Looking more like a plane than a car, the ill-fated but fascinating Feora is given a second airing in this month’s From Here to Obscurity…
Richard Heseltine’s weird and wonderful American cars from the past
It appeared more aircraft than car, but the Feora was a serious project. Remarkably, it was one that was conceived and created by a self-taught designer and builder. Scroll back to the early Eighties, when Chuck Ophorst was a 20-something service mechanic employed in the oil fields of Bakersfield, California. He dreamed up a compact, three-wheeler commuter vehicle that would also be easy to drive and a doddle to park. Working out of a two-car garage in Paramount, a suburb of Los Angeles, he spent 22 months fashioning the prototype which emerged blinking into the light in 1982.
Underpinning this brave new world was a tubular chassis that comprised 180 separate pieces welded together. Power came from an air-cooled 175cc Honda ‘twin’ which produced a giddying 22bhp. Suspension was by means of a trailing arm set-up at the front and a swing arm arrangement to the rear. The striking part, however, was the ultra-slim glass fibre body which purportedly had a drag coefficient of just 0.15cd. An enormous amount of effort was expended smoothing the air flow over the body and wheels.
At the front of the car, there were six air intakes positioned at the point of highest pressure to both feed the engine and to reduce aerodynamic lift without resorting to the use of canard wings or spoilers.
Just below the single headlight were two smaller supplementary intakes which supplied ventilation for the two-seater cabin (the glazing was fixed). The Feora tipped the scales at just 229kg (505lb) minus driver, Ophorst claiming the prototype was capable of reaching 92mph overall, and delivering 80mpg at a constant 55mph. At 75mph, it was purportedly good for 71mpg!
John McGovern drove the car for Alternative Cars International magazine in 1983 and reported: “[The] handling is very good: the rack and pinion steering uses only 13⁄4 turns lock to lock… At the moment, Chuck uses motorcycle tyres, but [he] feels that flat-tread car-type tyres would improve drive, handling and steering qualities even more.
“Up to 50mph, there is a little too much engine roar to be heard inside the car, but over that speed the noise progressively quietens out. Very little tyre noise is generated, and there is no wind noise at all.
“Directional stability is first class, and though the Feora steers neutrally in corners, it displays some understeer when really pushed, which merely serves to reduce speed without upsetting the car’s balance… The Feora certainly looks like something out of Star Wars, but apart from the lack of any luggage space it is practical and great fun to drive, or even to be a passenger in. It delivers amazing performance together with outstanding fuel economy, and is stable, comfortable and safe.”
As for whether America was ready for driving around in something that looked like a grounded aeroplane, the answer is moot. Ophorst evaluated his options, but reasoned that he would need to sell Feoras at around $14,000 to return a profit, and even then production would be strictly limited. He decided against it, but did later offer plans for DIY builders to make their own replicas. He also embarked on constructing a teardrop-shaped four-wheeled device but it remains unrecorded if it was ever completed.