MOTORWHEELS & CYCLECARS

THE WALL AUTO-WHEEL

Wall Auto-WheelThere were many early attempts to attach engines to bicycles, but most failed to achieve commercial success. This changed with the introduction of the Wall Auto-Wheel. In 1908, Patent Number 14,967 was issued to Arthur William Wall of Birmingham, England, for a motorized wheel intended to be attached to the right side of a bicycle. This Wall Auto-Wheel was produced by Auto-Wheels Ltd. in Kensington, London, from 1910 to 1919; however, production by other manufacturers continued until the mid 1920’s. In 1910, the Auto-Wheel sold for 22 pounds, 10 shillings. Later in its production, a deluxe model was available with braided and polished control cables, a dirt and waterproof carburetor with a removable jet, a chain guard, and embellishments. At that later time, the Standard Auto-Wheel produced at the Farnham Factory cost 16 pounds, 16 shillings; the Deluxe Auto-Wheel produced by BSA cost 18 pounds, 18 shillings. The Auto-Wheel weighed approximately 40 pounds and achieved about 60 miles to a half gallon of gasoline. All models were painted black, with a gold stripe.

The Auto-Wheel consisted of of a twenty-inch (508 mm) wire-spoke wheel and tire fitted to a small gasoline engine. A subframe was attached to the frame of a bicycle and the Auto-Wheel was attached to the subframe. Two control cables ran to levers attached to a spoke of the steering wheel. One was the choke; the other led to an exhaust-valve lifter/throttle. These were combined into one in later models. To start the Auto-Wheel, it was necessary to open the gas valve, activate the exhaust-valve-lifter to reduce compression in the cylinder, pedal the bicycle rapidly to get up to speed, and then allow the exhaust valve to close, thereby building up compression and starting the engine. Once the engine was running, the throttle was moved to wide open. There was no clutch. To stop the bicycle while the engine was running, it was necessary to stop the engine by activating the exhaust-valve lifter and reducing compression. Stop-and-go city traffic was not enjoyable. Speeds of 15 to 20 mph. were possible; although, it was necessary to assist the engine and pedal rapidly on hills. Rides on rough roads were dangerous.

The engine on early Auto-Wheels had two cylinders; one was for firing and the other contained a piston which pushed fuel into the firing cylinder. Oil and gas were housed in tanks resting on top of the mud guard (fender). A later model engine was a 118 cc, two-stroke, single-cylinder, one-horsepower engine with a floatless carburetor and an atmospheric intake valve. Final models had four stroke engines. The flywheel was in the hub of the wheel. The wheel was run off of the end of a two-lobe cam-shaft; this resulted in a four-to-one gear reduction. The final drive to the wheel was by sprocket and chain.

The Auto-Wheel was attached to two, three and four-wheeled bodies produced by a variety of companies. Auto-Wheels Ltd. Itself produced the Wall Tricar from 1911 to 1915. This was a three-wheeled chassis steered with a tiller–replaced by a steering wheel in 1914.

The Wall Auto-Wheel was popular prior to World War I and its popularity continued in Australia during the war. It served as a bridge between motorcycles and full-sized automobiles. Sir Arthur Doyle was an early promoter and possible investor in the Auto-Wheel.

In 1914, U.S. manufacturing rights to the Wall Auto-Wheel were sold to the A.O. Smith Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

THE A.O. SMITH MOTOR-WHEEL

Smith Motor-WheelIn 1914, Auto-Wheels Ltd. of  London sold U.S. manufacturing rights to the Wall Auto-Wheel to the A.O. Smith Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. On August, 20, 1914, Reuben Stanley Smith submitted the first of seven patent applications filed between 1914 and 1919 for a Smith Motor-Wheel. Reuben was the Chief Engineer of the A.O. Smith Corporation. He was also the first cousin of L.P. Smith, the President of the Company, who was the son of A.O. Smith, the founder of the company.

The first Smith Motor-Wheel was produced in October; approximately 25,000 were sold between 1914 and 1919. In 1914, a Smith Motor-Wheel sold for $60.00.

