Added to museum: 1/27/14
Miniature hotrod builder Ernie Adams. (Click on photo to view a larger image.)
By Craig Libuse
The Craftsmanship Museum features wood and metal craftsmanship in miniature. “Miniature” means simply “smaller than the original.” Ernie Adams prefers to scale down his projects to a smaller than normal size while still keeping them large enough to be fully operational. The illusion is particularly apparent when the miniature is parked next to a full-sized version. Like the ½ scale construction equipment made by Fred Heim, these 5/8 scale models push the limits of what we call “miniature” but still have the appeal that smaller than normal projects have for just about everyone. Some may ask, “Why not just build it full size if you are going to that much effort?” The answer is, “Who needs just another 1934 Ford Sedan?” Ford built plenty of them, but how many scaled down versions have you seen driving around? Also, the additional challenge of making everything work at a smaller size brings with it an additional level of challenge to the craftsman. The point is, everyone who sees these cars goes, “Cool!” and that’s what it’s all about.
In the world of short track racing, both “Dwarf” and “Legends” classes are popular events at short tracks around the country. Featured are small cars that look like 1930’s jalopies powered by motorcycle engines. They are fast, economical to race and exciting to watch. The first small racers were called “Dwarf Cars” and were invented by Ernie Adams of Maricopa, AZ. Later, a similar class utilizing different engines and fiberglass bodied called “Legends” cars were introduced. Although now both classes of cars are still raced, they both owe their start to a project by Ernie and his friend Daren.
Ernie takes a victory lap in his Ford Stock Car. A later model car of Ernie's shows off another season of trophies. (Click on either photo to view a larger image.)
Ernie was an experienced race car driver, having been champion of the Late Model Stockcar Division for 1971 at Whitehead Speedway in Nebraska City, Iowa. In fact, Ernie won every heat race, every trophy dash and every main event he drove that year.
In 1979, he and friend Daren Schmaltz were returning from a sidecar motorcycle race in Phoenix. On the ride home they considered the idea that a small 4-wheel racer would have higher cornering speeds and be more fun to watch on a small dirt track than the three-wheelers. Soon they set about building two small cars. Within a month the cars were well under way. Ernie’s first car was patterned after a 1934 Ford coupe and Daren built one that looked like a 1933 Dodge coupe. Both had a 73" wheelbase and 46" height. They were of all steel construction with Ernie’s powered by a 2-cylinder Honda 350cc engine and Daren’s powered by a Kawasaki 350 cc 3-cylinder engine.
Daren and Ernie contemplate two of their first Dwarf Car racers. (Click photo to enlarge.)
When they built the cars there were no official plans to race them other than for fun. The dwarf car was also not his first try at building a small car. In 1965 he had built a small cruiser based on a 1928 Chevy 2-door sedan powered by a 13 hp Onan 2-cylinder engine using metal panels from old refrigerators.
People in the Phoenix area started seeing the two dwarf racecars being hauled around the area on trailers for testing and started asking where they could see them race. Enough interest was generated that that first race was held in March, 1981 when Ernie and Daren ran a few exhibition hot laps on a 1/8 mile dirt go-cart track called Arrowhead Speedway in Phoenix. It was so popular that more cars were produced and a class for them started.
The first official race was held along with a demolition derby at the Yavapai County Fair in September, 1983. Ten cars out of Phoenix and one from Prescott, AZ raced that day. Ernie won the first heat, Daren won the second heat, Allen Neff won the consolation race and Bob Rowe won both the trophy dash and the main event. This was the start of Dwarf car racing which continued to grow with a number of manufacturers entering the scene.
The first official Dwarf Car race in 1983 had ten entries.
The early “Legends” series cars were built off Ernie’s jigs for the Dwarf Car racers but with fenders added. In 1992, Humpy Wheeler (President and GM of Charlotte Motor Speedway) and race car driver Elliott Forbes-Robinson designed a fiberglass version, still using the original 5/8 scale specs of a 73" wheelbase, 60" width and 46" height. The fiberglass bodies were easier to repair and allowed the use of fenders over the wheels, while the all-steel Dwarf cars still run with open wheels.
