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Duke's 1987 Autobuggy

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Home : Scrapbook : Roamin Angel Corner Index : 1897 Autobuggy

1897 AutobuggyCruising Museum Piece

When Duke Klement first saw this 1897 Autobuggy, it was at Harrah’s Auto Museum in Reno, NV, the largest private car collection in the world. It was well worth the price of admission just to see this rare antique, one of three of this make left in the entire world. The other two are in Great Britain and do not run. However before Bill Harrah could have his team of restorers bring it back to original condition, he died and many of the cars in his incredible museum were auctioned off in 1985. Duke Klement was able to buy it. Fortunately, it came with the historical research done by Harrah’s team. The O’Neil brothers, William F. and William W., had manufactured metal-bodied buggies in Fresno. In 1897, the younger one decided to start a company motorizing them. He dropped in a Merkel (later builder of Merkel Motorcycles) one-cylinder kerosene engine with a centrifugal clutch. As owner with Virginia Van Fossen of Gin’s Little Valley Auto Care, restoring the mechanics was within Duke’s expertise, but the metal body had rusted past repair. However, in an incredible bit of serendipity, he found a stripped-down body for sale at a Penn Valley yard sale. Not only that, the serial number was only thirteen numbers away from the one he had. With its rebuilt engine and replacement body, this original-condition buggy now cruises, or should I say putts, down the road. Although its top speed is about fifteen miles per hour, the chain-drive steering makes the buggy quite a handful to steer at that speed. And the leather-and-wood brakes on the drive axle do not stop the buggy on a dime. So Duke uses it mainly for parades and shows, like the upcoming Roamin Angels Car Show at the Fairgrounds on September 6th and 7th (2008). Seeing just it is well worth the price of admission.

The 1897 Autobuggy is the oldest motor-powered buggy made in America.
Duke has seen it listed in a 1901 Sears catalogue.The horse-drawn version was billed as “built to last a lifetime” because of its metal body. Unfortunately, when Bill Harrah found it in Reno in 1967, it was past its lifetime and Duke was extremely fortunate to find a replacement at all, much less locally.

The two-quart fuel tank has a ten to fifteen mile range, so Duke carries a spare can that came with the buggy. The four-cycle engine is rated at 6 HP. A centrifugal clutch engages automatically as the throttle is increased, with a chain-drive turning the axle.

1897 Autobuggy


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