The A.O. Smith Company made a number of  improvements to the Wall Auto-Wheel. A solid disc replaced the wire-spoke wheel and the wheel was geared directly to the end of the camshaft, eliminating the need for a chain or  belt. The camshaft had four exhaust lobes, which resulted in a gear reduction of 8 to 1. The one-cylinder engine had a 2 3/8 inch bore and a 2 1/4 inch stroke; it produced about 1 1/2 h.p. Finally, when used on a bicycle, the Smith Motor-Wheel was mounted on the left instead of the right. This was necessary to adapt the wheel to the rotation of the engine and to accommodate traffic laws in the United States. The engine produced about 1 1/2 h.p. and the Motor-Wheel could travel about 100 miles on a gallon of gasoline.

The Smith Motor-Wheel released in October, 1914, was the Model A. It had a shallow crankcase and no oil sight-gauge. Motor-Wheels issued in 1914 and 1915 were the same, except that the 1915 flywheel had raised letters reading “Smith Motor-Wheel.”

The 1916 Motor-Wheel was the Model B. It had a deeper crankcase, a spring-loaded oil pump, a round glass oil sight-gauge, and bronze main bearings instead of the roller bearings used in the Model A.

Late 1916 and 1917 Motor-Wheels were Model BA. Roller bearings were reintroduced and a drain plug was added under the sight glass.

1918 Motor Wheels were Model C.  They were the same as Model BA machines, with the exception that the intake port was held open by a “C” clamp device instead of the plug-type which was screwed in.

Manufacturing rights to the Smith Motor Wheel were sold to the Briggs & Stratton Corporation in May, 1919.

THE A.O. SMITH FLYER

Smith FlyerHerman Starr of Iowa filed a patent for a simple four-wheel car which was processed by Patent Attorney Erwin Wheeler and assigned to the A.O. Smith Company. The patent drawing showed the car powered by a Smith Motor-Wheel attached to the back of the car as a fifth wheel. This basic car was called the Smith Flyer and 2,500 to 3,000 were produced from 1915 to 1919. An early Flyer sold for $135, without a power source.

The Smith Flyer consisted of a platform made up of wooden slats, with four wheels, two backrests, a steering wheel, scrub brakes utilizing pads which rubbed on the rear tires and activated by a foot pedal, a throttle attached to a spoke of the steering wheel, a lever in the center which functioned as a clutch, and a Smith Motor-Wheel pivoted off of the back. The vehicle was 62 inches long (98 inches with the Motor-Wheel) and 30 inches wide, with 20 inch wheels. The Flyer weighed 135 pounds. The first Smith Motor-Wheel attached to a Smith Flyer was a Model BA.

The Smith Flyer was a cyclecar–larger than a motorcycle but smaller than a regular automobile. It has been called the world’s first sports car. A lever raised the Motor-Wheel slightly off the ground, a crank handle protruding from the wheel’s disc was used to rotate the wheel and start the engine, and the lever was then used to gently lower the Motor-Wheel to the ground and move the vehicle.

The Motor-Wheel produced about 1 1/2 h.p., which was barely adequate when attached to a Flyer. Motor-Wheels tended to run hot under load and later models had cooling fans. When a Motor-Wheel was attached to a bicycle, the rider could pedal rapidly and assist the Motor-Wheel on hills.  Unfortunately, no such assistance was available to passengers on the Smith Flyer and the only recourse was to dismount and either walk alongside or push the vehicle. The Flyer was capable of 20 mph on level ground.

The Flyer’s platform consisted of polished, natural-colored wooden slats, the mud guards, rims, axles, steering column, braces and other metal parts were painted with red enamel. Wheel hubs and spokes were nickel plated. The wooden seats were upholstered in Morroccoline leather. Inflatable or hard-rubber tires were available. A canvas hood stretched over a metal framework could also be obtained and this added a measure of decorum; however, it also increased the complexity of mounting the Flyer. The Smith Flyer was adversized as the “Red Bug.”