Ernie’s 1942 Ford Dwarf Car was used as the official pace car for the last Dwarf Car event held at Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix, which closed in April of 2009 after 58 years of racing. Forty-five Dwarf Cars registered for the last race. The pace car was driven by Daren Schmaltz along with co-founder of the original Dwarf Car Company John Cain.
Ernie's first miniature car was "Grandpa Dwarf". Behind it is the later "Hillbilly" Model A he also built. (Click photo to enlarge.)
Miniature Cars for the Street and the “Grandpa Dwarf”
The first Dwarf Cruiser preceded the racers and was built 1965 from materials Ernie had been collecting for several years. The miniature replica of a 1928 Chevy 2-door sedan was built using a homemade hacksaw, a hammer and a chisel and was powered by an 18 hp Wisconsin motor. Not having a torch, Ernie learned to fold the edges of the metal body panels and fuse it with an arc welder. Not yet being able to form compound bends, he used the natural bends from the panels of early refrigerators. This first car was called “Grandpa Dwarf.” In the late 1970’s Ernie replaced the original solid rubber tires with pneumatic tires, added a top and changed the original powerplant to a 13 hp Onan motor.
The “Grandpa Dwarf” weighs about 900 lb and features bucket seats, cloth interior, operational windows and a vinyl top. It is 9' long, 53" high and has a 73" wheelbase. It is still driven today.
(Click to enlarge photo.)
In the following years, Ernie’s experience in building Dwarf Racecars taught him a lot about shaping metal. His next challenge was to build a street legal cruiser. He remembered a 1939 Chevy cruiser from his home town of Harvard, Nebraska and decided to build a miniature version of that car, moon hubcaps, fender skirts and venetian blinds and all.
His tools now included a torch and wire feed welder plus some benders and a bead roller that he had built himself. He started with photos of the full-sized Chevrolet 2-door sedan taken from all angles. Measurements were scaled from the photos. The undercarriage used components from a 1972 Toyota he had found abandoned in an alley that he obtained for free. Starting in 1990 he spent 2-1/2 years from start to finish, keeping the 12" Toyota wheels and stock drivetrain. The car weighs a solid 1770 pounds and can cruise at highway speeds. Not just a showpiece, it has been on the road for 15 years and has clocked over 54,000 miles. The fuel bills are miniature too…it gets 35 miles to the gallon.
(Click to enlarge photo.)
Having enjoyed building the Chevy, Ernie decided after to build another of his favorite cars, a 1942 Ford convertible like the one he had seen in the 1957 movie “April Love.” He especially liked the shape of the ’42 grill and convertible body style compared to the later ’46-‘48 models.
Starting construction in 1992 he used 1 x 2 rectangular tubing for the custom frame and 20-gauge sheet steel for the body panels. Again, he used a motor and drivetrain for a Toyota Corolla as well as the steering, tie rods and wiring. Suspension is a straight front axle and a transverse leaf spring in the rear. The hydraulic top mechanism is fully operational. It took seven years to construct the ’42, finishing in 1999. It is officially registered as a “1999 Home made car.” In 2003 Ernie drove it from Maricopa, AZ to Wauconda, Illinois for the Mid-Americruise. He then drove to Lincoln, Nebraska and back to Arizona, making several stops on the way. The car has received the “Editor’s Choice” award from Rod and Custom Magazine.
The car features bucket seats, cloth interior, heater, defroster, stereo and clock. It runs on an 80" wheelbase, is 11-1/2' long, 50" wide and 46" high.
(Click to enlarge photo.)
Years ago, Ernie met a man from Iowa who had a hillbilly car that he thought was really interesting. Later, in Casa Grande, AZ he met a man named Zeke from Missouri who had two Model A hillbilly cars. He liked the cars enough to start thinking about building a small version. He already had most of the materials on hand so he began building, finishing the car only 3 months later, adding a few antiques he had on hand. The car originally had a 2-cylinder Onan motor out of a mail cart but Ernie eventually replaced it with a 1932 American Austin motor that looks a lot like a Model A motor. It is a water cooled 4-cylinder and puts out 13 hp. The “paint job” was achieved by taking the shiny steel car outside and hosing it down until a nice, authentic rust finished had formed after about a week.
