Is a three-wheeler a car, or a bike? It depends on who you ask.
Designs of three wheeled cars vary, some are similar to motorized tricycles, some are more van-like, there are also those which are unmotorized as such.
How do cars stay upright? Why don’t they just fall to one side? They have the plus point of lower production costs, fewer parts to buy and less time to assemble, though the chassis must surely cost more than a traditional chassis.
Due to the CanAm Spider, people think three wheeled cars are a comparatively recent invention, but they have a long history.
Historically, the big reason for a three wheeled vehicle is to avoid special taxes levied on cars. And that continued to be the case for many centuries, at least in the UK.
Early Three Wheeled Cars
The first three wheeled car was powered by steam. It was hard to manoeuvre and crashed into a wall; not surprising as the intricacies of driving were a mystery at this point. It did however have a poor distribution of weight.
Karl Benz invented the first motor car with three wheels but only 25 were sold between 1886 and 1893. It could be thought of an idea before its time.
Henry Morgan used a two-cylinder Peugeot engine and although he originally wished to manufacture a motorcycle he decided instead to turn it into a three wheeled car. It was first shown in Olympia in London during 1910.
There were a number of teething troubles, the public was looking for a vehicle which had more than one seat and Morgan had designed a one seat car. Unbowed, he went back to basics and produced a two-seater three wheeled car for 1911 which in turn was sold by Harrod’s department store.
The Bond Minicar and the BMW Isetta were produced just after the second world war. Most drivers preferred the Mini as a smaller vehicle but there was always a niche market of buyers. Isetta is a bubble car company originating in Italy but other countries such as Argentina, France and UK built it under license. The company originally manufactured refrigerators.
The Campaigna T-Rex is a sleek Canadian car powered by a BMW engine. It first hit the market in 1996. Its balance is maintained by having two strong wheels in front. It produces 160hp, not bad for such a small vehicle.
The story of the Reliant Robin originated in the work of a bicycle company (Raleigh). The design of the car was created by Ogle Design, a famous car and transport design consultancy company which also created Triumph motorcycles and Chopper bikes. Although the company was founded in 1935 it didn’t produce a car until 1952. The last three wheeled car was produced in December 2011.
Next, we have the Polaris Slingshot which uses a four cylinder engine sourced by General Motors. This one has 173 horsepower, the first model unveiled in 2014. Should you wish to open it up it is helpful to know that it has a 5-speed manual transmission. It is marketed as a three wheeled motorcycle, rather than a car.
It does seem somewhat of a shame that three wheeled vehicles haven’t yet passed into the mainstream despite the many fans of these vehicles.