In 1918, F.O.B. prices from Milwaukee was $145 for the Flyer chassis and $225 for the Flyer and the Motor-Wheel. For an additional $15, sled runners were available; however, it was doubtful that the Motor-Wheel’s narrow tire had much traction on snow or ice.

Railroad CarMotor-Wheels were used in a variety of applications by other companies. For example, they were attached to railroad inspection and maintenance vehicles.

The A.O. Smith Company sold the manufacturing rights to the Smith Motor-Wheel and the Smith Flyer to the Briggs & Stratton Corporation in May, 1919.

THE BRIGGS & STRATTON MOTOR-WHEEL

B&S Motor-WheelThe Briggs & Stratton Corporation acquired manufacturing rights to the Smith Motor-Wheel and the Flyer in  May, 1919. It was manufactured by that firm until 1924.

B&S improved the Smith Motor-Wheel. The bore size was enlarged to increase the horsepower, a new all-steel connecting rod was developed, and a magneto was inserted in the flywheel.

B&S ScooterThe Briggs & Stratton Motor-Wheel consisted of a 24 inch fifth wheel powered by a one cylinder, 2 h.p. engine, with a 2 1/2  inch bore, 2 1/4 inch stroke, and bronze main bearings. There was no clutch; the Motor-Wheel was started with the wheel slightly off the ground, gently lowered to initiate movement, and raised to stop the vehicle.

The Motor-Wheel was first used to power a cyclecar–the Briggs & Stratton Flyer; however, eventually it was used on a variety of vehicles. For example, a box replaced the right-hand passenger seat of a Briggs & Stratton Flyer to produce a delivery vehicle, a handle and outriggers were attached to make a towing device for ice skaters, a frame and handlebars were added to make it into a scooter, and it was used to power a railroad inspection/maintenance car. The Motor-Wheel engine itself was adapted for use with lawn mowers, washing machines and other implements. It was the progenetor for all following B&S engines.

Manufacturing rights to the Briggs & Stratton Motor-Wheel were sold to the Automotive Electric Service Corporation in 1924.

THE BRIGGS & STRATTON FLYER

B&S FlyerThe Briggs & Stratton Flyer was manufactured and sold between 1919 and 1924. It was also advertised and sold as the Red Bug.

Like its predecessor, the Smith Flyer, the Briggs & Stratton Flyer consisted of a platform made up of wooden slats, with four wheels, two backrests, a steering wheel, scrub brakes utilizing pads which rubbed on the rear tires and activated by a foot pedal, a throttle attached to a spoke of the steering wheel, a lever in the center which functioned as a clutch, and a Briggs & Stratton Motor-Wheel pivoted off of the back. The vehicle was 62 inches long (98 inches with the Motor-Wheel) and 30 inches wide, with 20 inch wheels, and it weighed approximately 135 pounds. The vehicle was capable of speeds up to 25 mph.

The Briggs & Stratton Flyer sold for $125 to $150 in 1922; it was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the most inexpensive car of all time. The Flyer was advertised as being able to travel 50 miles on 1/2 gallon of gas. The Flyer was classified as a cyclecar–a vehicle larger than a motorcycle but smaller than a full-size car. It has been called the world’s first sports car. B&S issued a magazine–Motor-Wheel Age–for enthusiasts.

B&S produced and sold the Flyer until 1924, when manufacturing rights to the Briggs & Stratton Motor-Wheel and the Briggs & Stratton Flyer were sold to the Automotive Electric Service Corporation of North Bergen, New Jersey.

THE AUTOMOTIVE ELECTRIC SERVICE CORPORATION RED BUG

Red BugThis company sold the Flyer as the Auto Red Bug. The Red Bug was produced with a gasoline engine until parts acquired from B&S were used up, at which time a battery-driven electric motor was used on the vehicle and it were sold as a city vehicle.

Auto Red Bug went bankrupt in 1933, at which time manufacturing rights to the Red Bug were sold to the Indian Motorcycle Company.

The Indian Motorcycle Company sold Auto Red Bugs as amusement park rides, but soon ceased production because of lack of sales.