Ernie hand made a set of 12" spoke wheels and added a vinyl top. The side windows are operational as is the fold-out windshield. The dash looks like the original and burlap was used for seat covering. It also has a suitcase trunk and tri-tone horns. It even has a miniature pot-belly heating stove and authentic moonshine still in the back. As word got around about the car, people started donating antiques of their own to be added to the car. Adding them remains an on-going project as the car evolves.
(Click to enlarge photo.)
James Dean’s movie Rebel Without a Cause made the 1949 Mercury an American favorite and one of Ernie’s too. He particularly liked the front grill, 3-piece rear window and classy dash. Liking it better than the later ’50 and ’51 models, he started construction on the dwarf Merc in September, 2004. The challenging shape of this car’s more rounded, flowing bodywork challenged Ernie’s metalworking skills more than the previous cars. Building on what he had learned before he was able to form these more difficult shapes.
The wheels feature baby Moon hubcaps with beauty rings. The body has fender skirts, twin spotlights, front disc brakes, roll-up windows and a bench seat. In hotrod terms, the car is “nose and decked” with a Fulton-style sun visor and Lakes pipes. It is based on a 1290 cc Toyota motor and drivetrain. It is painted Caribbean Turquoise and is named “Rebel Rouser” after the Duane Eddie guitar hit from the late 1950’s.
(Click to enlarge photo.)
The car in which the famous outlaws Bonnie and Clyde met their final fate was a stolen 1934 Ford 2-door sedan. On May 21, 1934 the car was riddled with 130 bullet holes. Ernie’s dwarf version of the car doesn’t duplicate the bullet holes, but the rusting body looks like it belongs on a car that has been stored away in a barn for the past 70 years. However, the chrome parts shine like new to provide a nice contrast to the rusty finish. Ernie has always felt the ’34 Ford sedan has one of the most beautiful bodies of any car. He particularly likes the “suicide” doors and shape and pattern of the grill.
Regarding the car’s finish, Ernie tells the story of the reason he built the Dwarf '34 Ford. "I met a man in Lincoln, Nebraska at the Mid-Americruise car show. He had a '34 Ford 2 door sedan. It was total rust, nice motor, and it just looked good that way," said Ernie. He stopped the man and said to him, "I hope you don't finish this car." The man gave a smile and replied, "It is finished." Ernie added, "The car was beautiful that way."
Ernie’s car features one chrome horn on each front fender and a “Flying Lady” hood ornament from a 1935 Auburn. A roll-out windshield provides plenty of ventilation and the rusted spoke wheels match the rest of the body. It is powered by a 4KE Toyota with 5-speed transmission. It is all steel and street legal. It has hand-cranked roll-up windows, bench seat, louvered fold-up hood and hand-made wheels with V8 hubcaps.
Ernie and cat kick back in the shop. (Click on photo to view a larger image.)
Due to the popularity of the miniature cars, Ernie and his son Kevin have started a museum that features the Dwarf Cars in Maricopa, Arizona. You can find information and a map on the museum’s web site at http://www.dwarfcarmuseum.com/. In addition to the miniature cars and memorabilia, there is a store where visitors can purchase t-shirts and DVD’s.
Click on the links below to see more about how the cars in action and under construction:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ww6rDfGeJZI, professionally produced promo, 6 min, 10 sec
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fYprwMmaaM , interview with Ernie and Kevin, 4 min, 36 sec
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kia_vh9GYG8, driving the blue Merc, 3 min, 17 sec
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFT9g2ROKjQ, by Dwarf Car Productions, 1 min, 35 sec
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmPVKQeZSDc, video slide show, 7 min, 4 sec
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8F7IWk7FJh0, Ernie’s garage, 2 min, 17 sec
To see many videos of actual Dwarf and Legends Car racing on www.YouTube.com , go to that site and search for “Dwarf Car Racing” and/or “Legends Car Racing.”
(Click any photo to view a larger image.)
