3-Wheel Cars The Benz-Patent Motorwagen Saga at the Aptera
Sometimes pioneers, sometimes mocked, three-wheeled cars have existed since the early days of the automobile. New companies, like Aptera or Elio, would even like to make it a trend for the future. L’argus returns to the saga of these funny machines, started by the ancestor of all Mercedes.
A three-wheeled car is not really new. It is even quite the opposite! Considered by some to be the first modern automobile, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, born in 1886, took the form of a tricycle. A choice that will also be made by other pioneers, such as the Frenchman Leon Bollee at the end of the 19th century. But today, it is clear that most of our cars tend to have four wheels. Even if they still exist, the three-wheeled models are more of an anomaly, like the six-wheeler. Moreover, they are almost all the result of small brands, which most of the time you have never heard of. The best known of these funny machines is undoubtedly the Morgan 3 Wheeler, with its American motorcycle engine installed at the front and its retro look to perfection. The launch of an EV3 electric version had even been seriously considered. When it launched this “novelty” in 2011, the British manufacturer was not however at its first attempt: its debut, in 1909, was made with tricycles of the same type.
While the UK has always been a leading supplier of three-wheelers, this is no coincidence either. For a long time, these vehicles enjoyed a tax advantage by being taxed like motorcycles.
This is why the BMW Isetta quickly lost one of its rear wheels after crossing the English Channel. It is also this specificity that has earned us some eccentricities like the Bond Bug with its angular lines or the Peel P50, which entered the record books as the smallest car in the world. Without forgetting the famous Reliant Regal and Robin, which made the happiness of Mr. Bean or the Top Gear show thanks to their ability to lie sideways non-stop. If the choice to put a single wheel at the front is clearly not the safest possible, it will at least have had the merit of making us laugh out loud more than once! Its supporters claim, however, that the model used by Top Gear had been modified to accentuate the phenomenon.
To prevent his Carver from constantly ending up in an awkward position like the Reliant, the Dutchman Anton van den Brink was inspired by the world of motorcycles. The cabin of this strange two-seater in tandem was indeed capable of tilting in turns. This idea did not ensure the survival of the company, which went bankrupt in 2009 after producing around 250 copies. But the model has been available again since 2019 in an electric version. Before that, its concept had been taken over by the Toyota iRoad. This Renault Twizy rival, powered by an electric motor, was notably used for a car-sharing experiment in Grenoble, from 2014 to 2017. It should also be found at the future Olympic Games in Tokyo, this summer.
Peugeot, with its 20Cup concept from 2005, or Volkswagen, with the GX3 study from 2006, have also been seduced by the idea of three-wheelers, but without crossing the threshold of the series. An entry into production which is also long overdue for some new players such as Aptera, Daymak or Elio, who multiply the promises on paper. One hundred and thirty-five years after the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, the tricycle seems to have become trendy among start-ups!