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You’d Have to be Nuts to Drive a Baby Stutz Built by Harley-Davidson

“You’d Have To Be Nuts To Drive a Stutz” was a saying that Mercer “Raceabout” owners used when talking about the Stutz “Bearcat”- Stutz owners countered with: “Nothing Could Be Worser Than Driving A Mercer.” The two cars were rivals on race tracks all around the country in the AAA races of the 1912-’14 period. This rivalry no doubt played out later in 1915 after Harley-Davidson has its “baby cars” built.

We have covered these minature racing cars in a series of articles in the past and have detailed how they traveled with the Art Smith Baby Car troupe. Since then more has been learned about these little cars and reasons why the machines were constructed.

Baby Stutz Racing Car 1

  • It is believed that this is Jimmy Plumb in one of the Harley-Davidson “Stutz” cars after it found its way to Texas. The photo is courtesy of Mark Aldrich.

Reader Chris Gorman sent in this excellent image of a Stutz “baby car” that is courtesy of Mark Aldrich. The photo came from a collection owned by someone who flew out of Kelly Field in San Antonio, TX, during WWI. This new pair of photos of Jimmy Plumb in the Stutz “baby car” appear to have been taken post-WWI. Plumb later died in a mid-air airplane collision and crash off the coast of Hampton Rhodes, VA.  Who is standing behind him (above) is not known, but he certainly looks like a character.

Plumb's Stutz Baby Car

  • Jimmy Plumb with his Harley-Davidson “Stutz” racing car at Kelly Field. He was racing this car in the area while he was stationed at Kelly Field in Texas. Plumb later died in an airplane crash near Hampton Rhodes, VA. The photo is courtesy of edwardmberger.com

John King owns the only known surviving Harley-Davidson “baby car” and had the following to say about them: “Harley was intent on showing a world audience the performance of their new big-twin engine and first year 3-speed transmission. The company knew that people liked car racing more than motorcycle racing.”

“Management made the decision to commission ten cars to be built and each to have a different body style to mimic the big cars that would be raced at the upcoming 1915 World’s Fair in San Francisco. The original batch of cars were in part built by the Kissel Kar Company in San Francisco, Harley-Davidson provided the factory built race engines and transmissions for the cars.”

smith10

  • This new photo and information leaves us to wonder if the driver of the No. 8 car is Jimmy Plumb? If it is the same car, it was later re-numbered by Edward Berger.

“The Maggini & Perkins Harley-Davidson dealership in San Francisco also participated in the building of the cars. The first batch featured: 1st generation racing wheels, rack and pinion steering, elliptical leaf springs, full differential built in the jack-shaft, hand operated air pump to force fuel forward to carburetor, factory built racing motor, 3-speed transmission, air pressure gauge, compression release on steering column, magneto ignition, front wheel gear drive speedometer, and more.”

  • One of the Harley-Davidson “baby cars” under construction in San Francisco.

Harley Davidson Baby Car

17 responses to “You’d Have to be Nuts to Drive a Baby Stutz Built by Harley-Davidson

  1. I suppose that if “…people liked car racing more than motorcycle racing.”, then they also must have expected radiators, too? Would have seemed naturals for a more aerodynamic entry.

    • The wood available in 1915 was of far higher quality and strength than what is commonly available today. Especially if a special species and grade were wanted for structural use (such as a full sized car or truck frame.) The old growth timber usually had in excess of 50 growth rings per inch, and 100 rings per inch was not uncommon. Of course in 1915 wood was still the predominant structural material for airplanes (in compression) in conjunction with steel wire (used in tension).

  2. The car in the middle resembles a Bugatti. Since several Bugatti chain drive T18s ran at Indy and board tracks in that era I don’t think it would be a stretch to think those were copied here.

  3. On pictures of these racers (not all posted here) the carburetor can be seen mounted on the left (between the cylinders -as on Harley twins on the day) and the carburetor on the right.

    As width was not an issue on these cars, perhaps mounting the carburetor on the right as seen in the picture in this post was done to help keep the carburetor cool and/or for easier access? The carburetor and intake when mounted between the vee as on the motorcycles must have been subjected to a lot of heat under a hood as with these little racers.

  4. Well, well. We need the editors of Popular Mechanics to see this, and develop a full set of plans to re-create these ‘babies’! I’d pilot one and give ‘er the cherries! As good a way to die as any in my book. Now…. hold my beer and watch this, honey!

  5. As early as 1915? I’m sure they’d have been quite the cars to drive. Looked like they were powered by what would later evolve into the JD/JDH engine. I’m curious as to the displacement of the motors? I’d guess at 61CID.

  6. Although much smaller and slower, the closest thing to these baby cars today are Cyclekarts.
    I wish there were a group of enthusiasts near me( unlikely as I live in rural Nova Scotia, Canada) and I was a bit younger!
    Google cyclekarts for all the info.

  7. This photo was taken in Japan in 1916 as is evidenced by the crowds captured in the photos. The cars were such a big hit at the PPIE, they were invited to be raced before the Emperor of Japan. Art Smith is the driver in the # 8 car – not Plumb. Not all the cars were shipped to Japan, the 1 survivor was sold to Charles Howard which he gave to his son Lindsay as a gift in December 1915. The photo of Art Smith in his car next to Barney Oldfield was taken after the 25 lap grudge race – Oldfield and the Stutz could not pass Smith as the Harley racer had a superior weight to power ratio. The Harley Car had a top speed of 80 mph.

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