Although his elder half-brother Sydney had achieved more success on stage in their native England in the dawning years of the 20th century, by 1919, “The Little Tramp”, Charlie Chaplin, was firmly established as America’s first superstar moving picture comic. Syd had forsaken acting to handle his business affairs and was able to obtain Charlie’s first million dollar contract in early 1916. But in her book, “Syd Chaplin: A Biography” published in 2010, Lisa K. Stein quotes him as saying “I was always extremely interested in aviation; from it’s earliest inception I have collected newspaper cuttings”. Charlie’s enormous success enabled him to pursue his passion.
He formed the Syd Chaplin Air Line in partnership with Emory Rogers, a World War I veteran pilot and began regular flights between Santa Monica and William Wrigley’s Catalina Island on July 12, 1919. At the time, he was also leasing “the largest flying-field in California” and called it the Chaplin Airdrome. It is there where we believe our two photos were taken.
It appears that the car was equipped with a Harley Davidson engine and transmission but beyond that, we have no information about it’s builder or mechanical specifications. We invite you to share anything you might know about it, Billy Rahn or the the driver seen above. You’ll find an earlier post about some similar tiny specials on The Old Motor. Photos courtesy of The San Diego Air & Space Museum.