Master tinkerer Ernie Adams had always wanted a race car. But who has money for a race car?
Moreover, living in a little trailer park in Harvard, Nebraska, at the time, he had no room to park one.
So, Adams, who has worked in a garage since age 16, satisfied his longing by building his very own antique dwarf car.
Over the years, his hobby would snowball massively. Now 82 and retired, Adams has an entire fleet comprised of some 15 antique dwarf cars—including several race cars—all made by his hand.
No stranger to tinkering in the shop, growing up, Adams lived just a quarter mile from the city dump, which fed his hobby. “That city dump was like a free department store for me,” he told The Epoch Times.
“At that time, they were taking gas washing machine motors off and putting electric on, and they’d throw the old motors in the dump.”
There were old bicycle and wagon parts, too, and he started deconstructing and reconstructing them and then selling his fully-functioning contraptions.
“I didn’t realize I was learning my trade back then,” he said, adding that his learning to build his own vehicles in those days came easy, because “time meant nothing, and there was no money involved.”
His motivation for building dwarf cars was fueled by watching old side-hack races, which dissatisfied him because the drivers had to slow down around corners. He would think to himself, “Put four wheels on it and a small car body and slide them corners!”
Thus, the young Adams started formulating an idea.
He recalled an old refrigerator laying in the weeds by the train tracks near his childhood house, and a miniature car popped into his mind. “I wanted an antique car and couldn’t afford one, didn’t have room for one. I picked up some refrigerators and built one,” he said.
“I saw it in my mind, you know?”
It was to be Adam’s very first dwarf car—though it wouldn’t be the last.
He didn’t follow any design specifications or particular model for the first one, but said it looks “more like a ’28 Chevy than anything else” and also that it “looked pretty decent.” He’s still got that old ’28 Chevy dwarf car today.
But Adams wasn’t satisfied with just one car; from the get-go, he had had a race car in mind.
So it was that throughout the 1980s, he pretty much sparked the whole “dwarf race car craze,” which spread nationwide, and he started making others’ miniature race car dreams come true, too.
“People started wanting them,” he said. “People started seeing them, and they were cheap. And I was helping people build them for nothing for my labor.”
“It was just a fun hobby for me.”
Adams became handy at making scaled-down versions of larger cars, imitating them to a tee. He learned to bend metal and weld; he crafted interior items, such as steering wheels and knobs on the dashboard; he even built his own tools, including his own bead roller and English wheel.
“I couldn’t afford to buy [those tools], and I just sat down and made them,” he said. “I made a better bead roller than I could have bought.”
Besides cars for the racetrack, the mechanical maverick created dwarf models that are street-legal. Those include a ’39 Chevy 2-door, a ’29 Ford Hillbilly 2-door sedan, a ’40 Mercury coupe chopped top, a ’54 Chevy 2-door Bel Air, and a ’32 Ford 3-window coupe.
But perhaps the most impressive of Adams’s fleet is his prized ’49 Mercury. “It was a well-sought-after car,” he said. “Even now people pay big money for a ’49 Mercury.”
He added that he wouldn’t sell it for any amount of money.
“No, it’s not for sale,” he said.
“That car is just exactly like the real car, inside and out—the bumpers, everything. It’s like the original: the steering wheel, the emblem on the horn button, the window cranks. All the gauges look exactly like the original—the glove box, radio, heater.”
All of these he crafted with his own two hands and homemade tools.
“The only thing different about the dash is it’s got a CD player instead of a radio,” he said. “It’s a beautiful automobile.”
The mechanic’s dwarf cars can easily handle the highway, zooming at speeds up to 100 miles per hour, while traveling as far as 200 or 300 miles on a tank of gas. They run on Honda motors installed by Adams.
Sure, it’s cozy but not uncomfortable, as Adams drops the floors down low to provide legroom aplenty.
Plus, they’re street legal; Adams, now living in Maricopa, contacted Arizona authorities and had them registered as “homemade” vehicles—as one would register a homemade trailer.
Having participated in dozens upon dozens of antique car competitions across the state and beyond, Adams boasts a wall full of trophies.
“Here’s one that’s five feet tall,” he said, pointing to one from a church car show, awarded for People’s Choice.
If Adams had to choose a favorite from among his antique beauties, it would be his ’34 Ford 2-door sedan, which he never painted but chose to let rust, thus bearing raw steel for all to see.
There are many who consider it their favorite as well.
His pride and joy features all the original levers and styling. Its door handles, dash, and everything else are just like the original.
Adams’s showroom eventually became so busy with visitors, he decided to have it registered as a legitimate museum, the Dwarf Car Museum, located 17 miles southwest of Maricopa.
“People come in here and look, and they said, ‘Oh, this is just like a museum,’” Adams told the newspaper. “So we had it legally registered as a museum in 2009.
“I think there’s probably been twenty here this morning already—or thirty?”