A return to the cyclecar

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The economic recession resulting from the prevailing astronomical oil prices has turned thoughts in the direction of electric cars, steam propulsion and all manner of new styles of economy car. We were able last month to sample a three-wheeler that comes in the last-named category. It might have been conceived in the 1920s but was, in fact, designed eleven years ago by Bob Collier, who used to work in Joe Craig’s department at Norton’s. The layout is ingenious in the extreme and has absorbed some £60,000 in development costs.

The basis of the vehicle, which has yet to he named, is a sturdy tubular welded-up chassis, to carry a fibre-glass body, intended to be a four-seater rear-entrance saloon. At present the No. 5 demonstration “Collicar” has an open body coming to thigh-height, a detachable nose retained by bungee rubbers, and no windscreen. The steering head pivots on two large taper roller bearings and carries the entire power pack, two-gallon fuel tank, battery, etc. The steering wheel is connected to it by means of a curved flexible drive and a reduction of ratio incorporating two chains and four sprockets. The power unit can be rotated through almost 360 deg., which means that the vehicle can be turned in twice its own length, for easy town parking, and can be reversed by the simple process of rotating this front, driven, wheel until it is pushing instead of pulling the car.

Another foolproof aspect is that there are only two pedals, one labelled “GO”, the other “STOP”, as the drive is through a centrifugal clutch. On this No. 5 “Collicar” the power unit is a 350 c.c. Canadian-built 14 h.p. Kohler fan-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke. This drives the Salisbury centrifugal clutch-cum-variable speed unit, as used for industrial applications, by means of a cogged belt, and from this forward-mounted clutch the drive passes back by chain to the front wheel. The larger sprocket is on the n/s of the front wheel, which can be detached in the usual way by undoing its nuts. Another ingenious item is the use of outrigger wheels at the front, which make contact with the road under ambitious cornering. As these are the same size as the other three wheels, two spares are available! These wheels are 480/400 T8 trailer wheels, shod with High Speed Special tyres. Peter Lay, the Brough-Superior enthusiast, who brought No. 5 down from Birmingham to Wales for us to try, incidentally getting 53 m.p.g. in traffic driving, says that if you corner with abandon you can put a front outrigger, wheel down and lift one of the back wheels, thus still having “three on the deck”.

The steering needs 19½ turns to completely rotate the power unit and front wheel; an indicator is fitted so that the driver can tell in which direction he will go at take-off. Suspension is by vertical coil springs all round. The only instrument is a huge 80 m.p.h. speedometer set horizontally like a ship’s compass on the plastic decking before the front seats; it is driven from a back wheel. Once you get the hang of it driving is easy and No. 5 cruised nicely at around 45 m.p.h., going to an indicated 60 downhill. It was less inclined to go uphill. The smooth-running and quietness of the electrically-started single-cylinder “Cast-Iron Linf” engine was as pleasing as it was unexpected and its NGK plug gave no anxiety. It is silenced effectively by a forward-pointing silencer. The narrow seats with taper back-rests were quite comfortable and the ride good. There are electric horn, winkers, and small Wipac headlamps.

With further development this might make an effective economy-car. There are plans for a sports version with gull-wing rear door, three seats abreast, and a sun-roof. We understand that jigs, tools, and body moulds exist for an output of 500 a week, if costs could be underwritten and factory space found, perhaps employing female labour working in three or four-hour shifts. The first experimental model had a Suzuki engine and twin gearboxes and was flat-out at 20 m.p.h. George Silk’s two-stroke engine was tried but petrol-thirst was too great, at 22 m.p.g. A fearsome version using a “double-knocker” Norton engine provided entertainment for the intrepid but a 500 c.c. Kohler two-stroke power pack is visualised, should the project get to the production stage. The frame has withstood some interesting impacts and its layout would make it suitable for an invalid carriage.

In true cyclecar style, we had a few setbacks. A heavy load made it necessary for the passenger, who had manufactured the six sprockets the “Collicar” uses, to get out and push up hills. On the long haul from Brum, the countershaft carrying the smaller of the final-drive sprockets had moved sideways and the chain had come off. And just as we were trying to push the speedometer beyond 60 m.p.h. a main electrical cable broke and the supply of power ceased abruptly. But such things mean little to enthusiasts and while we are not in a position to forecast its commercial possibilities, driving this unusual little vehicle has given the Editor a craving for a single-cylinder cyclecar, which it should be quite possible to construct from available modern components, whether of this single-frontwheel layout or the classical two-in-front, driver-at-the-back formation.—W.B.