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A three wheeled car, also known as a tricar or tri-car, is a powered vehicle, legally classed as either an automobile or motorcycle, that has one wheel in the front and two at the rear, or two in the front and one in the rear. Due to its handling superiority, an increasingly popular form is the front-steering "tadpole" or "reverse trike" sometimes with front drive but usually with rear drive. A variant on the 'one at the front' layout was the Scott Sociable, which resembled a four-wheeler with a front wheel missing[1]


Early car pioneer Karl Benz developed a number of three-wheeled models.[2] One of these, the Benz Patent Motorwagen,[3] is widely regarded as the first purpose-built automobile. It was built in 1885.

In 1896, John Henry Knight showed a tri-car at The Great Exhibition.[2]

In 1897, Edward Butler (inventor) made the Butler Petrol Cycle, another three-wheeled car.

A Conti 6 hp Tri-car competed in (but did not complete) a 1907 Peking-to-Paris race sponsored by a French newspaper, Le Matin.[4]

Three wheeler configuration

Two front

A configuration of two wheels in the front and one wheel at the back presents two advantages : it has improved aerodynamics, and that it readily enables small lightweight motorcycle powerplant and rear wheel to be used. This approach was used by Messerschmitt kr200 and by the BMW Isetta. Alternatively, a more conventional front-engine, front wheel drive layout as is common in four-wheeled cars can be used, with subsequent advantages for transversal stability (further front location of CG) and traction (two driven wheels instead of one). For the lowest wind resistance (which increases fuel efficiency), a teardrop shape is desirable[citation needed]. A tear drop is wide and round at the front, tapering at the back. The three wheel configuration allows the two front wheels to create the wide round surface of the vehicle. The single rear wheel allows the vehicle to taper at the back. This approach is used by the Aptera 2 Series. It is also used by Myers Motors for both its single passenger NmG and upcoming 2-passenger Duo.

Two rear

Having one wheel in front and two in the rear for power reduces the cost of the steering mechanism, but greatly decreases lateral stability when cornering while braking.

Lateral stability

The disadvantage of a three wheel configuration is lateral instability - the car will tip over in a turn before it will slide, unless the centre of mass is much closer to the ground or the wheelbase is much wider than a similar four wheel vehicle. Electric three-wheelers often lower the center of gravity by placing the heavy battery pack at the base of the vehicle.

Tilting option

To improve stability some three wheelers are designed as tilting three wheelers so that they lean while cornering like a motorcyclist would do. The tilt may be controlled manually or by computer.


For a more complete list, see Category:Three-wheeled motor vehicles. Two Front Wheels models :

Name Country Years manufactured Wheel configuration Comments
Léon Bollée Voiturette France 1895-? 2 front
Egg Switzerland 1896-99
Advance 6 hp air-cooled Tri Car and 9 hp water-cooled Tri Car[5] England 1902-12 2 front
Humber Tricar[6][7] England 1904 2 front
Riley Olympia Tricar[8] England 1904 2 front [9]
Lagonda Tricar[10] England 1904-07 2 front total production: 69 cars
Anglian England 1905-07
Armadale England 1906-07
Morgan V-Twin and F-Series England 1911-39, 1932-52 2 front Morgan Super Sports 2-Seater 1937
American Tri-Car United States 1912
Birmingham Small Arms Company Three Wheeler England 1929-36 2 front 1100cc engine; image and description
Zaschka Germany 1929 2 front Folding three wheeler: Zaschka Three-wheeler 1929
Dymaxion car United States 1933 2 front Concept car designed by Buckminster Fuller
Mathis VEL 333 France 1946 2 front 3 seats, flat-twin front engine, aluminium body, production less than 10 units
Velorex Oskar and other models Czechoslovakia 1951-71 2 front Originally with leather bodies
Iso Isetta Italy 1953 2 front
Messerschmitt KR175 Germany 1953-55 2 front
Messerschmitt KR200 Germany 1955-64 2 front
Peel P50 Isle of Man 1963-64 2 front Smallest production car ever built.
HMV Freeway United States 1979-82 2 front
Campagna T-Rex Canada 1996-present 2 front Most likely the fastest (157 mph) most expensive ($50k MSRP) production 3-wheeler
Malone Car Company Skunk SS|TAZR United Kingdom 1999-present 2 front High power internal combustion and pure electric versions released November 2010 [1]
Cree SAM Switzerland 2001 2 front Electric, only 80 produced
ScootCoupe United States 2004- 2 front Smallest production car currently, requiring no license to operate due to its moped drive-train
Myers Motors NmG ("No more Gas") United States 2006- 2 front Single occupant all-electric plug-in: 75mph, 50-60 mile range, lithium batteries. Developed from Corbin Sparrow. The 2-passenger model, the Duo, is scheduled for release in 2010. [2]
Moonbeam United States 2008- 2 front 100mpg DIY, fabric-covered car based on parts from 2 Honda 150cc motorscooters.
Triac United States 2009-2011 2 front Electric, never entered production
XR-3 Hybrid United States Plans-2008, Kit-2009 2 front Front 3 cylinder diesel (125 mpg), rear electric 40 mile range -(220 mpg when used as a hybrid)
Aptera 2e United States 2 front Electric or Plug-in hybrid, 300 mpg-US (0.78 L/100 km)

