THE WALL AUTO-WHEEL
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.
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
two-lobe cam-shaft; this resulted in a four-to-one gear reduction. The
final drive to the wheel was by sprocket and chain.
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.
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
1914, Auto-Wheels Ltd. of London sold U.S. manufacturing
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
The first Smith Motor-Wheel was produced
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Herman 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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Motor-Wheels were used
in a variety of applications by other companies. For example, they were
attached to railroad inspection and maintenance vehicles.
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
Briggs & Stratton Corporation acquired manufacturing rights to
Smith Motor-Wheel and the Flyer in May, 1919. It was
by that firm until 1924.
B&S improved the Smith
The bore size was enlarged to increase the horsepower, a new all-steel
connecting rod was developed, and a magneto was inserted in the
The 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.
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
The Motor-Wheel was first used to power a
cyclecar–the Briggs & Stratton Flyer; however, eventually it
used on a variety of vehicles. For example, a box replaced the
right-hand passenger seat of a Briggs & Stratton Flyer to
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
The Briggs & Stratton Flyer was
manufactured and sold between 1919 and 1924. It was also advertised and
sold as the Red Bug.
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
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.
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
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
sold to the Automotive Electric Service Corporation of North Bergen,
THE AUTOMOTIVE ELECTRIC SERVICE
CORPORATION RED BUG
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
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.