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Three wheels give you wings!

2010-08-06 08:00


Owning a three-wheeler has never really caught on in South Africa but in the UK it’s been a completely different story.

The vast distances between South Africa’s towns are probably the main reason why three-wheeler cars have never sold in any great numbers - outside of a handful of diehard trike enthusiasts, that is.

In thirty-odd years of living in Natal I’ve only come across three or four three-wheelers. One was an ancient Bond from the early 1950’s that belonged to an old friend, Colin Dove. Another was the superb BSA trike seen regularly up until a year or two ago owned by the late Clive Mitchell. The third is often seen on rallies and at club meets - the pride and joy of Pietermaritzburg enthusiast Don Townsend.

I doubt there’s more than a half-dozen countrywide yet, amazingly, the oldest known Morgan trike in the world can be found in Durban, a 1913 example belonging to the Piries - a real family of motoring enthusiasts if ever there was.

England seems to have no shortage of them. I met up with Ron Bishop (pictured) on a recent trip to the UK. The temperature was down to around five degrees centigrade but there was Ron, braving the elements in true British spirit in his open-topped three-wheeler.

Sorry for cropping off the left front wheel from the photograph - I can assure you there was a pair up front along with a single one at the rear. Bonds, Reliants and a few others made the sad mistake of putting the single wheel up front; that arrangement made them susceptible to crosswinds and would tip over as quick as look at them.


The trike alongside which Bishop is standing is from a British kit-car company called Lomax. The body, tub and mudguards will set you back £1125 (about R130 000) but all the mechanical parts you’re likely to need to finish the project can be had from a “scrap” Citroen 2CV.

“British scrap yards are littered with them,” Bishop told me.

“With its 602cc, air-cooled engine and the final drive through the front wheels, the power-to-weight ratio is superb,” he said. “A modified Austin Marina anti-roll bar helps to keep the car flat through corners and the steering remains light and precise... just like any sports car!”

Asking the age-old question “how fast does it go?”, he told me: “It’ll accelerate straight up to around 150km/h; stopping is taken care of with inboard disc brakes. I’ve seen the magic 160km/h on the speedo but in Britain we’re a law-abiding lot, not like you South Africans!”
“I suppose you only use the Lomax for the occasional run?” I asked.

“Not a bit of it - a year or two back the Lomax Club organised a run to the US that took in Death Valley. I’ve been across to France more than once and, when the weather warms up, the wife and I will be off on a touring holiday to Spain.”

So much for the theory of a three-wheeler only being useful over short distances... maybe South Africans got it wrong all those years ago.

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