A mighty trike: Vanderhall Venice

A mighty trike: Vanderhall Venice

Three wheels, two seats, no doors, minimal windscreen — and lots of horsepower! What’s not to love?

The Vanderhall Venice (one of several Pacific Coast Highway models) is a fantasy of Steve Hall of, oddly enough, Provo Utah. Hall is the third generation of a family of inventors and entrepreneurs. Immediately after college he founded his own luxury car dealership, began driving Porsches, and planning to create his own sports car.  

There were many 4-wheel prototypes, but federal regulations intervened — in both his dream car and his supercar retail line up. However, several new 3-wheel “autocycles” (a new official category) came to market, introduced a much shorter list of regulatory challenges and registration fees like a motorcycle. Three-wheel prototyping began in earnest, but the federal regs have nothing on the laws of physics; where to put the power, where to deliver it to the road and where to secure two passengers in comfort — and a low center of gravity.

Tessa Crane of the Mullin museum at speed in the 3-wheeler

Enter General Motors with a fully developed front-wheel-drive system with a new-century engine and all electronic controls — including steering. The Vanderhall Motor Works team created an aluminum structure of extruded beams and a robust, patented tab-and-slot assembly system. 

The classic double-wishbone front suspension, developed from the GM original, was supported by horizontal coil-over shock absorbers actuated by pushrods to lower both the cowl height and the occupants. The rear suspension carries the unpowered rear wheel on a massive single-side swing arm with another adjustable coil-over shock absorber. The anti-lock-braking system operates on all three wheels. It is one of the best in the limited-volume, boutique-builder arena.

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Under full-power acceleration the Vanderhall Venice roadster is a cacophony of lightly muffled exhaust, wide-tire road roar, air rushing around a narrow windscreen and an endlessly satisfying “crack!” of unburned hydrocarbons igniting during the millisecond of off-throttle electronically-controlled gear change. 

No less fascinating is the brief metallic zing of unloaded turbine blades in the turbocharger — think Porsche 935s exiting Mulsanne en route to Arnage. 

Not for everyone, but if you are considering a Vanderhall at all, you are probably one who would enjoy the music. Should you consider overpowering the open roadster’s natural symphony, there is a 400-watt Bluetooth sound system to be driven from your iPhone.

A 3-wheeled autocycle with an elegantly wood-rimmed steering wheel is far more vintage-stylin’ than transportation, in any case. The aluminum-framed seats with upholstery slipped over them are pretty simple and adjustments are limited to fore and aft movements. The padding is only a few centimeters thick, but after a lifetime of driving and racing vintage cars with simple rectangular seats, the Vanderhall “bucket” was brilliantly formed and padded for an all day drive — for me. 

There is a distinct nod toward vintage as you approach the little roadster. The drivetrain under the simple nose form, however, is a distinctly different mater. The little General Motors 1,400 cc Ecotec LUV engine is a twin-cam 4-cylinder with continuously variable cam timing and valve actuation by roller-bearing finger (lever) cam followers. All that and electronic throttles control the air intake and exhaust. The fuel metering is done by sequential multi-port injectors; “Vintage” 2010. 

The complete front-wheel-drive system has a GM radiator and cooling pack; the turbo intercooler and intake is all Vanderhall. 

The 6-speed automatic gearbox offers a manual-mode option, and the Venice roadster uses a handsome chrome lever on the sill as selector (pull back for upshift and push forward for downshift). 

Canyon carving

For a 1,350-pound car, the Ecotec’s 180 horsepower delivers 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds. The handsome trike has 70-30 front-rear weight distribution. Its low center of gravity and 225/40ZR18 front and 285/30ZR18 rear tires make the canyon run to Malibu exhilarating with an 0.95g lateral grip and offer high floatation on the sand once you’ve arrived.  

Three LED light sets make up each headlight and send their projectile beams through the egg-crate grille.  The well-equipped start-up company molds and cures its own ABS (easily recyclable) bodies.  The slippery aerodynamic forms contribute to the vehicle’s overall fuel consumption average of 25-27 mpg with 40 as its typical best. 

Vanderhall Motor Works has a manufacturing base of 35 employees producing 500 units per year. Planning for 2019 is to grow to 1000 units.  The Venice model base price is $29,950, about the price of a full dress Harley. 

For more information, visit the Vanderhall website.

Larry Crane
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