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The Art Smith Baby Cars Travel To Japan

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Earlier in the year we did a feature article titled: Art Smith - The Life and Times of The Comet. That post tells the story of Smith building his first airplane at the age of fifteen, his career as a stunt pilot, and a trip to Japan in 1916 with his plane, crew and drivers of his baby racing cars to entertain Japanese officials.

Since that time, Marc Tudeau of France has found an album with some of the best photos to be found yet showing the Baby Cars in Japan. The photo above shows one of the two Fiat look-a-likes. This car was driven by Vic Bertrandias and was later wrecked in Nagoya, Japan.

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Above left is the other Fiat that was driven by Kaiser Bill. The center photo shows the cars in front of the Crown Price’s stand in Tokyo before the first exposition race run there. It appears that there were at least two races run in the city at the time, and in at one of them Art Smith can be seen flying his Curtis Bi-Plane above the racers. The car on right above is wearing Peugeot style body work.

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The cars were built with the help of Dudley Perkins of the Dudley Perkins Company, a San Francisco Harley-Davidson dealership. The left and center photos above show the workshop where the racers were assembled by Smith and his crew in a shop located at 220 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. The left photo is dated as being taken during February of 1916 and the center photo is captioned as showing the assembly of the first car in March of 1916. The right-hand photo with Smith in the car is captioned: First car runs! -Tokyo- April 1916.

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The photo above gives us the most-detailed view of the type of construction used to build the cars yet. The frames were constructed of wood with steel fittings, and the front frame horns appear to be steel forgings. The cars were powered by Harley-Davidson V-twin engines, but it is not known what was used for a clutch and transmission. This may have been an earlier car, as some of them used larger-sized wheels and tires.

The photos are courtesy of the San Diego Air & Space museum where you can see more photos of the trip to Japan. There are also more photos and Smiths life’s story at: Art Smith - The Life and Times of The Comet. The short film clip below courtesy of British Pathe apparently shows the cars at a later date after returning to the U.S.

15 responses to “The Art Smith Baby Cars Travel To Japan

  1. I have several vintage photos of Art Smith and his Baby Comet in my collection, but few as detailed as yours. These are absolutely fantastic photographs. I especially enjoyed the film clip of the little racers. Changing a tire could not have been easier! Smith’s cars were the inspiration for several later baby racers, including the Wing Midget (or Wing Special) manufactured by Chauncey Wing’s Sons of Greenfield, Massachusetts. For just $380, the buyer could rocket down city streets at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour. The cars were built and sold during 1922.

  2. David,
    Thanks to you and your staff for the ongoing inquiry into these cars and the folks involved.
    You provide a rare and invaluable service for ongoing study, discussion and ever growing database of our motoring history.
    Very much appreciated.
    I hope next time you’re at The Miller event we get to say hello.

    • Glad to hear you enjoy this kind of thing as I find these little car to be very interesting.

      At this point in time The Old Motor is a one man operation so if any of you can help with sharing of your photos or information please do.

      I have not been to the Miller Meet in a number of years and would like to return again someday and hopefully meet you in person.

  3. Hi David, My father purchased in the mid 1970s the remains of a vehicle museum in Mass. near the Boston area that had burned. In the collection was a Wing with a Henderson engine fitted to it. The back of the body was burned off but the cowling hood and front shell were all there. It hung for many years in our barn on display getting lots of attention before going to another collector. Then it disappeared until a few years ago when a guy found me at Hershey saying he had it was being restored . Thanks for the great information about a little known type of car. Keep up the great work! Hal

  4. Since Japan was at war against Germany in 1916, the choice of the driver’s pseudonym, ‘Kaiser Bill’, (it CAN’T have been his real name) was not politically incorrect.

    Not that political correctness had even been invented in 1916.

  5. Your continuing exposure of this great little chapter in motor sport history is fascinating. I have trawled the Pathe News archive for all sorts of things but would never have expected to find the clip you have.

    I am a little confused by the source of the latest pics who you reference to Marc Trudeau but the pictures are credited to the San Diego museum. Could you please just clarify from the point of view of future access?

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