ROAD TEST

Triking Three-Wheeler
"It seemed to me that I could build one with modern mechanicals that was faster, safer and more reliable than the original — and which still cost less."

SUCH was the philosophy behind Tony Divey's Triking, for the onlooker immediately thinks of the three-wheeled Morgan sports car of the inter-war years, famed for its race-winning performances and now much sought-after as a collector's piece, albeit usually a hard-worked one. The traditional sliding-pillar suspension had critics and supporters, but nobody disagreed about the Morgan's lack of brakes. With all this in mind, Divey, a longtime enthusiast of the marque, gradually began to formulate a scheme which, with his engineering background and a career as a technical illustrator, he was well qualified to put into action. From a tiny workshop in Norwich there now issues a slow but steady stream of Trikings.

The car is not claimed to be a "replica" as such; rather it is the result of similar design restraints producing a similar answer. It may be irrelevant that Tony Divey has owned six Morgans in the past • • •

Be that as it may, here could not have been a more suitable set of motorcycle mechanicals if they had been designed for the job. The transverse V-twin has its gear-box mounted longitudinally so that like any conventional front-engined car there is a propeller-shaft running to the rear axle. The rear fork of the Moto-Guzzi bike already uses a shaft-drive system, so transplanting this unit in its entirety provides a simple method of turning the drive-line through 90 degrees. It also results in a quieter and less troublesome package than a chain, which is important considering the relative inaccessibility of the areas beneath the rear body.

The chassis of the machine is of square steel tubing skinned with aluminium panels, running forward to a steel cradle supporting the engine and the front suspension. It is here that the sheer quality of the engineering is apparent most of all; the eighteen-inch wire wheels being located by chromed steel wishbones which look as if they ought to belong to a competition car rather than a road car. Coil / damper units provide the springing, while massive 11" discs complement the slightly smaller one at the back to ensure that speed can be dissipated as decisively as it is achieved. At first, it appears rather risky to leave the engine exposed to the weather, but in fact it is probably no worse off than in its more usual home, the Moto-Guzzi motor-bike.

That this engine should end up powering a car is quite appropriate: it was originally designed for a lightweight cross-country vehicle for the Italian army, and produces in standard form as much power as many a family car — 70 b.h.p. It also invokes awe in the voices of the innumerable motorcyclists who draw alongside at city traffic lights. "Did you build it yourself?" is always the first question, followed by "Oh, it's a Guzzi!" as if respectability were thereby assured.

These impromptu conversations are one of the delights of this little car; cyclists match their speed to it in slow traffic, bikers assemble around it inquisitively, and a passing Rolls driver offered us a straight swop — he was filtered down a side-street before we could clinch it. In general, however, the response is one of indulgent smiles, and to counter these the driver feels compelled constantly to prove just how quickly he can leave ordinary mortals behind. With a weight of just 780 lb., acceleration is in the super-car bracket (Divey claims a 0-60 time of 7.8s) although this is accomplished with an odd sensation, not of being pushed back into the seat, but of watching film of the road speeding up. In all other respects one is treated to the full gamut of motoring sensation: the wind in your hair, the enthusiastic bellow of the exhaust, the precise reaction of the front wheels to every twitch of the small, thick wheel—and the thump in the behind when a manhole-cover reminds you that this is a three-wheeler.

Most drivers distrust the idea of having only three wheels on the road, but we found the Triking something of an eye-opener as regards to handling. The overriding impression is of its controllability in any attitude, the firm, sensitive steering responding to a mere twitch of the wrist. Pushed steadily into a tight corner, it will understeer by a reassuringly small amount, but bang the lever forward into a lower gear and open the throttle, and it will launch itself forward with such well-mannered oversteer that it can be caught and corrected or maintained with one hand. With such a small contact area even a careless gear-change can result in the "chirrup" of a momentarily locked wheel, but it is in the wet that the lack of traction shows up to real disadvantage, leaving the Triking vainly spinning its wheel when trying to squirt onto a roundabout.

Acceleration figures are helped by the rapid changes possible with the constant-mesh gearbox, which instead of a gate has a simple fore-and-aft lever — bang it back to change up one, and forward to drop one. Clutchless changes are very easy, which is just as well since the footwell is so cramped that we could not move our foot sideways and were forced to heel-and-toe the whole time. There are other ergonomic problems too: the T-bar gearlever is a long stretch away, the handbrake even further, and both of these are very stiff, which eventually led to the series of problems that ended our tenure. All of this however, is blown away by the sheer exhilaration of the open road, though tiredness returns with a vengeance when a journey is completed.

Its motorcycle origins mean that there is no reverse gear, and it takes a while to get used to the idea of hopping out and berthing it by hand, to the delight of the inevitable onlookers. Entry and exit also requires practice in threading the legs past the wheel, and in fact proved impossible for some who tried. All of this means that it is emphatically a fun and fair weather car — caught in a rainstorm, we were brought to a halt simply because of the spray enveloping the tiny car and obscuring our vision. In more pleasant conditions, the occupants are surprisingly well protected from wind and noise, conversation being easy even at 85 m.p.h., which can be reached without any apparent effort. Tony Divey boasts of 100 m.p.h. being attainable, and while we had no opportunity to verify this, the solid and stable ride should cause no worries at these speeds.

Undoubtedly, this is a car in the vintage mould, with little concession to comfort. Luggage must be squeezed behind the pull-out seat-back, there is no spare tyre, nor a heater (although at low speeds warm air wafts from the cylinder cooling-fins over the fibre-glass cowling). Access to the battery and rear wheel means removing the rear body-work, but to balance that, the power-unit is of course very simple to get at. Not so the gear-box and change mechanism, as we discovered when the nipple pulled off one of the cables leaving us stuck in fourth gear. The resulting short clutch-slipping trip back to base did not harm the competition clutch facings fitted, but the heat produced was enough to soften the pressure springs, rendering the car immobile. To be fair, these problems stemmed from a component failure and in no way reflect on the high standard of workmanship of the car. Since then, rods have been substituted for cables and the change is reportedly much lighter.

As with many specialist cars, the intention has always been to build only to order, rather than risk carrying unsold stock. Most enthusiasts interested in an unusual car will willingly wait during the assembly period, and so far 26 examples have seen the light of day, with numbers 27 and 28 currently in the work-shop. Interest in the cars increasing, especially in the States, from where enquiries have recently been arriving at the rate of a hundred a week. This has prompted Divey, whose main concern is the design and refinement of the project rather than the business side, to have discussions with a number of parties interested in producing the Triking under licence. An outline agreement has in fact recently been reached which will involve a name not unknown in British motoring entrepreneurial circles, although the full details have yet to be confirmed and publicly announced.

The other favourite question of passers-by is "what does it cost?", and most seemed taken aback by the reply "£6,600". Yet there are few sports cars available at that sort of price, and of course road-tax is only £32 for a three-wheeler . . In fact, the purchase of a Triking could only be an extravagance, as it must surely be a second or third car, unless one lived in perpetually sunny climes. Nevertheless, it offers rapid, seat-of-the-pants motoring in a supremely individual form — though definitely not for introverts.

G.C.