For a car to be considered desirable in the US, it seems that it needs to be big, mass-produced, and brand spanking new. Ernie Adams turns that sentiment on its head with his wildly popular "Dwarf Cars" - small racers and cruisers made from scrap. Growing up near a landfill in Harvard, Nebraska, Adams showed an early fascination with all things mechanical. Taking advantage of the vehicular Valhalla, he began to salvage scrap parts and turn them into motorized masterpieces. Most of the models are only about 46" high and are miniature replicas of American classics. Housed in a museum in Maricopa, Arizona, the wheeled wonders have spawned a whole sub-culture of builders.
When Ernie Adams was eleven years old he took on his first project – upgrading a bicycle with a motor and a dual exhaust system. After dropping motors into tricycles and wagons, he graduated to slightly larger machines. Showing a remarkable ability for fabrication at an early age, Adams took flat sheets of steel and transformed them into fenders, handles, and car frames. Crazy for customization, he built his own tools and loves to fabricate his cars pieces by piece.
Adams made his first two Dwarf Race Cars in 1979 and 1980. He was inspired to build the vehicles after he and his friend Daren Schmaltz attended motorcycle sidecar races in Phoenix. During the drive home, they discussed how the three-wheeled racers were slow to round the corners. By adding a fourth wheel, they figured that they could improve stability while also creating a new type of spectator appeal. The first models were fashioned after a ’33 Dodge coupe with a 73” wheelbase and a height of 46”. The cars were built completely from steel and they were light enough to be powered by motorcycle engines. The two finally hit the races in 1981 when they ran a couple of exhibition laps around a dirt go-cart track.
From race cars, Adams moved on to making replicas of old cruisers, such as his diminutive ’39 Chevy, and more whimsical creations like the ’29 Ford Hillbilly. There are currently seven Dwarf Cars housed in an Arizona museum, most of which can still be driven. While he no longer makes them, Adams hopes that between the efforts of his son and resourceful builders around the world, the dwarf car legacy will live on. As of 2009, 45 cars were registered for the Dwarf Car Races, showing that a lot of ingenuity and skill have the potential to create a movement that extends far from the seed of a simple idea.
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