Thursday, January 03, 2019

the first fully functional miniature gas-powered car ever built? Well, hybrid actually, it was converted to run on compressed air for the Barnum and Bailey Circus! It was the 1906 REO "Baby". It cost $3,000 to make it.

a perfectly accurate ½-scale model of the REO Model A 5-passenger Light Touring Car introduced to the public at the New York auto show in 1906. The Baby REO, hand built in 1905, is powered by a structurally accurate but scaled-down, horizontally-opposed, two-cylinder engine making 2 horsepower (as compared to the full-size car’s 16 horsepower) mated to a planetary transmission, smaller, of course, but just like the big car’s unit. The brass details, chassis, radiator shell – everything is accurate and exactly to scale. If we do the math we find that the Baby’s footprint is ¼ of the full-size car and 1/8th its volume. The Baby REO cost $3,000 to build – just about twice the cost of the car it was made to promote.

Having spent its usefulness in its first life, the Baby ran off to join the circus in 1911, being leased to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey folks until 1936. The circus people made only one modification. In deference to their highly flammable tents they rigged the engine to run on compressed air instead of gasoline.
Baby REO was 'lost' in 1936. In anticipation of REO's 50th Anniversary, the company started a nationwide search for Baby REO. It was found in 1954 in Altoona, PA in a REO truck dealer's collection and was returned to Lansing for the first time in nearly 50 years. It went on temporary display in the REO corporate offices but was again lost until the mid 1980s

The next chapter of this story begins in about 1979 with a visit to REO headquarters by Richard “Dick” Teague, then VP of design for American Motors. AMC was contemplating the purchase of REO and Teague saw the Baby REO calling out to him from its display in the lobby.

 Teague was immediately intrigued with the Baby REO and it possibilities. His idea was not only to restore the Baby REO but to hook it up with a perfect, matching 1906 REO Model A Light Touring Car as well.

And that’s what he did. But first he had to track it down again. In the meantime it had been moved to the Mississippi offices of one of REO’s financial backers who had taken informal possession of it. Teague would not take no for an answer and ended up paying $3,000 (just about the original cost to build the Baby) plus a nice dinner out for the seller.

That project, matching a Mama to the Baby and meticulously restoring both, became a labor of love that took Teague more than a few years. But it was well worth it by any measure, and Teague had them in his famous collection until his death in the 1980s. Mama and Baby then ended up back on the lam once again from one collector to another.

Mama and Baby REO have traveled as an identical pair continually since the late 1980s.

In mid-August 2008, Mama and Baby were auctioned in Pebble Beach, CA and were purchased by Peter and Debbie Stephens, the great-granddaughter of Ransom Eli Olds and her husband. The Stephens are loaning the cars to the R. E. Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing on a permanent long-term basis. The family is pleased to have the pair back together and in an ideal place for display.

The 1906 Baby REO is an identical, working gas-powered 1/2 scale miniature replica of its full-sized Mama. Built as a REO promotional tool for the 1906 model year, Baby REO was the first fully functional miniature gas-powered car ever built. The pair is valued at a priceless amount.

The Baby REO was first unveiled in January 1906 at the National Auto Show in New York's Grand Central Place, it subsequently made a cross country tour visiting dealers' showrooms, fairs, conventions and other auto shows to critical acclaim and enthusiastic reviews.

for the Baby Cadillacs:

1 comment:

  1. SO glad to hear and see that the baby Reo is still around and looking good! Always wondered. Figured it had gone the way of all things. Awesome.