Peugeot 20Cup concept

3-Wheeled cars will always be cool


Whether you call them "trikes," "3-wheelers," or "tadpoles" you gotta love 3-wheeled cars. Here's a rundown of some of the best machines in automotive history.

Throughout automotive history, no general theme that fundamentally changes the chassis of the vehicle has been more recurrent than 3-wheeled autos. Whether it be a "trike" (two wheels in back, one in front) or "tadpole" (two wheels in front, one in back), the 3-wheeler has fascinated home builders and efficiency engineers since the first horseless carriage bumped down the road.

A three wheeled automobile has several advantages over its more common four wheeled brethren. It's inherently more efficient because it has less rubber on the road (which means lower rolling resistance) and because the triangular shape of a 3-wheeled car is more apt to be aerodynamic as well.

The chief disadvantages to a 3-wheeler are stability and interior space, which are usually compromised because of the design. Stability is largely restored with the change to a tadpole shape, since the most unstable part of a 3-wheeled drive is turning and the tadpole puts both wheels up front where the side-tilting forces usually are during a turn. Interior space constraints have also made for some creativity on the part of designers with interesting seating arrangements and cargo access being the result.

Karl Benz, whose name now adorns the Mercedes-Benz name, was not just the pioneer of gasoline-powered cars, he was also a prolific automotive designer and his very first purpose-built automobile was the Benz Patent Motorwagen, built in 1885. It was a tricycle configuration, open-air carriage car.

Following on Benz, several designs for 3-wheeled cars came and went. One of the more famous was the Swiss-made Egg & Egli Rapid at the turn of the century, built on knowledge gained from the earlier Tricycle.

Meanwhile, in England, the Morgan Motor Company was busy building cars. A series of V-Twin and F-Series three wheelers were produced from about 1911 to 1952 including the very famous and well-loved Aero 2-seater Sports and Super Sports models of the 1920s and 30s.

On this side of the pond, Buckminster Fuller was gaining headlines with his infamous conceptual the Dymaxion. More a 3-wheeled bus than a car, this huge RV-like ride could seat 11 and got 30 miles to the gallon at a time when less than ten was the norm. Good luck parking this 20-foot beast, though. Blame for the demise of the Dymaxion is as storied and conspiratorial as the Who Killed the Electric Car? controversy.

Where the Dymaxion made headlines for both innovation and destruction, the British-market BMW Isetta was made famous as one of the iconic cars of the UK by Hollywood. The Isetta was an innovative idea, with its front end opening entirely to allow entry into the tiny 2-seater. It's one of the most collected cars in history.

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