Tuesday, January 24, 2012

BANG 'EM Hard / Bumper Cars

Shuffling along during the set-up day at the San Diego Auto Show, my foot hit an unstitched seam in the red carpet, and stopped me with a jolt. My head whipped around turning to the side rattling my teeth. Then with a raised eyebrow, to convey a reappraisal of what was in front of me, I saw old bumper cars...restored old bumper cars on steroids. How cool is this, which deserved further investigation.

They were Tom Wright's rescued Auto-Skooters and Dodgems from the Long Beach Pike Amusement Park. Tom restored the bodies and mounted them on a frames with four cylinder Honda's or Kawasaki 750's. He started with two, and now has a fleet of these So-Cal beasts. They are street legal and a couple have a claimed top speed of 160 mph, if you have the huevos. The only thing I would miss, is the creepy sparking sound that they made when the arm rubbed on the electrified metal ceiling. This got me to thinkin' about how these started.

During their heyday in the late 1920's through the 1950's, the two major bumper car brands were Lusse Brothers' Auto-Skooter and Dodgem. Dodgem being the first on the scene, it was a rear-steering, highly unmanageable ride, said to be invented by Max and Harold Stoehrer. Ray Lusse came along a few years later and understood that not only did people want to bang into each other, they wanted to choose who they collided with.

Eventually the Lusses realized that no combination of friction clutches and steering brakes were going to solve the fundamental problem of not being able to back up. The car had to be able to be backed out of a crash by simply continuing to turn the steering wheel. In essence the car had to go from forward to reverse without going though neutral. The Dodgems electric motor had been placed under the seat, the Lusses discovered by moving it to the front of the car and mounting it vertically, it solved the problem. This set free multitudes of hyped-up kids a way to offer payback to their buddies, pesky parents, and just unsuspecting others by ramming them repeatedly with some control. It may have been their first taste of freedom behind a steering wheel, foot to the floor, in its simplest powered form.

"Go where you like...If you can." Long Beach Pike Amusement Park.

Early Dodgems' with the motor under the seat.

Early unrestored Auto-Skooter. Image © Along For The Ride

Auto-Skooters started to take on the looks of popular cars of the time.

Tom Wright's cool fleet of restored bumper cars.

Nothing like zeroing in on a buddie!

A smile inducer, street licensed. Image © Along For The Ride

Little does she know...fasten that seat belt.

Not your typical "Staff Car." Image © Along For The Ride

Promo card for the Auto-Skooter.

A look inside an unrestored Auto-Skooter, check out the motor in front.
 Image © Along For The Ride

A look at the drive wheel and steering of the Auto-Skooter.

Related post: Bumper Cars

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  1. John, I don't know how or where you dig this stuff up, but it's always out of the box.
    Love it, so keep it up!

  2. I Have a 1959 dodgem bumper car and trying to find parts can anyone help me all so is there a club to join .my email is russellherman81@gmail.com