Art Smith and His Harley Powered Baby Cars
Sometimes the vehicles that were built using Harley-Davidson engines are just as interesting as the motorcycles those engines came out of. That is certainly the case with these miniature race cars powered by Harley F-head V-twins built in the mid-teens and given the name “baby cars”. Essentially just scaled down replicas of standard race cars, the baby cars competed in their own special class and were used in a variety of other spectator events.
The owner and driver of the car pictured above was a man named Art Smith. He seems to have been quite the dare devil, having spent most of his youth as a stunt pilot. Back then flight was still in its infancy and many pilots built their own planes. Art was no different, but perhaps a bit younger than average, building his first plane at age 15. He promptly crashed it, but managed to recover and go on to become a successful pilot.
Art’s skill as a pilot made him a popular attraction at state fairs and similar events around the country in a time when seeing a plane was something quite unusual. The first years he spent touring around the U.S. brought him plenty of fame and fortune, allowing him to purchase five baby cars. Besides acting as just recreational vehicles, the baby cars also became part of his act. He would race his plane against his “Baby Boys” who drove the cars. The cars would go around 60 mph, which was pretty fast by 1915 standards.
The cars themselves were built using Harley-Davidson engines and transmissions by famed motorcycle racer and dealership owner Dudley Perkins. The five machines were modeled after real race cars from Mercedes, Peugeot, Fiat and Stutz.
Art’s popularity as a stunt pilot garnered him an invitation to bring his plane to Japan and perform for the emperor, so he packed it up along with his baby cars and set sail for the Orient. Luckily for Art, the ship was large enough that he could run his car around the deck.
Art moved into commercial aviation and flew for the U.S. Postal Service in the 1920’s. Unfortunately on a flight in 1926, he was killed in a crash when his plane caught fire.