The View from Faraway Farm: Project Crazies

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My fiancee and I had dinner the other evening with our friends Deb and Bruce. We always enjoy their company and have much in common. Bruce is into cars, motorcycles, John Deere tractors, and he builds electric guitars for fun. He uses wood sourced from his own land and has made some beautiful guitars. We talked about car projects and right now he is casually looking for a muscle car that is just a bit different from the usual GM, Ford, and Chrysler vehicles that have been so popular. That would most likely point to the American Motors muscle cars like the Javelin, AMX, and Hornet models. The constant search for vehicles that are just a little different is something we share.

I spent a good part of 2016 relieving myself of project vehicles, yet I still have a couple on the back burner. There is a Ford F-100 pickup and a Honda cafe bike that are actively in the works. There's also a 1993 Honda 750 Nighthawk that I just don't know what to do with. I've always wanted to build a three-wheeled cyclecar, but I know full well that I don't have the time or all of the skills necessary to tackle it, but a guy can dream. To get an idea of what I'm seeing in my mind's eye, think of the Polaris Slingshot. It is an odd thing when you see it coming at you down the road ... topless, side by side seating, low, with two wheels out front that steer it and one drive wheel in the rear. This concept has been around for a very, very long time and was most popular in Europe and Great Britain before WW II. The thinking was if you can't afford a full-on automobile, you could probably manage a three wheeler for your primary transportation. They were quite economical to run, and they served a portion of the population very well during the Great Depression. British bespoke car builder Morgan is still making them, albeit at around $50,000 they are not for everyone. There was also a popular Czechoslovakian cycle car known as the Velorex.

The Velorex had the three-wheeled configuration and used a tubular frame with a Jawa two stroke motorcycle engine and rear wheel as its motivation. Rather than using heavy and more expensive sheet metal body panels, the Velorex utilized leather panels stretched over the frame to provide weather protection. Imagine a small car with a body that looked like it was made from convertible tops. It was very light and served many a Czech family on a tight budget. I've read that there are only about ten of these interesting vehicles currently in the United States. You have to go to Europe to see them on the road, and even there they are now a highly collectible oddity. You can find videos on Youtube of Velorex cycle cars, and there is one rather entertaining video of three young ladies out for an Eastern European adventure in a couple of Velorexes. There are no English subtitles, which makes it even more interesting, if not a bit confusing.

Most states in the U.S. allow cycle cars to be registered as motorcycles, and that also means the requirement that occupants wear a helmet in Vermont. Cyclecars are made purposely of lightweight materials and like motorcycles, are not governed by the same safety equipment as a car. You do bear the same responsibilities as you would for riding a motorcycle while behind the wheel of a cycle car. You need a motorcycle license. I believe that this fact alone has limited the popularity of cycle cars worldwide. It just isn't as easy for anyone to go out and buy one and then drive it home from the dealership; that's probably a good thing. Motorcyclists are already aware of their vulnerability on public roads, and carrying over that same level of hypersensitivity to traffic conditions and visibility while piloting a cycle car is a good thing.

While I probably won't build one, the thought of removing the front fork and wheel from my Nighthawk and affixing it to a home-built cockpit with two wheels out front is still compelling. Once you drill down on the specifics, however, things get dicey. There would have to be a lot of welding, and while I can do that, I just haven't welded long enough to be 100% confident about the integrity of the welds. That's a huge safety concern. For me, building one is only affordable if I do a lot of the work myself, and I don't see that happening for quite some time. In the meantime, I'll just enjoy conversations about projects with my friend Bruce and other like-minded motor and wheel crazies.

Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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