Magnificent three-wheel driving machines
The guy who invented the wheel was an idiot. The guy who invented the other three, he was a genius! So the saying goes. What shall we call the three-wheelers, then?
There is no written record of the first mention of the wheel, but an illustration of a wheel was found in the Sindh Province of India dating from about 4,000 BC. The Bible and other old scriptures have many references to chariots, perhaps the most famous being those of the Egyptian pharaohs. And while the movies depict the glory of ancient Roman chariots, those were horse-drawn.
The first mention of a carriage that moved on its own accord came from traders who visited the mysterious far East empires of Cathay and T’chin. The traders spoke of carriages which moved with the aid of fire.
Perhaps these carriages were steam powered, the technology being known to the Chinese by 800 BC. Plato, in his Hero of Alexandria of 150 BC, mentioned some 70 steam inventions.
In fact, in 50 BC, Heron of Greece proposed a steam engine but Rome feared that his concept would create unemployment and lead to unrest and thus steam power would not be talked of again for some centuries.
Steam power for vehicles would be mentioned again many years later when Jesuit priest Ferdinand Verbiest, who worked in China from 1659 until his death in 1688, left a description of a steam car he had built. It had five wheels.
The first car
The first “modern” mechanically-propelled vehicle capable of transporting people and goods was invented by a French artillery officer; in 1769, Nicolas Joseph Cugnot drove his steam tractor in the presence of the Duke of Choiseul in Paris at an impressive 2.5 miles per hour. The exact design is not known – the tractor was later broken up when it overturned – but it is thought to have been a three-wheeler. Modern three-wheelers, however, do not topple as easily.
The Carver three-wheeler drawing attention
A number of early car manufacturers produced three-wheelers. Some of the best known are:
British car maker AC, established in 1908, produced a three-wheeler;
Reliant, established in 1935, produced the world famous Reliant Robin;
The French-made Velocar was produced between 1940 and 1945;
In the USA, the big 1947 Davis could carry 7 passengers;
In the 1950s, the German-designed Kabinenroller and, in 1957, the miniature BMW Isetta took (their 3 wheels) to the road;
The French produced the KVS car in the 1970s and 80s;
Shopper Mopedbils graced the Swedish streets during the late 1970s;
In 1982, the US Cub Commuter was introduced by Taiwan;
Sir Clive Sinclair started production of about 12,000 three-wheel Sinclear C5 in 1985;
Mercedes proposed the F300 Life-Jet at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1997;
Mercedes-backed Smart produced a three-wheel Swatch in 1998;
The G Wiz electric car wizzed the roads in 2004.
BMW Isetta 195
Reliant Robin 1974
Mercedes F300 Life-Jet 1997
Carver One 2007
It is not only motorcycle-based three-wheelers that can make your hair stand on edge. In 1964, Craig Breedlove took on the Bonneville Salt Flats in his three-wheeler and reached 526.27mph, breaking the Land Speed Record. His three-wheeler was called The Spirit of America.
The pinnacle of three-wheel technology combined with luxury, however, could be found in the Carver One. An excellent vehicle in all aspects, it also was candy for the eye. Unfortunately, like the equally attractive Persu Hybrid, it eventually fell over (bankruptcy).
There is no doubt that the concept of three-wheelers will continue to entice motor manufacturers to try their hand at it. In the meantime, 3wheelers.com will entertain you with over 1,800 pages on classic 3-wheelers.