You may think I’ve been hitting Ford quite hard recently, what with the Gyron, Nucleon and Seattle-ite (and that name still makes me laugh). Well, you’re right. I’m all for “free thinking engineers” or “advanced stylists,” but we shouldn’t take seriously everything they produce. Unfortunately Ford did. And what’s worse is that other car manufacturers did as well, so much so that they felt they had to complete. A prime example is Chevrolet.
In 1961, Chevrolet produced the Astro III. Chevy obviously didn’t want something that wafted around like the Seattle-ite. They wanted something that looked like it had a purpose, and that purpose was speed. With its stubby wing/wheel arches, long pointed nose and wraparound windscreen, this thing looked looked like the jets of its day. The whole car was only 3ft high, giving it a wonderfully low center of gravity.
So, the stylists (advanced or otherwise) put a good thick tick in the looks-like-speed box. But what about the engineers?
In keeping with the fighter jet look, the engineers decided on a 300bhp turbine engine. That sounds good, but it was mounted between the rear wheels. So unless there was some serious weight up the front this thing would probably pull wheelies good enough to flip the whole thing over!
But lets just assume you’re good with the pulling wheelies thing. You’re going to say 300bhp, in a three wheeler? Well, yes and no. The engineers were clearly with you on the who wants 300bhp in a three wheeler question, but the stylists didn’t leave them much room for the old tried and tested four wheel layout. Ah, but were talking engineers here. They’re not going to be beaten that easily. They made it a four wheeler by putting two wheels side-by-side at the front. Side-by-side!
At a stroke they retained all the instability of a ludicrously overpowered three wheel design while introducing the complexity of two wheel steering. Perhaps they were hoping the added weight would keep the front down when bubba-lead-foot wanted to use the whole 300bhp in one go. Some hope.
For all the mad aspects of this concept, this is one I’d like to drive. It would have been completely impractical, but it really does conjure up the image of the fighter jets the designers intended.
Would you like to drive it? Have you ever driven a three wheeler? Did you tip it over? And what’s practicality got to do with any good car?
Yes I drove a three wheeler. I had one when I was a preschooler. I hated the circular momentum arguements that I faced with it so I upgraded to a two wheeler.
As soon as I glanced at that “Astro III” I knew why it was the “III”. Because when Jethro Jones (the test driver that GM promoted from the janitorial staff the day before the first test run) tried to make that left turn onto the test course he rolled it three times. The engine kept rolling a few more revolutions but they only counted the three rolls that the body did before falling to pieces. It took surgeons in Detroit four hours to remove the steering colum from poor Jethro’s colon.
As a simple minded non-automotive engineer type I am probably just confused but didn’t all of our physics professors in freshman year say something about “momentum” and “circular momentum” and demonstrate the concepts with a spinning wheel? Maybe drugs on campus were popular befor I thought they were.
It’s a shame that Newton died before the automobile was invented. He missed quite a few good laughs.
Good story (though not a great outcome on the colon front!).
Yeah, three wheelers are hopeless. Top Gear did a great piece on a 3 wheeler in the UK. Jeremy Clarkson kept rolling it over and various celbs would appear to right it again. Even Mt Bean has a hatred of the things. And I’m sure Newton would have been tearing his wig out!
By the way, its official, you’re the most popular commenter on my blog – Cheers!
It seems you have a limited knowledge of 3-wheelers. A well-designed one doesn’t have to be unstable. Yes, Reliant Robins are one of the worst out there, but remember it was designed to compete against the Hillman and Leyland (“If they want cr*p, we’ll give them more cr*p!”) in a time British drivers didn’t have much choice.
What I’ve found is that most 3-wheelers suck when they are designed by corporate engineers with little knowledge of what they are getting into. I mean, the Corvair was flawed, but you can’t say that from a Porsche 911!
There’s no way to say the Aptera, the Blackjack Zero, the Campagna T-Rex, or the Grinnall Scorpion III are dangerous vehicles. Quite the contrary, they are sporty, agile, and sure-footed cars worthy of a try. Go find something about them and probably you’ll change your mind.
You right, I don’t know much about 3 wheelers. I like the Zero and the Grinnall’s, and you’re right, I’d love to try them. There’s a 3 wheel morgan in a similar vein as well.
The 3 wheelers you mention all have two wheels at the front which makes them stable, the Robin and the Astro had one wheel at the front, which means (because you usually go forward) you can generate a force in a direction where there is nothing to support the tilting. The Astro had four wheels with the two in the front, but arranged like a 3 wheeler, so they gained the complexity of a four wheel layout with the drawbacks of 3 wheelers. Despite that it looks brilliant and I’d just love to sit in that cockpit with the turbine wailing.
I’m confused, you live in Venezuela and have a full knowledge of the sad side of the British automotive industry, that’s an unusual mix, how did that happen?
Well, I’ve been a fan of the auto industry since my childhood years, I had a big Popular Mechanics magazine collection, and recently Internet has made it easier to get infomation.
I should also say that back in the ’70s one of my uncles had a Hillman Avenger which bigger feature was a sloppy electrical system (with positive ground, no less!) that went nuts on a freakishly high rate. Both he and I know first hand how true those jokes about old British cars electrical system are.
Also, my next-door neighbor had a Ford Cortina! He traded it about a year later for a Dodge Dart 2-door coupé, and I was hooked ever since with white sports cars… altough I agree red looks good too. 🙂
Ah, the Hillman Avenger, there’s a car to make grown mechanics cry. Did yours rust away? Just about everything in Britain did at the time. For a country that spends half the year wet and damp it took an amazingly long time to realize you had to rustproof cars. Or maybe it was just a scheme to make people buy more cars.
I grew up there before moving to the US some years ago. My dad actually worked for British Leyland and Rover on the production line and in the paint shop. I remember when the nights would draw there would be mass of cars in the company car park with the hoods up and someone cursing away under it. Thankfully the Japanese came along and showed everyone how to make cars properly.