It’s Time for Briggs and Stratton to Bring Back the Cheapest Car Ever Made

Before Briggs and Stratton was the lawn care name it is (was) today, the small engines manufacturer tried its hand at making cars. What was originally called the Smith Flyer back in the 1910s really wasn’t built by Briggs and Stratton. Eventually, a version called the Auto Red Bug would come to be powered by a small Briggs and Stratton engine and would be the cheapest car ever made. Can we please get another? 

Briggs and Stratton Auto Red Bug
Briggs and Stratton Auto Red Bug | Photos Courtesy of Hyman LTD

What is the cheapest car ever made? 

According to Silodrome, A.O. Smith originally built the Smith Flyer in 1914. While these were still very early days in the automotive industry, there were already a variety of automobiles. Some companies made fancy ones, and some made fast ones; A.O. Smith made cheap ones. In fact, at $125 a pop, the A.O. Smith “Smith Flyer” was the cheapest of all. 

Given the time period, most of A.O. Smith’s manufacturing power was rerouted to the war effort. Although WWI was ramping up in Europe, Americans were hungry for affordable transportation back home. Due to the war, there were steel, rubber, and gasoline shortages. Sound familiar? 

A group of engineers set out to make an affordable car that would use the least amount of all three precious resources possible. The result was the Smith Flyer. It had a wooden chassis with light steel reinforcements, two small wooden seats, rail-thin tires, and a tiny rear-mounted engine. In lieu of suspension, the wooden chassis was not only cheap, but it was flexible enough almost to make it seems as though it could absorb some bumps. 

Where does Briggs and Stratton fit in? 

the cheapest car ever made
Briggs and Stratton Auto Red Bug | Photos Courtesy of Hyman LTD

After only six years of production, A.O. Smith sold the rights to Briggs and Stratton, who swapped the powertrain for its “Motor Wheel” – a self-contained motor and wheel that could be fitted to a bicycle to provide an instant boost in power.

The Smith Flyer became the Auto Red Bug with Briggs and Stratton at the helm. Despite being the cheapest car ever made, the Auto Red Bug became a sort of rich person’s toy. The Red Bug sold at various stores, including F.A.O. Schwartz and Abercrombie and Fitch. 

How much power did the Briggs and Stratton Auto Red Bug make? 

Briggs and Stratton Auto Red Bug is the cheapest car ever made
Briggs and Stratton Auto Red Bug | Photos Courtesy of Hyman LTD

With only three horsepower, the Auto Red Bug could only do 16 mph. As we mentioned earlier, the cheapest car of all time had no suspension and almost no brakes to speak of. In fairness, you could probably pass one of these cheapies with a bicycle, so brakes weren’t all that important. 

A little further down the road, Briggs and Stratton sold the design to Automotive Electrical Services, who then swapped the three hp engine for a 12-volt Dodge starter motor, turning the Red Bug electric—continuing its legacy as now what must be the cheapest electric car ever made as well. 

How much is the cheapest car in the world worth now? 

1920 Brigs and Stratton Auto Red Bug
Briggs and Stratton Auto Red Bug | Photos Courtesy of Hyman LTD

The example we see here is currently offered by Hyman LTD for $22,500. This example was beautifully restored to near original condition. Although it may not be the most exciting drive in the game, it is a relatively cheap way to get a serious piece of automotive history. 

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