Two Rear Wheels models :

Name Country Years manufactured Wheel configuration Comments
Benz Patent Motorwagen Germany 1886-93 2 rear
La Va Bon Train France 1904-10 2 rear 50-100 believed built
Autoette United States 1948-70 2 rear
Scammell Scarab England 1948-67 2 rear
Daihatsu Bee Japan 1951-? 2 rear
Daihatsu Midget Japan 1957-72 2 rear
Mazda T-2000 Japan 1957-74 2 rear Mazda t2000.jpg
Mazda K360 Japan 1959-69 2 rear Mazda k360.jpg
Mazda T600 Japan 1959-71 2 rear
Electra-King United States 1964?-1980s? 2 rear Two-seater electric car manufactured by B & Z Electric Car Company; advertising brochure
Bond 875 England 1965-70 2 rear
Reliant Robin England 1973-81, 1989-2002 2 rear
GM Lean Machine [11][12] United States 1980s 2 rear Tilt, concept car only, conceived by Frank Winchell, illustration
Twike Germany 1995-present 2 rear Human-electric hybrid
ZAP Xebra United States 2006-2009 2 rear electric power
Carver Netherlands 2007-2009 2 rear Tilt


In the U.S. the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines and regulates three-wheeled vehicles as motorcycles.Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many Licensing requirements vary on a state-by-state basis. In other jurisdictions, such as British Columbia, Canada, and Connecticut, a three-wheeled vehicle with an enclosed passenger compartment or partially enclosed seat is considered an automobile.

See also

  • Three wheeler
  • Motorized tricycles
  • Electric trikes
  • Tuk-tuk or Auto rickshaw - Three wheeled vehicles popular in many parts of Asia
  • Steam tricycle
  • Cushman - manufactured in USA, many built for utility/maintenance
  • Tri-Magnum - a DIY three-wheeler
  • Myers Motors NmG - all-electric plug-in, manufactured in USA
  • Volkswagen_1-litre_car


  1. "Scott Sociable". Retrieved on 2010-03-27.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Elvis Payne (2001). "The History of the 3-Wheeled Vehicle". Retrieved on 2008-01-20.
  3. Chris Chong (July 2, 2006). "History in its magnificence". Archived from the original on 2007-10-24. Retrieved on 2008-01-20.
  4. "History". Archived from the original on 2007-08-26. Retrieved on 2008-01-20.
  5. "Advance Fore-Cars and Tri-Cars". Archived from the original on 2008-01-12. Retrieved on 2008-01-23.
  6. "British Motor Manufacturers (1894-1960) Humber". Retrieved on 2008-01-20.
  7. "Humber - The 1900 's". Retrieved on 2008-01-20.[dead link]
  8. "Rileys 1896 - 1939 The Pre-Nuffield Years.". Rob's Riley Pages ( Retrieved on 2008-01-20.
  9. illustration
  10. "The History of Classic Cars: 1905 Lagonda Tricar". Retrieved on 2008-01-20.
  11. "General Motors Three Wheeled Cars.". GM's Lean Machine ( Retrieved on 2008-04-08.
  12. "Lean Machines: Preliminary Investigation.". Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California at Berkeley ( Retrieved on 2008-04-08.[dead link]

External links

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