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Real Rear Wheel Drive: 1917 Smith Flyer

Smith Flyer rear

If you really want a car that is truly “rear wheel drive”, you might want to have a look at this find listed here on ebay in Winchester, New Hampshire. It is a 1917 Smith Flyer Cyclecar with the high bid at the time of writing $4,753. This rear wheel drive buck board is powered by a one cylinder 1.5 horsepower engine mounted behind the rear set of wheels. Arthur Wall of the Roe Motorcycle Works in Surrey, England invented this engine/wheel combination as a bolt-on to power bicycles. The Smith Company of Milwaukee acquired the rights to build the Wall Motor Wheel and started producing the Smith Flyer Cyclecar.

Smith Flyer left

The production run at A.O. Smith Company, it appears to be, from 1914-1919. Brigg & Stratton purchased the rights to the “Auto Wheel” in 1919 and started producing a powered buckboard as well. The magneto, front fenders, solid wheel tire on motor wheel, plus some other minor items are missing and not included with this purchase. Engine, as per the owner, does turn but not freely.

Smith Flyer under

It’s so nice to have an image of the underside of a vehicle that you are considering purchasing isn’t it? With this BF purchase, there are lots of original parts including the seats, upholstery, steering wheel, 3 original worn tires and more.

Smith Flyer vin

This Cyclecar was originally painted red, but repainted a long time ago in this green. There is this “452” serial number brass tag under the seats.

Smith Flyer seats

The upholstery is said to be original and it looks right for a near 100 year old seat. Early advertising for these carts stated, “Just imagine riding over 80 miles on one gallon of gasoline, at a rate of between 4 and 25 miles an hour, along some delightful boulevard or over a picturesque country road with a charming young lady for companion. Nowhere is greater pleasure and practicability to be had for such a small investment”. The Flyer had a list price of $175.00 in 1919 or about $2,500 in today’s money. That’s not too bad for basic transportation that is easy to trailer, the only one at a show or in your state or country, and has a small storage footprint! This could be an interesting project to say the least.




  1. Mike R

    Been around old cars a long time, but have never heard of this one…neat.

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  2. cory

    Love these. But I would have to file it under the cool but useless heading. Would love to have one, but I have no use for it.

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  3. David Frank David Member

    This is a great and unique find and wonderful writeup. I’m sure it’s going to be a treasure for someone with a lot more disposable income than any of us. Wouldn’t it also be fun to build a replica? Perhaps it could have better brakes and a more reliable engine but it could still look very vintage.

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  4. randy

    “Fascinating Jim” in my best Spock voice.What a great Ebay ad and craftsmanship on the steering wheel. He has some 30’s chevy wheels on another auction for $850.00 that look like the ones from the other day here.

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  5. Donnie

    man get a brain .i could make this thing in my garge for 2000s dollars and have money left .

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    • randy

      It would not be an original 1917 model though, that is what is built into the price premium.
      I bet yours would be better as well. You might could market them to folks that live in those new tiny houses. I’d buy one.

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    • Clare Snyder

      Good luck making it for $2000 in 2023!!!! I am about half done with both a Flyer and a RedBug – started 20 years ago -I am likely into it for $1500 – mostly 2000 not 2023 dollars – and most of what I bought back then has tripled in price. I have also been very fortunate to aquire much of what I needed for free from friends – Making it as historically accurate as possible except for the engine and even there I am staying with the “spirit” of the original with direct drive.

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  6. Donnie

    sorry for bing an ass .

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    • randy

      You were right on the money, and I would like to have a modern unit like this, I bet it would not need tags either since it is home made. No worries man!

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  7. Mark S

    This would be a fun father/ son project.

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  8. Karl

    A.O. Smith is still in business after all these years, manufacturing electric motors and water heaters. When I bought my current house, it had an A.O. Smith water heater, and the seller had blacked out the date of installation with a permanent marker. It lasted about five more years before it started leaking, and the plumber who replaced it found the production date stamp–it was (drum roll) twenty-eight years old. I think that may be a world record for water heater life.

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    • Paul

      Sorry to break your record Karl. This water heater was original to my house which was made in ’83 and I just had it replaced earlier this year. That would have made it 32 years old.

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      • Andrew

        My water heater lasted 3 years. So there.

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  9. HoA Howard A Member

    This is a cool find. The A.O. Smith company ( and later Briggs and Stratton) also made a detachable one for bicycles. Apparently, they sold quite a few. This looks nothing like a restored one, very few exist today. I’m sure, over the years, these “Auto-Wheels” were re-purposed in to all kinds of things. https://regenaxe.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/a-pair-of-red-bugs.jpg
    Quick note on A.O. Smith. Being from Milwaukee originally, A.O.Smith was a huge employer for Milwaukee. The plant ( on 35th and Capitol Dr.) sprawled over many city blocks, and while mostly noted for water heaters, as Karl sez, they made all kinds of things, including bomb casings, propellers and many war items, along with electric motors, but what I remember most, were the car and truck frames, that were, as a kid, seemed to be stacked to the sky. (100 million car frames, and 50 million truck frames)
    A.O. Smith is all but gone now, in Milwaukee. Most, if not all the buildings are torn down, and I believe it is going to be a housing facility and shopping district. ( much like Allis-Chalmers) I think even the water heaters now are made all over the world, including, you guessed it, China. A mere shell of what A.O. Smith used to be.

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    • HoA Howard A Member

      Check it out. I don’t think there was any transmission, and that lever that looks like a shifter under the steering wheel, raised and lowered the wheel to get going and at a stop. ( btw, does anybody see any brakes?) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQXfkf2RN2Y

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  10. Charles H.

    Here’s a restored 1919 Briggs Flyer for $16,500http://hymanltd.com/vehicles/5501-1919-briggs-stratton-flyer/

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  11. George

    Brakes? We don’t need no steenkin’ brakes!

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    • Robert Member

      Howard A & George,

      To brake, it is reported, that you would lift the Motor Wheel off the ground and press the brake pedal which would push the back fenders against the back tires.

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  12. Mark E

    Auction closed with winning bid of $9,211.00

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