The Comeback and Rise of the 3 Wheel Car
Cars (not the 3 Wheel Car in particular) – the subject of countless TV shows, midlife crises and an obsession for society at large. From the time little children vroom their new toy car on the carpet, we have a set idea of what a car looks like.
We think of them, naturally, as having four wheels or two wheels when we think of the other most popular motor vehicle, the motorcycle. But what about something in-between?
The 3-wheeled car, most people would be surprised to find out, has been around since the invention of cars – the first car, in fact, was a three-wheeler!
The three-wheeler is back in a big way and is becoming what many are referring to as the “car of the future,” with the release of new models by ”Polaris” and “Campagna” already hitting the roads, with new pioneering three-wheelers in the works. But what exactly is behind this new found love for the three-wheeled car and how did it come about?
Why a 3 Wheel Car?
The reason three wheels as a choice in car build has been so popular throughout history is the countless advantages it offers.
The 3 wheel car is the perfect combination of a motorcycle and a car, offering both the advantages and also the disadvantages of both.
It has the lightweight agility of a motorcycle, but the feel and protection of a car. Under most jurisdictions, a 3 wheel car is also classified as a motorcycle and drivers only need a valid motorcycle licence to be able to drive it. Unlike a motorcycle, however, the driver isn’t required to wear a helmet (in most cases).
In the US, three-wheelers don’t have to meet approved emission requirements and don’t need to undergo crash testing. In the UK, tax and insurance costs are much lower for three-wheelers than for their traditional four-wheel counterparts.
The obvious disadvantage of the 3 wheel car is that, though it might look like a four-wheel car, it doesn’t pack the same punch and cannot reach the same speeds as that of a normal car with most models fitted with a standard motorcycle engine. The construction of the three-wheeler also makes it less stable and safe than a four-wheeler.
How is a Three-Wheels Car Constructed?
The 3 wheel car is built in either one of the following ways:
- Delta – one wheel in the front, two in the back.
- Tadpole (or reverse trike) – two wheels in the front, one in the back.
Both present their advantages and disadvantages.
1. Delta Build 3 Wheeler
The delta build has one wheel in the front and two in the back, much like a tricycle. The first car ever built was a delta along with countless other models after it.
The delta build has the advantage of having a less expensive and easier steering mechanism: if the wheel turns, the front tire turns. It is, however, ultimately the more unstable of the two, as the centre of gravity and weight distribution is uneven, making braking and driving around corners hazardous and likely to cause the car to tip over (in a motorcycle, leaning in with the curve solves this problem.)
One has to look no further than the famous “Top Gear” review of the delta-build “Reliable Robin” vehicle to see the shortcomings of the delta. It shows the dainty 3 wheel car tipping over on its side every time the driver goes around a corner.
2. Tadpole 3 Wheel Cars Build
The tadpole build is the more stable build of the two, with two wheels in the front and one in the back. The centre of gravity is more equally distributed with the ideal build having the engine at the back.
The tadpole is more aerodynamic, as it fits in perfectly with the traditional “teardrop” outline, which is the perfect ratio of length to width. This means it’s much more stable when going around corners, braking and is much more reliable – it is also the build of choice for a modern-day 3 wheel car.
The disadvantage this build initially presented was finding a way of getting the steering mechanism to correspond well with the two front wheels.
The Rise of Popularity
One of the most appealing parts of the car is that it is much more fuel efficient than four-wheelers, which is why throughout history, the popularity of three-wheelers has always surged and coincided with oil crises and price hikes. The first three-wheeler was also the first mass-produced car, the “Benz Motorwagen,” created by Karl Benz in 1885 and the design only flourished after.
The popularity of the design continued throughout the 19th century and culminated with the revelation of the “Morgan” two-seat “V-twin” three-wheeler, the most popular three-wheeler before World War Two. After the war, middle-class buyers throughout Europe were looking to buy fuel efficient cars due to the high petrol prices and car manufacturers were looking to build cost-effective cars, due to the scarcity of materials.
So in the 1950’s we saw the emergence of “bubble cars,” dome-shaped three-wheelers, the most famous of which was the Italian-designed tadpole, “Iso Isetta.” The Isetta went on to become the most popular and widely-distributed three-wheeler of its era, with Benz alone building more that 11,600 between1950 and 1960.
The next surge of popularity for the three-wheeler happened in the 1970’s during the oil crisis in England. 1973 saw the release of possibly the most recognisable delta build, the “Reliable Robin.” The car stood precariously balanced on one tyre at the front and was able to go at 85mph. It was popular amongst miners of the time, who were able to drive it without a motorcycle licence, and found it offered more protection during bad weather than a motorcycle (they claimed it was able to drive through snow effortlessly).
The Modern-Day Comeback
The year 2012 saw the comeback of the famed 3 wheel car, with British car manufacturer “Morgan” relaunching its famous V-twin in the U.S. The car is so popular, in fact, it has sold more units than any other Morgan car in the U.S. The V-twin’s popularity sparked interest from various leading car designers to follow suit and design their own three-wheelers.
