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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.


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