Top 10 Three-Wheelers
We weigh up the ultimate niche vehicle – the sporting trike – and pick ten of the most memorable
During the early 1950s, Berkeley of Biggleswade was Britain’s leading caravan manufacturer, pioneering the use of glassfibre in its construction. The caravan market tended to be largely seasonal so company principal, Charles Panter, began making small-displacement sports cars designed by maverick engineer Lawrie Bond.
Arguably the most memorable of these was the T60 three-wheeler, which was an instant hit when launched in April 1959. Only ever offered with the 328cc Excelsior engine, a top speed of 60mph was possible, as were levels of handling that embarrassed most contemporary four-wheel sports cars.
AutoFact: Bond also made and designed a front-wheel drive Formula Junior racing car.
Bill Badsey was another car builder who earned plenty of ink in the specialist press during the late 1970s and early ’80s, and not just in the UK. He created his first kit, the mid-engined Badsey Eagle in the late 1970s, but it remained unique. He then followed through with the remarkable Bullet – a 1074cc Suzuki-engined trike which featured a distinctive lift-up canopy. He moved to the USA in 1982 in order to build it in series, but the project stalled due to a lack of finance. British VW specialist and kit builder UVA acted as his UK concessionaire.
AutoFact: Badsey later built another trike dubbed Fun Machine.
There has never been a shortage of Mini-based three-wheelers, but the first of the breed also resembled the donor car – sort of. The ABC Trimini (later Tricar) was conceived by Bill Powell and Ken Heather of Auto Body Craft. The entire Mini front end was retained, but the rest was removed save for the floorplan, which was reinforced. A supplementary frame was then added onto which the glassfibre rear end was bonded. Later cars had all-glassfibre bodywork, complete with a one-piece flip-forward front bonnet/wings combo. As many as 25 were made from 1968-73.
AutoFact: A similar machine, the Mini Mouse, was made near concurrently.
The wild and whacky Bug was the brainchild of Czech-born Ogle Design chief Tom Karen. This likable artiste had been responsible for a string of Reliant designs and had long wanted to produce a fun car for the company. Reliant’s take-over of former rival Bond provided the necessary impetus. The car’s signature feature was a one-piece canopy, which tilted forward to allow access to its funky interior. The occupants sat in steeply raked seats with the 701cc Reliant four-banger sitting between their knees. Available in either basic entry-level 700E or more luxurious ES forms, 2270 were made to 1974.
AutoFact: The Bug resurfaced in the 1990s under the WMC banner. It had gained a wheel in the interim…
AF Spider/Grand Prix
Scroll back to 1969, and car collector and F1 entrant Colin Crabbe became a car manufacturer via his The Complete Automobilist concern. He hadn’t intended to, but friend and employee Sandy Fraser conceived a Mini-based contraption which, according to Crabbe, comprised a body made of: 'three-quarter inch marine plywood’. This in turn inspired a production run. The AF Spider, as it was dubbed, was well-received by the motoring media despite its unconventional looks. That said, only five were made before Fraser went it alone and introduced the Mini-based AF Grand Prix (pictured) which sold in equally small numbers.
AutoFact: Fraser subsequently manufactured small-scale reproduction vintage vans and busses.
Prior to the arrival of the 4/4, all Morgans had three wheels. These machines were seriously quick for their day too – the JAP-engined SuperSports Aero being good for 80mph at a time when the average British saloon struggled to attain anywhere near that. Nevertheless, by the mid ’30s it was patently clear that the market for trikes was starting to ebb, and was never going to sustain the company over the long term. Morgan was now obliged to go over to the dark side and build a four-wheeler. Trike production ended in 1946 (although only 12 cars were built post-war).
AutoFact: Morgan re-entered the trike market in 2010.
During the 1970s and early ’80s, few kit car designers were more prolific than Barry Stimson. None of his Mini-based creations was exactly conventional, but the Scorcher defied belief as much as description. Comprising a complete Mini front subframe in a box-section tubular chassis, its glassfibre bodywork looked not unlike something you might find in a playground with the driver and up to two passengers sitting in tandem. Tipping the scales at 254kg, the Scorcher could top 100mph thanks to a Cooper S engine (if you were brave enough). Around 30 were made from 1976-1981.
AutoFact: Optional extras included what passed for a bonnet.
Grinnall Scorpion III
This super trike was conceived by Mark Grinnall, a former motocross racer who had hitherto spent many years inserting Rover V8s (and, in one instance, a Jaguar V12 engine) into Triumph TR7s. The Scorpion was – and remains – powered by a range of BMW motorcycle units housed in a square-tube steel chassis. The styling by the woefully underrated Steve Harper still looks fresh after a quarter of a century, the Scorpion having gone on sale in 1992 in kit of fully-built forms. A four-wheel version has also been touted but has yet to reach volume production.
AutoFact: Harper also penned the MGF and Ford Escort RS Cosworth.
Richard Oakes is a giant of the specialist sport car industry, having styled everything from beach buggies to supercars via microcars and trikes. His pretty Citroën 2CV-based Avion kit car was introduced in 1996, proving moderately popular to 2004 when it made way for the Zero (pictured). This was more than a mere updated Avion, not least because it was powered by an air-cooled VW engine and equipped with modified Golf GTI front suspension and brakes. There was, however, a degree of customer resistance to the Veedub unit, hence the option of Moto Guzzi power from 2008.
AutoFact: Both cars are still available, but only in fully-built form.
The dramatic-looking Modulo was the work of Carlo Lamattina. The former Alfa Romeo engineer set up shop in Ronco Briantino, near Milan, and operated as, appropriately enough, Italian Car. Underpinning this trike was an aluminium-clad tubular steel spaceframe chassis, while the bodyshell – such it was, comprised carbon-fibre- reinforced glassfibre. The front and rear ends titled forward for access to the running gear. Engine options included BMW K-75 and Moto Guzzi units. Single-seater and tandem two-seat editions were offered along with open or closed roofs. The Modulo GT1100 went on sale in 1988 and around 24 were made over the next 25 years…
AutoFact: Nigel Mansell demonstrated the car during the 1990 Italian Grand Prix meeting.
Pictures courtesy of Rota Archive