Ernie as a youth. Photos 2, 3 and 4 show a young "Eily" (Ernie's middle name) with his first convertible. Photo 5 shows Ernie and his wife Sheila. the group photo shows Ernie at work at his job and the final shot shows him collecting another checkered flag at the track from the trophy girl. For many years he went by his middle name "Eily," and some family members and old friends still call him by that name.
5/8 Scale Dwarf Car Racers
|Ernie with some of the early Dwarf Car racers. The first ones were named after Snow White's seven dwarfs. 33 is "Doc" and 34 is "Grumpy."|
|Ernie is seated in the 34 Dwarf Car. He also poses in an earlier photo of the 24 car, called "Big Bad Wolf." The third photo shows Big Bad Wolf in a controlled slide on the race track. These cars have plenty of power for their weight and provide a thrilling ride for the drivers and a fun race to watch for the spectators. Compared to most other classes they are also quite economical to race.|
|This advertisement from Sherline Products shows an alignment system designed specifically for Dwarf and Legend's Race Cars. Though small, they are sturdy, well-designed and easy to maintain. They are an excellent class for anyone thinking about getting into racing.|
Dwarf Car Cruisers
Because this is the first Dwarf Car ever built, it is known as “Grandpa Dwarf.” Originally this car was designed as a Touring Car with solid rubber tires. Ernie built this first Dwarf Car Cruiser in 1965. He used steel panels he acquired from old refrigerators. It was originally powered by a 13hp Onan 2 cylinder motor.
Photos show early stages of Ernie's first small car show the metal refrigerator panels being shaped to become the bodywork.
In the later 70’s Ernie updated the car by adding the top, 12-inch pneumatic tires and a 2-cylinder 13 hp Onan motor. The car weighs around 900 lbs and has features such as bucket seats, cloth interior, operational windows and a vinyl top. It is 9ft long, 53 inches high and has a 73 inch wheelbase. This first Dwarf Car is kept in running order and is still driven today.
|1939 Chevrolet Sedan|
Heater, Defroster, Windshield Wipers, Cowl Air Vent, Glove Box, Key Locks, Dome Light, Horn, Full Instrument Dash Panel, Fold Down Sun Visors, Inside and Outside Rearview Mirrors, Cigar Lighter and Three Ash Trays, Adjustable Sealed Beam Head Lights, Spare Tire With Jack and Wheel Wrench located in trunk and a complete parts book including wiring diagrams using Toyota color code.
The more cars he built, the more Ernie had learned a lot about bending and shaping metal. He knew it was time to get away from flat panels and simple curves and put his metal shaping skills to the test. Now he wanted a fully dressed Dwarf Car with fenders, chrome, finished interior. It also had to be street legal.
Ernie remembered a '39 Chevy Saturday night cruiser in his hometown of Harvard, Nebraska. The car was dressed with moon hubcaps, fender skirts and venetian blinds in the rear window. He decided to build himself a Dwarf replica of this car.
Ernie’s only fabricating tools were a torch and a wire feed welder. He put together a few homemade benders along with a bead roller that he used for putting the print in the body.
Ernie started with photos taken from a full-sized '39 Chevy 2 door sedan. He took pictures of the front, rear, both sides and everything in between. All measurements needed were taken off these pictures. The drive train from a Toyota was used. The 3KC engine has an 1166cc displacement.
Ernie began construction in 1990. He spent two and a half years from start to finish. This car is a solid 1770 lbs. and will cruise at highway speeds with ease.
|1942 Ford Deluxe Convertible|
Ernie and his wife Sheila pose with the convertible.
Ernie began construction in 1992, using 1x2 rectangular tubing for the frame and 20-gauge sheet steel for the body. He used the same motor and drive train from a Toyota Corolla that he had used for his ’39 Chevy Dwarf. From the Corolla, he also used the steering, tie rods and electric wiring.
Like the original 42 Ford, Ernie’s 42 Dwarf has a straight axle with front and rear suspension using a transverse leaf spring. He also fabricated a hydraulic convertible top that is fully operational. Ernie spent seven years constructing his “42.” He finished up in 1999 and registered the car as Street Legal, "1999 Home Made."
This car has many features, such as bucket seats, cloth interior, heater, defroster, stereo and clock. Ernie used an 80 inch wheelbase. The car is 11 ½ feet long, 50 inches wide and 46 inches high.
