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Auto Red Bug with Aerothrust Engine- 1924

In 1916, the A.O. Smith Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, introduced an inexpensive buckboard-style cycle car called the Flyer. Driven by a fifth wheel, known as the Smith Motor Wheel, these were simple, open-bodied two-seaters. By 1919, the company sold the patents to engine manufacturer Briggs & Stratton, who, a few years later, sold the rights to electric motor manufacturer Automotive Standards of New Jersey. They changed the name to “Auto Red Bug”, and, while gasoline-powered Red Bugs were produced, most were fully-electric runabouts. The Guinness Book of World Records lists the Flyer/ Auto Red Bug as the least expensive production car of all time, citing a 1922 ad that listed them for $125. For perspective, a 1924 Ford Model T cost $265; a much more practical vehicle, but at more than double the price. As such, many of the electric Auto Red Bugs were used by resorts and the wealthy as novelty go-karts. They were even sold in Europe, where one of the first buyers, Ettore Bugatti, bought one for his son Roland.
Stock Auto Red Bugs were not powered by a propeller, but the car seen here does have an earlier Aerothrust propeller engine attached to it. The aftermarket Aerothrust engine had been a popular addition to rowboats, canoes, and even bicycles in the years following WWI. The “Magnalium” dual-fuel alloy twin weighed 50 pounds and produced 3 horsepower. “It burns gasoline or kero-sene, and any man, woman, or child can operate it.” The ingenious mount allowed for variation in height and angle, and could be installed or removed in under a minute.

Specifications:
Car:
Manufacturer: Automotive Standards Inc.
Country of Origin: USA
Motor: 12V, .58HP Electric (originally)
Years Produced: 1924-1927
Number Produced: Unknown
Cost: $125

Aerothrust engine:
Manufacturer: Aerothrust Engine Co.
Country of Origin: USA
Engine: Air-cooled opposed-twin, two-stroke, dual-fuel, 3bhp
Years Produced: 1915-1922
Number Produced: Unknown
Cost: $50; incl. mount, magneto, fuel tank, prop and shroud

Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee features the largest European collection of cars and motorcycles in the United States.

1920 Auto Red Bug

Manufacturer: Automotive Electric Service Corporation, North Bergen, New Jersey
Engine: 12 volt electric battery
Wheelbase: 62 inches
Price new: $200
1920 average annual income: $1,407
Donated by the Smith Family of Reading Massachusetts in memory of Mr. Bob Smith

The Auto Red Bug Roadster looks like a go cart, but was an automotive innovation as one of the first small vehicles introduced to the public. The Red Bug combined the practicality of the modern automobile with the convenience of small size and economical power. As a result, it became extremely popular with both young people and adults looking for a vehicle with short distance capacity. Many estate-owners purchased them for getting around their grounds, and farmers found them useful, as well, to quickly cover large distances. Some island communities that didn’t allow full-size automobiles, did permit the use of cars like Red Bugs.

These small electric powered vehicles were first manufactured in 1916. This one was made by Automotive Standards of North Bergen, New Jersey. Referred to as “buckboards” because of their wooden slats, they were powered by an electric engine with a single rear wheel mounted brake.

*Can be viewed in collections storage in 2020

1920 Auto Red Bug Manufacturer: Automotive Electric Service Corporation, North Bergen, New Jersey Engine: 12 volt electric battery Wheelbase: 62 inches Price new: $200 1920 average ]]>