The Little Car

Jerry Kauffman


History of the Little Car

Jerry Kauffman built his Little Car in the early 1940s, shortly before the U.S. entered World War II.  During the war years, when gasoline was rationed, his 50 mpg marvel enabled Jerry and his family to lead a more normal life than those with conventional vehicles.  In fact, with his little homemade trailer in tow, Jerry could take his entire family of four on short trips all around the Reading / Berks County, PA area.  With a top speed of 40 mph and a range of nearly 100 miles, it was more than adequate transportation for the slow-paced lifestyle of the 40s and 50s.

Jerry constructed his Little Car entirely by hand from whatever materials and tools he had available to him at the time.  He assembled the frame from heavy maple timbers and angle iron, and covered it with formed sheet-metal.  He fashioned the fixed front axle from a piece of one-inch water pipe and welded sections of I-beam to it to accept the salvaged Ford Model-T steering assembly.

The front and rear leaf springs were custom made for Jerry at a local auto body shop.  He bolted one end of the front springs to the frame, the other to the front axle, and he mounted a single shock absorber in between.  The rear springs were attached to the body on one end in a similar fashion, but the other ends were formed to hold the bearings for the driven rear axle, made of cold-rolled steel.

An interesting feature of the Little Car is that only one rear wheel is keyed to the axle.  That makes this car a "one-wheel drive".  Jerry left the other rear wheel free to spin on its bearing as a way to significantly improve the cornering performance and rear tire wear on this short wheel-base vehicle.

The original power source was a 1HP gasoline engine from a scrapped Maytag washing machine.  It was linked to a three-speed 1929 Harley-Davidson motorcycle transmission with built-in clutch which in turn connected to a countershaft that then drove the the rear axle.  All linkages were made with assorted motorcycle chains and sprockets that were readily available from local shops.  Rear brake drums made from turned down 6" water pipe fittings were welded to the inside of the rear wheels, and external shoes were linked via cables to the brake pedal up front.

The body of the Little Car, its most visible component, was actually constructed from cut, formed, and welded parts of salvaged production car body panels.  Jerry had the section of hood and grill from a 1933 Chevrolet which he would eventually use for the front of the Little Car, and he designed the frame to fit it.  He then crafted the rear portion of the body from the hood of a 1937 Ford, to which he added the vent on top and sheet-metal side panels.  The completed body was then painted green. 

The Little Car's no-frills interior consisted of basic low-pile carpet on the floor and a white-vinyl upholstered wooden seat.  Under the seat was hidden the fuel tank, and when Jerry later added an electric starter, the battery took up residence under there, as well.  The gas, brake, and clutch pedals are of unknown origin, but no-doubt, were rescued from the salvage yard and given new life.

Since its conception seven decades ago, the Little Car still looks much like it did when it was originally completed.  But, deceptively, it has evolved quite a bit.  Click Here to see a timeline highlighting the major stages in the life of Jerry Kauffman's Little Car.

After putting his Little Car back on the streets in 1999, Jerry continued to drive it around town for the next few years.  But even after he stopped driving, he would proudly display the Little Car in front of his house, weather permitting, for all to see.  He would gladly entertain the inevitable inquiries from curious passers-by, all the while graciously turning down the occasional offer from a would-be collector.  After all, the Little Car was family -- he could no more easily sell it than he could his own children.


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