Gloria Victis

Or "Glory to the Vanquished", by David Kanally

Latin for “Glory to the Vanquished”, Gloria Victis is the title of a sculpture by 19th French artist Antonin Mercié. Originally sculpted in plaster in 1874, the statue was cast in bronze in various sizes by the foundry of Ferdinand Barbedienne. Created to honor the fallen heroes of the Franco-Prussian war, the statue represents a winged figure of Hope lifting up a dying French soldier still holding his broken sword. Bronze copies of the statue are on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC and in Bordeaux, France. At once inspiring and humbling, the sculpture evokes the notion that there is, or can be, glory in defeat. A battle well fought is a credit to both sides, and the valor of the defeated should not be forgotten.
In a sense, this sculpture has a message for us as the heirs of the achievements of the people who designed, engineered, built and sold the products of the American Austin and American Bantam Car Companies. While few would argue that Austin and Bantam were defeated by bad economic times, an unwilling market and ruthless competition, surely there was glory in the fight.
Consider the ingenuity of Lord Herbert Austin and Gordon England, designing a car that could accommodate up to four people in the smallest possible space and propel them at 45 miles per hour using ten horsepower or less. Or the creativity of designer Alexis de Sakhnoffsky in adapting the Austin Seven to the body styles of the American Austin and the Bantam, gleaming jewels of style and function. Imagine the effort involved in organizing the company in Butler, securing the factory, hiring the workers, resourcing the parts and building the cars.
Think of the tireless energy of Roy Evans in building a chain of dealerships across the South and finding ways to move the cars that few others could sell. He seized the opportunity to acquire the assets of the failed American Austin Company and revived it with a fresh look and a burst of marketing bravado. He didn’t sell enough cars in spite of it all, but he, with Sakhnoffsky and Alex Tremulis came up with cars that we, and those who visit our shows and meets today, covet fiercely.
Consider the good faith invested by everyone who worked at the factory, both in the creation of the civilian cars and in the heroic effort to conceive, design and build the first jeep. There are heroes throughout the company’s history. In 1940 and ‘41, Bantam was considered by those competing for the jeep contract to be a bug to be squashed (not before providing the vehicles design!). Crist, Probst, Payne, Fenn, Hemphling, Turner, and lesser-known names of the BRC era were responsible for the Bantam Reconnaissance Car, which today, in the words of Military Vehicle Preservation Association’s Steve Preston, is the “holy grail” of any jeep collection. So valuable are they, that today, restorers are creating BRCs from unlikely piles of parts to offer to collectors around the world.
“Glory to the Vanquished” could be the Austin Bantam Society’s battle cry. If history is prone to forget the defeated, then it’s up to us to continue showing cars, publishing our side of the story and making sure that the material evidence of our marque’s success is well restored, oiled and maintained. The creators of the American Austin and American Bantam were not passive victims in the unforgiving battles of the autombile industry. They were warriors. They may not have won, but they gained victories that we can proudly celebrate today and always.