Four wheels good… Three wheels? Well, we’ll never know, as this seemingly no-brainer success story was actually stillborn before anyone could find out. Richard Heseltine takes up the story…
From here to obscurity
Richard Heseltine’s weird and wonderful American cars from the past.
What links McDonalds, Harley-Davidson and, er, the Toyota Supra? That would be the mighty Trihawk. This remarkable three-wheeler was once omnipresent in the American media, making appearances in countless magazines and news items, only to disappear into the ether just as success seemed a formality. The brainchild of Lou Richards, who became a millionaire overnight after inventing the Automatic Hamburger-Patty Forming Machine and licensing it to Maccy-Ds, the creation of the Trihawk represented a longnurtured ambition.
He found a collaborator and foil in Dave Stollery, a former child actor in several Disney flicks who had since become a highly respected car designer. In addition to styling the second-generation Supra, he also enjoyed spells at General Motors before becoming principal of the influential Art Centre College of Design in Pasadena, California. Work commenced at the dawn of the Eighties, with contributors including highly respected racing car designer/engineer Bob McKee. There were a few false dawns, however, not least after Stollery penned an adventurous-looking trike, with a fully enclosed body that represented pure sci-fi whimsy. He was convinced he was on to a winner to the point that he didn’t wait for his paymaster’s approval and pressed on with making body moulds.
However, Richards wanted something that bit more bare bones, so Stollery was obliged to start again (his original effort later appeared as the FireAero).
What finally emerged in 1982 was a skimpy trike with an air-cooled 1.3-litre Citroën GSA engine and five-speed ’box, with suspension by unequal-length double A-arms up front and a single rear trailing arm. Coil-over dampers were employed all-round. Citroën was so impressed with the prototype that it sent four engineers over from France to assist with durability testing (they returned home with one of the test hacks). The rest of the car was typically an amalgam of proprietary parts, ranging from VW Rabbit (Golf in Europe) pedals to Suzuki GS1100 tail-lights, the production-ready Trihawk being some 154.5in long, 73in wide and 44in high.
In May 1982, Road & Track put a test mule through its paces and concluded: “We see the Trihawk as a welcome addition to the speciality car market. It’s a proper sports car that’s well designed and well executed, with just a touch of zaniness mixed in; an entertaining way to get from here to there.
“Or maybe just back to here again, purely for the fun of it, with a smile on your face and on the faces of passers-by and drivers around you.” Sometime that same year, Jeffrey Bleustein, then vice-president of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, took a ride in an early prototype. He was so impressed, he persuaded other board members to acquire the manufacturing rights for $4m. At around the same time, Milwaukee’s finest also acquired Holiday Rambler Motor Homes, the idea being to offer the Trihawk as an accessory to tow behind your RV. It even went so far as to make vehicles in batches of 10 from 1983, initially from its Dana Point facility.
However, by February 1985, Harley-Davidson was overstretched and in a parlous state financially. It shelved production of the Trihawk after 96 cars had been built. A few months later, it announced it would make the cars in Wisconsin at a rate of 100 per month, with a change of powerplant to the Porsche-designed, Harley-Davidson-made narrow-angle ‘Nova’ V4 unit. This change of engine was rather forced on the firm as Citroën announced its intention to axe the GSA. Production never got going again, with a further 11 unbuilt cars being sold on the quiet in kit form.
And you thought the Sinclair C5 looked odd…