What some consider to be America’s first sports car, a 1907 American Underslung 50HP Roadster, sold for an auction-record price at Bonhams’ third-annual “Preserving the Automobile” sale, again held at and in conjunction with the Simeone Automotive Museum in Philadelphia.
The museum has been in the forefront of the movement to preserve rather than restore classic vehicles.
Although Harry Stutz designed the first cars produced in 1906 by the American Motors Co. of Indianapolis, he had left the company when Fred Tone created the Underslung model. Tone reportedly was inspired to build such a vehicle when he saw one of the company’s usual vehicle frames being carried upside down through the factory.
(After working for several Indy-area automakers, Stutz would launch his own motor car company in 1910.)
Tone’s design placed the car’s axles above rather than below the frame rails. To provide sufficient ride height for the period’s less-than-smooth roads, the Underslung was mounted on larger wheels. Overall, the center of gravity was reduced and the car’s dynamic capabilities were improved.
The ’07 American Underslung offered at the Simeone sale sold for $1.43 million (including the buyer’s premium).
“We’re delighted with the results of our auction,” Rupert Banner, Bonhams vice president of business development, said in a news release.
“It’s particularly appropriate that Pennsylvanian F.C. Deemer’s American Underslung “Honeymoon Roadster” should make its record price in the state in which it was delivered and spent most of its life.
“We’re very grateful to the seller of the car,” he added, “who generously agreed to donate a portion of their sale proceeds to the (Simeone museum) Foundation.”
Overall, 80 percent of the 62 automobiles sold for a total just shy of $4 million. The sales total was a 20-percent more than achieved at the same sale in 2013.
The Underslung was the only car in the sale with a pre-auction estimate that reached into seven figures.
True to form, many cars sold right at their pre-auction estimates, although a 1958 Lancia Aurelia B20S sixth-series coupe by Pinin Farina went for $62,700 in barn-found condition.
Top-10 sales, Bonhams Preservation auction at the Simeone Museum
- 1907 American Underslung 50hp roadster, $1.43 million
- 1927 Rolls-Royce Phantom Piccadilly roadster, $220,000
- 1932 Cadillac V16 452-B 5-passenger sedan, $181,500
- 1925 Cunningham Series V-6 Phaeton, $162,250
- 1961 Porsche 356B T5 cabriolet, $134,750
- 1916 Simplex Crane Model 5 Berline, $126,500
- 1961 Mercedes-Benz 190SL, $123,200
- 1967 Aston Martin DB6 “saloon project,” $110,000
- 1949 Tatra T87, $104,500
- 1959 Austin-Healey 100/6 roadster, $85,800
(All prices include buyer’s fees.)