In today’s era, creating sustainable, “green” motors is seen as essential in the car manufacturing industry and the three-wheeler presents the perfect niche in which to explore sustainability in automobiles. Here are a few companies pioneering the modern-day three wheeler:
1. Elio Motors
Founded as a start-up in 2008 Elio motors was able to finance its revolutionary 3 wheel car project by crowdfunding on “startengine.com.” Having raised well over $70million, Elio has released a prototype of its three-wheeled vision, with hopes for it to hit the market as early as 2016. (Highly unlikely as the launch date has been stalled numerous times). Elio plans to sell it for $6,800, which will make it the cheapest car in the U.S.
The Elio motor is the same length as a normal car but half the width- it has two seats, with passengers sitting in tandem. The tiny motor-vehicle runs on a fuel-efficient gas system that can go for 84 miles on one gallon. This is one of the main motivations behind building the Elio car: making a car available to the American people that has them saving thousands on fluctuating gas prices.
The car is powered by a three cylinder, 1.0 litre, 70hp engine and can go over 100miles an hour. Though small in stature, it offers all the comforts and safety features of a normal four-wheel car like air conditioning, defroster and three airbags. It has no rearview mirror though and no power-steering. The production of the car will take place in an old General Motor factory and will create over 1,500 jobs, according to its founder Paul Elio. T
he Elio car will be manufactured solely in the U.S. and 95% of its parts will be American-made. Already the car has over $30 million in pre-orders, making it one of the most anticipated car releases in recent times.
2. Polaris Industries – The Slingshot
The “Slingshot,” around since 2014, is a three-wheeled “roadster” car produced by Polaris industries, famed for making snowmobiles and other all-terrain vehicles since the 1950’s.
The Slingshot comes in three models: Slingshot , Slingshot SL and the Slingshot SLE. It costs anything from $21,499 for the base model, to $26,999 for the more advanced one.
The car, powered by a 2.4l, eco-tech 4 cylinder engine is roofless, doorless, has no airbags, heater or impact protection.It is officially classified as a motorcycle and therefore requires the use of a helmet in most states in the U.S. It has the look and feel of a sports car, but does nowhere near the same speeds.
The appeal in the Slingshot, therefore does not lie in its technical ability, but in how it’s used. It’s just a really cool car, intended to look good. Made for free-spirited, road trippers keen on feeling the open wind through their hair as they cruise through endless long roads, everything about the 3 wheel car is catered towards taking in the sights and feeling part of the road and journey (with no windows, you’ll definitely be aware of nature in all its highs and lows.)
3. Campagna Motors – T-rex
The Campagna Motors is a Canadian company which is based in Montreal and has had a hand in creating three-wheelers since 1988. It famed for its two three-wheeled models, the Campagna T-rex and the Campagna V13R. In fact it’s due to release its 20th anniversary edition.
The more famous and revered of the two is the Campagna T-Rex, which has been produced since 1995 and presently is available in two models: the T-Rex S and the T-Rex SP. The T-Rex has been praised as the 3 wheel car with the best integration of both motorcycle and car. It can go just as fast as a motorcycle (0-60mph in 4 seconds) with its 6-cylinder, 160hp engine. Due to its suspension, weight (it weighs just over 1100 pounds) and low centre of gravity, the T-Rex can pull around 1.3G lateral acceleration on a curve; so it goes fast… it goes VERY fast.
Despite the high speeds, the T-Rex has passed numerous safety tests, is kitted out with a 3-point seatbelt and has a roll cage, which protects the driver upon impact. The vehicle is registered as a motorcycle but under Californian law, can still be driven without a helmet. It is equipped to drive in three different modes and adjusts accordingly: Road, Rain and Dynamic.
The engine in the latest model is powered by BMW. The car is comprised of two seats next to each other that are waterproof. It is doorless, roofless (save for a small overhang) has a small wind deflector and requires the removal of the steering wheel to get into the car.
Though minimalistic, the car is still equipped with all the comforts modern drivers have become used to. It has a computer system integrated into its dashboard, which is Bluetooth compatible, has a satellite radio and uses USB ports.
It has the speed and thrill of a motorcycle and the comforts and safety of a car. It can be all yours for $62,000.
Cars of the Future
Three-wheeled cars are said to be the cars of the future, as they will be much more ergonomical and economical than most four-wheeled cars currently on the market, taking up less space in an increasingly more crowded world.
The three-wheeler’s ability to encourage sustainability is perhaps one of their most attractive qualities as it will not only impact drivers who will have to fork out less money for gas, but the environment too, which will have to deal with fewer harmful emission gases. With rising global temperatures and shrinking ice caps, “going green” especially in the realm of transport should be a priority to car manufacturers.
With upcoming cars like the Elio three-wheeler set to hit the market soon, it will open up a whole new way of thinking about transport. It will encourage the building of cost-effective motors which could ease the plight of many who have previously been priced out of buying a car.
It’s not only the car of the future, but the car for everyone and it’s already here, so expect to see more 3-wheel cars on the streets this summer.
Over to you. Do you own a 3-wheeler? Would you like one? Let us know in the comments below!