History of the
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
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
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
after he stopped driving, he would proudly display the Little Car
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.