1924 Auto Red Bug Speedster, An Early Urban EV

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First called the Flyer, and originally made by A.O. Smith (which would later make early Corvette bodies), who then sold the rights to Briggs & Stratton, it was first powered by a British designed gasoline driven fifth wheel when so-called lightweight cyclecars were briefly popular. Eventually the design changed hands, apparently to the Automotive Electric Services Corporation, which I’m guessing made or rebuilt starters and generators because when they ran out of their stock of gasoline engines for the wheelmotors, they changed it to an EV powered by lead acid batteries and a Dodge starter motor on one back wheel. The little buckboard was slowed with a Model T parking brake on the other back wheel. The Red Bug’s own parking brake was a piece of wood that locked against the rear tires. It had enough equipment to be street legal, headlights, a taillight and a prominent horn, something that must have been used with regularity if you think about how tall conventional cars of the era were. No wonder they were painted red, that was probably to make them more visible in traffic. Depending on battery voltage it has a top speed of 12-16 mph and a range of about 10 miles. Sold as a city car for adults, at $300, about what a new 1924 Model T cost, it was more likely used as a plaything for the children of the wealthy, though some resort hotels bought them for guests’ use. If you want one for yourself, you can find plans online to build a replica, which would undoubtedly be cheaper than buying a real one.

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