Note the builder's plate on the door...
1929 "Hillbilly" Model A Ford
Ernie saw a couple of beat up Model A Fords with family belongings strapped on and clever sayings painted on the side. They were like ones often seen bringing families west after the Oklahoma Dust Bowl or the equivalent of a "Rat Rod" or "Rat Bike" motorcycle. The more stuff you add, the more personality it has. These cars tell a whole story. He liked the cars he saw and decided to build a small version.
It took Ernie only three months to build this car and place a few antiques he had acquired on it. Instead of a paint job, he simply wheeled the car and let it rust.
Ernie originally used a 2-cylinder Onan motor taken from a three-wheeled mail cart. A few years later he was able to get his hands on a 1932 American Austin motor, which looks a lot like the Model A motor. This motor is water-cooled, 4 cylinder and 13 HP. The car's top speed is 35 mph.
Ernie hand-made a set of 12-inch spoke wheels for his car and added a vinyl top. He made the side windows operational with a roll out windshield. The dash is original looking and has burlap material for seat covering. The car has a suitcase trunk and three different sounding horns. He even added a real miniature pop belly heating stove in the back seat and an authentic moonshine still around back.
This driving museum continues to evolve as friends and neighbors contribute more antiques to be added to the car.
|1949 Mercury "Rebel rouser"|
The '49 Mercury is an all time American favorite, made popular by James Dean’s movie, “Rebel Without A Cause.” It's one of Ernie’s favorites too. He loved the new full-bodied styles of the ’49 and early 50’s Mercs.
Ernie began construction on the Mercury Dwarf in September 2004. This car challenged his fabricating skills more so than the ‘39 Chevy and ’42 Ford Dwarfs. Ernie learned more and more about shaping steel with each car he built. The car is all hand-crafted and is as solid as the real thing.
Just as the ’39 Chevy and ’42 Ford Dwarfs, the Mercury has many attractive features such as baby moon hubcaps with beauty rings, fender skirts, two spotlights, front disc brakes, roll up windows and a bench seat. This car is “Nose-and-Decked,” sporting a Fulton-style sun visor and Lakes pipes. Ernie used a 1290cc Toyota motor with a Toyota drive train.
This low riding ’49 Dwarf goes by the name “Rebel Rouser,” taken from Duane Eddie’s popular guitar instrumental in the 1950's. Caribbean Turquoise is the color of choice. Note the details on the dash and the small custom steering wheel.
|Construction: Ernie is seen here putting on some of the finishing touches. In the final shot the turquoise paint job has just been applied.|
|1934 Ford 2-door Sedan "Bonnie"|
|The Bonnie & Clyde "Death Car" was a stolen 1934 Ford 4-door sedan, riddled with 130 rounds of bullet holes which took the lives of Bonnie & Clyde on May 21, 1934. Ernie's version is also a 1934 but it is a 2-door sedan minus the bullet holes. The rusted antique finish implies a car that has sat out in the weather for many decades, but the shiny chrome parts show it has been well cared for. Unlike Bonnie and Clyde, it represents a well preserved survivor, showing its age but proud of it.|
|Construction photos||Ernie has always been fond of the '34 Ford sedans. "I think the '34 has one of the most beautiful bodies of any car," he comments. Ernie likes the look of the suicide doors and the overall shape of the louvered pattern in the hood. One chrome horn rests upon each front fender below the headlights like jewelry along the sides of the long slanted grill. The hood ornament is a 1935 Auburn flying lady. The rollout windshield allows for nice airflow threw the car. "The rusted spoke wheels match the overall looks of the body more than any fancy wheels would," said Ernie. The engine is a 4KE Toyota w/5 speed transmission. Like all of Ernie's Dwarf Cars this one is completely hand made of steel and is street legal.|
|These photos show how Ernie's
metalworking craftsmanship has improved over the years, going from
simple flat panels to the development of flowing, complicated compound
curves in metal.
Shown here is a preview of Ernie's next project—a 1940 Mercury Coupe.
|The whole collection of dwarf cruisers can be seen in person at Ernie's Dwarf Car Museum in Maricopa, Arizona.|
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