Aviator Art Smith racing a “Baby Car” while on tour in Japan, ca. 1916.

1910sAmusements & RecreationsAviation
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“Art Smith, the ‘boy aviator,’ who took San Francisco by storm and was the biggest hit of the Panama-Pacific Exposition, is now in Japan.

“He has with him, according to the Japan Advertiser, two biplanes of the Curtiss type, a small flock of baby automobiles — his own invention — and four professional automobile drivers. He plans to eclipse any spectacle that the Japanese have witnessed in the art of flying .”

Bulletin of the Japan Society, February 22, 1916

Aerialist Art Smith, flying a Curtiss pusher biplane, racing a “Baby Car” while on tour in Japan, ca. 1916. Smith was as celebrated as any movie star might be today, thrilling audiences with his barnstorming feats – doing dives, “death spirals,” sky writing, “loop-de-loops,” and night flights using phosphorus fireworks. When touring Japan in 1916 (and again in 1917), Smith brought along a couple of his novelty “baby cars”, scale-downed versions of race cars modeled after real Mercedes, Fiat, and Peugeot models but powered by Harley-Davidson motorcycle engines.

See also:
Aerial daredevil Art Smith barnstorming Japan, 1916-1917.

“Art Smith’s skill as a pilot made him a popular attraction at state fairs and similar events around the country in a time when seeing a plane was something quite unusual.

“The first years he spent touring around the U.S. brought him plenty of fame and fortune, allowing him to purchase five ‘baby cars’. Besides acting as just recreational vehicles, the baby cars also became part of his act. He would race his plane against his ‘Baby Boys’ who drove the cars. The cars would go around 60 mph, which was pretty fast by 1915 standards.

“The cars themselves were built using Harley-Davidson engines and transmissions by famed motorcycle racer and dealership owner Dudley Perkins. The five machines were modeled after real Mercedes, Peugeot, Fiat and Stutz race cars.

“Art’s popularity as a stunt pilot garnered him an invitation to bring his plane to Japan and perform for the emperor, so he packed it up along with his baby cars and set sail for the Orient. Luckily for Art, the ship was large enough that he could run his car around the deck.

“Art moved into commercial aviation and flew for the U.S. Postal Service in the 1920’s. Unfortunately on a flight in 1926, he was killed in a crash during icy, foggy weather.”

Art Smith and His Harley Powered Baby Cars, Harley-Davidson Forums, March 2015

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