Peel P50

The Peel P50 only has 3 wheels.

A three wheeled car, also known as a tricar or tri-car, is an automobile having either one wheel in the front for steering and two at the rear for power, two in the front for steering and one in the rear for power, or any other combination of layouts. 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,[citation needed]||}} and may be the first petrol car driven on British soil, in 1894.[2] In 1896, John Henry Knight showed a tri-car, recognized as the first British-made motorcar, at The Great Exhibition.[2] 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]

Strengths and weaknessesEdit

Having one wheel in front and two in the rear for power reduces the cost of the steering mechanism, but greatly decreases stability. However, a configuration of two wheels in the front and one wheel at the back has many strong proponents among automotive designers and enthusiasts. Two advantages are its improved aerodynamics, and that it readily enables small lightweight motorcycle powerplants and rear wheels to be used. This approach was used 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 stability and traction.

For the lowest wind resistance (which increases fuel efficiency), a teardrop shape is desirable. A tear drop is wide and round at the front, tapering to a point 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.

The disadvantage of a rear drive, non-tilting three wheel configuration is 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. 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. Electric three-wheelers often lower the center of gravity by placing the heavy battery pack at the base of the vehicle.


Name Country Years manufactured Wheel configuration Comments (see fuller list at Category)
Benz Patent Motorwagen Germany 1886-93 2 rear
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 illustration
Lagonda Tricar[9] England 1904-07 2 front total production: 69 cars
La Va Bon Train France 1904-10 2 rear 50-100 believed built
Anglian England 1905-07
Armadale England 1906-07
Morgan V-Twin and F-Series England 1911-39, 1932-52 2 front
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
Autoette United States 1948-70 2 rear
Scammell Scarab England 1948-67 2 rear
Velorex Oskar and other models Czechoslovakia 1951-71 2 front Originally with leather bodies
Daihatsu Bee Japan 1951-? 2 rear
Iso Isetta Italy 1953 2 front
Messerschmitt KR175 Germany 1953-55 2 front
Messerschmitt KR200 Germany 1955-64 2 front
Daihatsu Midget Japan 1957-72 2 rear
Mazda T-2000 Japan 1957-74 2 rear
Mazda K360 Japan 1959-69 2 rear
Mazda T600 Japan 1959-71 2 rear
Peel P50 Isle of Man 1963-64 2 front Smallest production car ever built.
Bond 875 England 1965-70 2 rear
Reliant Robin England 1973-81 2 rear
HMV Freeway United States 1979-82 2 front
GM Lean Machine [10][11] United States 1980s 2 rear Tilt, concept car only, conceived by Frank Winchell, illustration
Campagna T-Rex Quebec, Canada 1996-present 2 front Most likely the fastest (157 mph) most expensive ($50k MSRP) production 3-wheeler
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. [1]
ZAP Xebra United States 2006-? 2 rear electric power
Carver Netherlands 2007-2009 2 rear Tilt
Moonbeam United States 2008- 2 front 100mpg DIY, fabric-covered car based on parts from 2 Honda 150cc motorscooters.
Triac United States 2009 2 front Electric
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 2010? 2 front Electric or Plug-in hybrid, 300 mpgUS
Persu Hybrid United States 2010? 2 rear Tilt, hybrid and electric models, technology licensed from Carver


In the U.S. the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines and regulates three-wheeled vehicles as motorcycles.[12] Licensing requirements vary on a state-by-state basis. In other jurisdictions, such as British Columbia, Canada, a three-wheeled vehicle with an enclosed passenger compartment is considered an automobile.


  1. "Scott Sociable". Retrieved 2010-03-27. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Elvis Payne (2001). "The History of the 3-Wheeled Vehicle". Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  3. Chris Chong (July 2, 2006). "History in its magnificence". Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  4. "History". Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  5. "Advance Fore-Cars and Tri-Cars". Retrieved 2008-01-23. 
  6. "British Motor Manufacturers (1894-1960) Humber". Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  7. "Humber - The 1900 's". Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  8. "Rileys 1896 - 1939 The Pre-Nuffield Years.". Rob's Riley Pages ( Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  9. "The History of Classic Cars: 1905 Lagonda Tricar". Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  10. "General Motors Three Wheeled Cars.". GM's Lean Machine ( Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  11. "Lean Machines: Preliminary Investigation.". Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California at Berkeley ( Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  12. name=Related Highway Safety Provisions>"Related Highway Safety Provisions". 

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