The Little Car

Jerry Kauffman

 
 
 


History of the Little Car

 

  • 1930s - The idea was born, plans drawn, materials gathered.

  • 1940 - Construction of the Little Car began.

  • 1941 - With construction complete (for now), the Little Car was titled with the state of Pennsylvania as a "Homemade Motorbike" - this was the only category for which it met the requirements.

  • 1950s - The engine was replaced with a new Army surplus, one-cylinder, 5HP Wisconsin engine.  Jerry chose this engine for its high low-RPM torque.  An electric starter from a junked Crosley automobile was installed and connected via bicycle chain and sprockets to a homemade clutch assembly.  Jerry also added a horn, a small Lucite windshield supported by cast brass posts of his own design, and side engine compartment vents salvaged from a 1939 LaSalle.  New wheels with pneumatic tires were also added at this time, and the Little Car was given a new coat of pink paint.

  • early 1960s - Changing times brought road safety regulations that forced the Little Car off the streets.  Discouraged, and busy with his family and business, Jerry put the car into storage where it would sit for the next 20 years.  (He should have drained the gasoline, first!)

  • late 1970s - The Little Car would get its first new paint job in more than 20 years... to the sporty yellow that it is today.

  • Spring 1983 - Now fully retired, Jerry finally took the Little Car out of storage with the intentions of getting it back on the road.  The gasoline that was left in it 20 years ago had completely gummed up everything, so the vehicle was in need of some serious work.  Jerry replaced the entire fuel system, adding an electric fuel pump.  He rebuilt the carburetor and engine, installed a generator and a larger battery, improved the braking system, and fabricated and installed sheet-metal valence panels to cover the brake cables.  He also created a shift linkage and moved the shift lever from outside the body to inside the driver's compartment, and he installed a taller Lucite windshield.  The Little Car was not street-legal yet, but Jerry was determined.  He still drove it around his neighborhood and hauled it on a trailer to local shows so it could be displayed to the public.  It was around this time that the local (and some not-so-local) news media began running stories about Jerry and his homemade Little Car.

  • 1994 - Word of the Little Car had spread and caught the attention of the producers of MotorWeek, a nationally syndicated PBS program devoted to cars and car enthusiasts.  The MotorWeek crew came to Jerry's home and created this three-minute feature on him and his baby.  It was around this time that Jerry first referred to his Little Car as a "puddle jumper" -- borrowing from the vernacular of the aviation industry that refers to small airplanes that can cross or "jump" only "puddles", as opposed to the larger ones that can cross the ocean. Surprisingly, the name "Puddle Jumper" stuck and was perpetuated by this TV spot and future newspaper articles.  But for those who knew it as the "Little Car" for so long, this new moniker never seemed to fit.

  • mid 1990s - Jerry attached four fiberglass composite fenders which he shaped over a wooden form that he designed and carved himself. He also replaced the engine's starter chain and sprocket drive with a more reliable belt and pulley system.

  • late 1990s - It was during this time when Jerry made his final push to bring the Little Car up to code and get it back on the road.  He added taillights, turn signals, upgraded headlights with hi/lo beams, side mirrors, a seatbelt, and a bicycle odometer.

  • 1999 -  Jerry's efforts were finally rewarded with a state vehicle registration.  The Little Car was registered as a "specially constructed vehicle", and after purchasing insurance and receiving a routine state safety inspection at a local motorcycle shop, the Little Car was street-legal and back on the road after almost 40 years.

  • early 2000s - One of the last modification Jerry made before he stopped driving was to grind down the engine head 1/32 of an inch (by hand, on sandpaper!) to increase its compression and improve the Little Car's performance on hills.

  • 2006 - Alone and feeling the effects of time, Jerry left his home of more than 50 years to move in with family.  The Little Car was put back into storage, where it sits today.

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