company still was suffering from financial problems. The company was having trouble competing with other manufacturers that were more efficient and produced bigger, faster vehicles at lower prices. Fred Tone departed from the company for other automotive opportunities.
In November of 1913, the company went into receivership. Over an eight-year period, the American Motor Company had produced over 45,000 vehicles. They had introduced creative designs, effective marketing, and brilliant automobiles. Like many other manufacturers during this era, they were plagued by ineffective assembly processes, a tough economy, the onset of World War I, and an evolving market place.By Daniel Vaughan | Oct 2013