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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • SPANGLES: THE CONTINENTAL CIRCUS

Baby Car: 1925

Baby Car: 1925

        The smallest automobile in the world –- Designed and built by Gus Petzel of Alameda, California. The car has a 4-cylinder air cooled motor, 3 speeds, electric lights and starter, 60-inch wheelbase, 21x4 airplane tires, and weighs 560 pounds. It makes 52 miles per gallon and has a speed of 65 miles on the road and 80 miles on the track. Cost $2,000 to build. -- Promotional postcard

San Francisco, 1925. "California State Automobile Association -- Gus Petzel 'Baby Car' at start of cross-country run." A scene from the inauguration of the historic Trans-Continental Sidewalk. 8x10 nitrate negative. View full size.

 

On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

Nicely-built little hot rod

Very good fit and finish. Even seems to have a seatbelt.

Expensive habit

"Cost $2,000 to build."

. . .or a jaw-dropping $26,825.37 in 2015 dollars. Holy mackerel!

Whatever happened to...?

As with most every Shorpy photo, I can't help but wonder where this car is now or where and how it met its demise. Such is the joy of Shorpy photos, for me -- stretching my imagination and learning the minutiae of history.

Maybe the smallest, but far from the cheapest

Except for luxury brands, most US cars were priced at less than the cost of building this in 1925. You could have bought 3 of Ford's most expensive passenger model (4-door sedan) and got $20 change back from your $2,000.

Air-cooled?

Note the radiator cap.

Kilroy is there

Did anyone notice Kilroy?

No brakes

... At least, not on the wheels. I suspect the big lever on the side actuates a hand brake of sorts over the transmission shaft, similar to the "service brakes" in a Model T Ford.

Alex_shorpy, I suspect the rear wheels were hung from a single transverse leaf spring, buggy-style.

Personalized member service from CSAA

There's a CSAA diamond logo on the car's radiator and the white-haired gent appears to be George "Pop" Grant, head of the auto club's Touring Bureau, providing sidewalk service with a packet of information. Location is 1628 Van Ness Ave.

Dangerous tires!!

Those tires look like they are made of canvas. The center rib is the only part in contact with the pavement. Only a fool would drive 80 mph in that toy car.

[As noted in the caption, they're airplane tires. I suspect the man knew what he was doing better than we do. - Dave]

Yes, want!

With a chain guard, for sure.

And rear springing.

And better tires.

And a cross hair in the hood ornament / radiator cap. For that authentic, Snoopy's Sopwith Camel experience.

Not to mention

All the road detritus those fenderless wheels are going be kicking up!

Monoposto

That's what it would have been called had it been made in Italy -- a single seater.

Look at the chain drive -- at first I thought what a great character feature it was. Then I realized how terribly dangerous it was! The driver better keep his hands in the cockpit. He may even have to keep his coat buttoned up, because anything dangling over the edge of that low door could be pulled into the chain and that would likely be the end of him!

Danger!

I'd hate to have that drive chain come off and hit me in the head.

Neatly Done

With a real license plate, I guess it was allowed on public roads, but I shudder to think how small you would have felt in any sort of traffic. A vey brave man was our Mr. Petzel.

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