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Did you know that Milwaukee’s Briggs & Stratton built a car?
Not only did it build a car, but it built an early gas/electric hybrid with six (!) wheels called, wait for it, the Hybrid.
I should point out that the Hybrid was not the first Briggs car. In 1919, the young company bought the rights from A.O. Smith to build the Smith Flyer, a no-nonsense, lightweight "cyclecar" that was recently on display at MSOE’s Grohmann Museum as part of the "Magnificent Machines of Milwaukee" exhibition.
The Hybrid, however, which is pretty sporty looking for its era, was designed by Brooks Stevens with help from his son Kip.
Jay Leno – a well-known car enthusiast – featured the vehicle in an episode of his TV series "Jay Leno’s Garage."
Not only did Leno get a shot at driving this car – a 1980, in the wake of the 1970s oil crisis – he took a deep dive under the hood and into the history along with Briggs engineer Craig Claerbout, who said the car hadn’t been out on the road since about 1988
The Hybrid program started in 1978 as a way for Briggs & Stevens to show Detroit that its smaller motors could be used in automobiles.
"They never had the intention of going into the automobile business," Claerbout told Leno. "What they did is they tried to show that cars can be made with smaller engines to try and get to our market, our size engines. Cruising on the highway you only need 14 to 20 horsepower to stay cruising and we have engines in that range. This answered that question of how are you going to get up to speed ... and maintain the gas engine at that speed."
Briggs & Stratton was founded in 1908 in Milwaukee by Stephen Foster Briggs and Harold M. Stratton and is today based on North 124th Street, just north of Burleigh, in Wauwatosa. These days it’s best known for its small engines that power many of our lawnmowers.
Claerbout told Leno that the car – with 4-speed manual transmission and 72 volts of power from six batteries – has front suspension and steering from a Ford Pinto, and doors, windshield, and dashboard from a Volkswagen Scirocco.
The bulk of the body was custom built to Stevens’ design.
So why were there six wheels?
Well, because it looks cool and unique, right?
The extra set of wheels in the back were there to provide another axle to support the additional weight of the batteries, said Claerbout.
You can watch the entire episode here:
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.