1903 Baker Torpedo Kid replica owned by Robert Laravie
WHAT MAKES IT INTERESTING
More than a century before Tesla’s debut, Walter Baker was America’s largest producer of electric cars, putting them on both the streets and the racetracks. Known as “Bad Luck Baker” due to his penchant for speed and propensity for crashes, he managed to build three Torpedo aerodynamic race cars and two smaller Torpedo Kids to prove he could outrun his gasoline-powered competitors. His rides were said to be capable of over 100 miles an hour, but the crashes -- including one on Long Island – kept him out of the record books. “The Kid had a 24-volt system with a ¾-horsepower production car motor,” says Laravie. “The track was four feet, the wheelbase was six feet, six inches and the overall length was 12 feet. It had 28-inch diameter tires and weighed 650 lbs.”
HOW LONG HE’S OWNED IT
He started building his Torpedo Kid replica in 2013 and finished two years later.
WHERE HE FOUND IT
“I came across an article on the Baker race cars in the 1990s,” he says. “That really set the hook.”
“I decided the Torpedo was too ambitious and even trying to do the Kid with period-correct parts would take too much time,” says Laravie. “So I decided to go with a ‘modern interpretation.’” A Stony Brook University graduate engineering student helped him model a body of carbon fiber and epoxy resin instead of the original wood and canvas. “Once the body was done,” he adds, “it was a packaging problem to fit all the components within the body form. I had quite a bit of help from local fabricators around Long Island.” His Kid has modern sprint car components and uses a modern AC electric drive system with a 48-volt lithium battery pack.
TIPS FOR OWNERS
“If you are building one for yourself or even buying an already-built car, verify the ergonomics,” he advises. “I had some conflicts with the pedal cluster position relative to the steering wheel and my knees.”
Laravie estimates he’s invested about $19,500 in the car.
THE BOTTOM LINE
“I did not realize it when I was planning it or building it, but it makes a great sound at full chat -- not what I expected from an electric car,” he says. “It must be a combination of the electric motor and the chain drive all echoing around in the carbon fiber body. So far, with the body on and the current low gearing, I have had it up to 69 miles per hour. It seems to track pretty straight.”