1908 American Underslung 50 HP Roadster
Year of manufacture1908
Lindley Bothwell, Los Angeles, California (acquired in the 1940s)
D. Cameron Peck, Evanston, Illinois (acquired from the above in the late 1940s)
John Wallerich, Seattle, Washington (acquired from the above in 1951)
Richie Clyne, Las Vegas, Nevada (acquired from the above in the mid-1980s)
Sam and Emily Mann (acquired from the above)
Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, Amelia Island, Florida, March 2014
There is no mistaking the sight of an American Underslung. The sporting and innovative design, produced by the American Motor Car Company of Indianapolis, has made the American Underslung a car that has been coveted by collectors for decades. The brainchild of designer Fred Tone, it features the front and rear axle placement above the frame rails, creating a low and sporty profile. An exceptionally large set of wheels created enough ground clearance for the low-slung body to negotiate the primitive road conditions of its era.
The low center of gravity not only resulted in superior handling but created a strikingly low and aggressive profile that is as exciting to view today as when it was introduced. Straddling the chassis is a powerful 476.5 cid, L-head engine producing 50 hp, shifted through a four-speed manual gearbox. It was not until 1911 that the American Underslung’s performance was matched by the likes of the Mercer Raceabout and later the Stutz Bearcat. With its exceptional power and superb cornering capabilities, the American Underslung could be considered an early sporting car, long before the term was coined.
The history of this American Underslung can be traced to the 1940s, when chassis 1427 was part of Lindley Bothwell’s collection in Southern California. Mr. Bothwell was a pioneer in the car-collecting realm, as he saved and preserved rare and significant cars long before others did, starting before WWII.
Mr. Bothwell sold the American Underslung in the late 1940s to another luminary car collector, D. Cameron Peck. Mr. Peck was heir to a dairy fortune and a passionate collector of great early cars, accumulating a world-famous car collection that included Bugatti Royales, Grand Prix Mercedes, and the SSJ Duesenberg.
Mr. Peck started to downsize his collection, liquidating his cars in a series of now-legendary auctions held between 1949 and 1952. At a 1951 auction, John Wallerich of Seattle purchased the 1908 Underslung and four other cars, including a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost and a McFarlan. Mr. Wallerich kept the American Underslung for over 30 years before passing it to Richie Clyne, another noted collector and a Brass Era enthusiast.
In 2014, this example was exhibited at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, where it was part of the largest gathering of American Underslung automobiles ever assembled. Sam and Emily Mann purchased this beautiful example and added it to their incredible stable of fine automobiles.
This exceptional example of an early model American Underslung is wonderfully original, still possessing its original roadster coachwork, including the single rear seat, often lightly referred to as a “mother-in-law seat.” The oversized wood-spoke wheels, brass trim, and decorated headlights enhance the charming patina of this amazing car. Its originality, striking appearance, and overall quality condition are a testament to the careful and proper stewardship this important piece of automotive history has enjoyed over the years.
The Mann Collection has recently performed work on this Underslung that includes some electrical sorting and the fabrication of a new set of wooden wheels. Operating this machine is bound to be thrilling, much as it was over 100 years ago. The powerful 50 hp engine is capable of propelling this 1908 car to speeds in excess of 60 mph, double the speed of most cars produced at the time.
Of the estimated 27 American Underslungs that are known to survive, only four are early roadsters built between 1906–1908, making the example offered here a very rare automobile indeed. This impressive 1908 example represents the height of American engineering, power, and style of the era, wonderfully presevered to provide pride and enjoyment to the next caretaker of this significant early automotive treasure.