model train set on track

The American Flyer Automobile Car

e*Train Issue: Feb 2004   |   Posted in: ,

By Robert S. Butler

The American Flyer Automobile Car is one of those items everyone has seen in various states of preservation, again and again at meet after meet and yet it is an item that almost no one has ever really examined. If you are aware of the car you probably know it came in either red or light orange lithography, it is common, it was made for many years, and so what.

The “and so what” is that like so many things, this very common car isn’t what it seems. American Flyer introduced the Automobile Car in 1919. This car was available in both a light orange with white lettering and red with white lettering. Of the two colors red is far more prevalent. The boxcar number was either 1112 or 1115. It was originally planned that #1112 would be a 4 wheel car and #1115 would be an 8 wheel car. It is evident that this plan was scrapped at a very early stage of production because both numbers can be found on 4 and 8 wheel cars. In 1931 American Flyer dropped the red (or light orange) and white litho treatment (Figure 1) and adopted light orange and black (Figure 2).

Figure 1. American Flyer Red and White Automobile Car ca. 1919
Figure 2. American Flyer Yellow and Black Automobile Car ca. 1932

A closer examination of the two cars reveals that the changes go far beyond a simple color change. The type font of the lettering on the two cars is different. In addition, there is a complete change with respect to the reporting marks on the lower left of each car – the red car has three lines of reporting marks and the light orange has four. On the lower right hand side the red car has “CAPACITY 80000LBS” while the light orange has “CAP 80000 lbs.” The red litho version carries the road name of “American Flyer Line” on the eaves fascia. The light orange version has apparently been poorly die cut since the roof obscures the “American Flyer Line” label on the eaves.

Thus, these cars are really two different cars. It is evident from the 1931 catalog that American Flyer planned this change and was planning an even more extreme treatment of the light orange lithography. If you examine the catalog cut from the 1931 American Flyer Catalog (Figure 3) and look at the light orange box car highlighted with the black rectangle you will note that it was planned to have only the notation “Automobile Car” in the upper left hand corner. In addition, there was to be no “American Flyer Fast Freight” logo with the winged locomotive on the right nor would there be the lettering “American Flyer Line” across the fascia.

Figure 3. American Flyer Catalog Illustration from 1931
Figure 4. #1316 Clipper Set

Figure 4 is a photograph of an actual #1316 Clipper Set. The boxcar litho treatment is the same as the light orange boxcar in Figure 2. 1931 was a year of major economic crisis both for the U.S. and the world. As with so many other things in the American Flyer catalogs for the depression years, there are major differences between what was proposed (the catalog cuts) and what was made.

The difference in type font between the red and the light orange car does tell us that American Flyer did change the litho stones. Perhaps they decided to keep the winged locomotive logo because it was too expensive to change or perhaps they just decided not to change it. At this late date it is unlikely that we will ever know that factors surrounding that decision. What we do know is that they went ahead with the decision to eliminate the “American Flyer Line” logo on the eaves and they did this, not by changing the lithography, but by changing the settings for the die cutting. Figure 5 shows the ends of the two cars. Other than the type font the end litho treatment is the same.

Figure 5. End Litho Treatment

Note the position of the end grab irons and note also the width of the end eaves fascia board. By adjusting the die cut on the light orange lithography American Flyer moved the labeling on the fascia board up into the region covered by the rolled edges of the tinplate roof. Like any such adjustment the settings weren’t perfect and one can find, from time to time, light orange automobile cars cut so that the eaves fascia board lettering is visible.

While the automobile car litho differences are subtle they are interesting and they provide yet another example of the vagaries of toy train manufacture.