Home » Start Your Day Crudely With Some Cyclecars: Cold Start

Start Your Day Crudely With Some Cyclecars: Cold Start

Cs Cyclecar Top
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I’ve always been drawn to the extreme low ends of the automotive world, the cheapskates’ cars, the peoples’ cars, all that sort of thing. Somehow, I just respect them more, and find them more interesting, I think because I have a sort of weird fetish for restrictions. That’s why cars like the Bugatti Veyron never appealed to me; if you have no restrictions, of course you can do whatever you want, and that’s boring. Doing interesting and useful things while everything is stacked against you, that’s when things get exciting. Which is what I like about cyclecars, some of the most restriction-laden categories of cars ever.

You know about cyclecars, right? They’re really the first category of affordable car, pretty much ever. The earliest period of automobiles, from 1769 to about the 1890s, cars were really pretty experimental. Private ownership did occur, rarely, but you had to be rich and of a unique mindset. By the late 1800s, more “normal” people could buy a car, but you still needed to be rich. Cyclecars changed that, and in the short span of time that they existed – from about 1910 to the early 1920s – they were the way that non-wealthy people could have a car.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Well, barely a car, if we’re honest. Cyclecars were crude, crude, crude things, halfway between motorcycle and car, and often just simply deathtraps. They had small motorcyle-type engines, single-cylinders or maybe V-twins, and used chains and pulleys for getting the limited power to the wheels, or, often, wheel. Instead of differentials, they just relied on the slipping of belts, and frames were often just wood, with simple sheet-metal bodies, sometimes wicker, sometimes plywood. These were dirt-simple machines. Here’s a common sort of design of these:

Cs Cyclecar 2

You could probably build one of these in an afternoon with parts from Home Depot today, I bet. And that would be a fun way to spend a weekend, too. The design you see up there was typical of a lot of cyclecar builders, like Grafton or GN, and that torpedo-shaped fuel tank at the nose and general narrow proportions defined the interesting look of many of these:

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Here’s a good video of a Grafton cyclecar in action so you can see what I mean:

It’s crude, but there’s an elegance in the crudeness isn’t there? I think so. In fact, I think sometimes the sort of classic cyclecar proportions made for some strangely elegant-and sleek-looking vehicles. Look at these:

Cs Cyclecar Vigne

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That La Vigne is pretty cool looking! The long hood, the big wheels, it all just kind of works. It’s a dramatic look, but it was just about keeping things cheap; in modern money, most of these cyclecars would be selling for around $10,000 to $12,000 or so, somewhere in there. So they were cheap.

And how about this delivery cyclecar, the Imp Light Delivery Car:

Cs Cyclecar Imp Delivery

That has a hot rod feel to it, right? And holy crap, look at the size of that chain!

I’d love to actually drive one of these one day; I’ve driven some similar things, but I’m especially curious about the Gigantic Chain Experience.

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Oh, I learned something new and hilariously terrifying about cyclecars: they were so simple, they were often the target of mechanical “pranks.” Like this one:

“Another favorite was to rewind the wire-and-bobbin steering. To explain how this worked, the steering column extended as far forward in most of these cars as the tie rod. To steer, steel cable was wound several times around a bobbin at the bottom of the shaft. When the driver moved the steering wheel, the cable moved the tie rod. Pranksters, though, would unhook the cable, rewind it backward, and attach the ends again to the tie rod. So when the driver hopped in and started off down the road, he soon found that in steering to the right, the car would veer left, and vice versa. Ha, ha.”

A prank where you reverse how someone’s steering in their car works? Good one! I’m sure you’ll almost forget about the risk of brutal and bloody death because of all the laughing!

I wonder how often that really happened? Man, some people.

 

 

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Jon Benet
Jon Benet
23 days ago

These are cool. The simplicity makes me think of the new Rail Carting hobby that is beginning to pop up. People are building go carts from scratch and then running up and down abandon railroad tracks. Looks so fun.
https://youtu.be/-QDM-bmNziw?si=E2WQRDNmmEVvK2EG

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
23 days ago

I bet you can get a plate for THIS in Maine.

Flyingstitch
Flyingstitch
23 days ago

I’m sure you’ll almost forget about the risk of brutal and bloody death because of all the laughing!

And remember, whatever you’re driving into, you’re leading with the fuel tank.

MrLM002
MrLM002
23 days ago

We need more Cyclecars.

Balloondoggle
Balloondoggle
23 days ago

I’ve long wanted to build one of these myself. Finding plans to follow wouldn’t even be an issue, just come up with it myself. Salvage a couple of motorcycles for wheels and engine etc. but I don’t know where I’d come up with axles or suspension.

Tricky Motorsports
Tricky Motorsports
23 days ago
Reply to  Balloondoggle

Judging from the first couple pics, a pair of half leaf springs with pillow block bearings would locate a simple round steel bar drive axle. A riding lawn mower front axle could adapted easily for steering.

Balloondoggle
Balloondoggle
23 days ago

Oh, the lawnmower idea – I like it!

Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
23 days ago
Reply to  Balloondoggle

Tricky Motorsports has good ideas. For a rear axle, you can rob a go kart, ATV , golf cart or the very same ride-on mower you got the front suspension from and just relocate the sprocket/brake mounting tabs to wherever is convenient.

Other good front suspension donors are golf carts and air-cooled VW’s. The VW one is nice because it’s independent and has brakes, the golf cart one is a bit wider and beefier than the ride-on mower, which is nice depending on the kind of cycle car you want to build.

If you hate chains and really want a reverse gear and H-pattern shifter, old Harley and Royal Enfield engines have divorced engine/transmission and can be mated to a car gearbox. This would also enable you to use a car’s rear axle and save some work on the rear suspension as they come with brakes so you’d only have to mount the links/springs to the frame. It’ll definitely be heavier than a chain drive system, but it’ll be less work assuming you find a production driveshaft that works.

ES
ES
23 days ago

i like how the Le Vigne ad directly addresses two issues you raised. Unfortunately, no “giant chain experience” as they tout a shaft drive/worm gear, but as a positive, their steering mechanism is “nonreversible”.

Also, I think because I have a sort of weird fetish for restrictions.” has a name that needn’t shame you sir, as there is probably room in this big world of ours for a BDSM/taillight fetish pastiche.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
23 days ago
Reply to  ES

In this context “irreversible” steering doesn’t refer to the bobbin problem but instead means that any tendency for the wheels to be deflected by the road surface does not get transmitted “backwards” up the steering mechanism where it would become a force that would make the steering wheel harder to control. Mostly it’s a matter of making sure that the steering leverage overwhelmingly favors the driver’s input.

ES
ES
23 days ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

ah, thanks for the context.

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
23 days ago

The Grafton cyclecar in that video (which unfortunately did not have any captioning, at least at this time, so I just watched it at 2x speed) was mighty charming. Funny, despite it being so open that Grafton cyclecar is perhaps not the best choice if you have claustrophobia, as the driver didn’t just get in it, he practically put it on like a pair of pants, à la Wallace and Gromit’s Wrong Trousers.
Yeah, the simplicity of those cyclecars is mighty appealing, especially when it’s so elegant. And there’s also something quite appealing when cyclecars are souped up, like in this short video with this 1908 GN cyclecar fitted with a circa 1914 airplane engine that someone apparently frequently takes on road trips: https://youtu.be/8ks2e_pjasQ?si=hYl9cTkMDxeUpOgH
Another short video of a GN cyclecar, possibly the same one as in the above video, has the camera mounted just behind the left front wheel which shows the wheel, with its astonishingly skinny tire, just wiggling like mad through curves and underscores the utter simplicity of such vehicles: https://youtu.be/TbmBHLHxB70?si=glSjp3CeWU5XNs-J

Last edited 23 days ago by Collegiate Autodidact
Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
23 days ago

For anyone wondering about the engine mentioned at about the 0:43 point in the video, it’s from J.A. Prestwich:

https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/images/e/ee/Im19121204CyCar-JAP.jpg

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
24 days ago

“And how about this delivery cyclecar, the Imp Light Delivery Car”
Would’ve been a good choice for, say, a bookstore specializing in goth titles, especially for Poe-heads:
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2148/2148-h/2148-h.htm#chap2.12
(Just don’t ever bring up the orangutan https://www.tumblr.com/winchysteria/168634371438/theres-something-endlessly-hilarious-to-me-about?source=share and in case that link doesn’t work https://www.reddit.com/r/EdgarAllanPoe/comments/17cehq8/we_do_not_talk_about_the_orangutan/)

Last edited 24 days ago by Collegiate Autodidact
Twobox Designgineer
Twobox Designgineer
24 days ago

Re the reverse steering “prank:”
I wonder whether it’s possible in a modern car with drive-by-wire controls to hack in deep enough to do this sort of thing in software. Reverse the steering! Reverse the brakes so it must be held down to release them and lifted to set them! Or even, re-map the brake pedal to steering and vice versa!
Canbus scramble everything!
Huge LOLs when your neighbor heads out late for work tomorrow morning — get the camera ready for your YouTube channel!
(Yes, I know such tampering would likely be impossible since it’s so deep and there are so many safeguard redundancies and error traps. But it’s fun to think about.)

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
23 days ago

In the end, a cyclecar would be much easier to reverse engineer.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
24 days ago

Morgan, baby, from the 1910 Runabout, to the Aero and Super Aero of the Twenties to the Three Wheeler and the Super 3 of this century. Cycle car royalty.

Got to flog a Three Wheeler for two days several years ago and there is nothing like a cycle car. Most cars today are so advanced and capable you can never legally come close to testing their limits away from a track and all that capability is just a waste. A cycle car turns a trip to the store into a rally. Not that you’ll be able to buy much when you get to the store, but you won’t care.

WW I Royal Flying Corps Ace Captain Albert Ball, a national hero with 44 aerial victories, and who, following his death in France in 1917, was heralded by Germany’s Red Baron as “by far the best English flying man,”once said that driving a Morgan Aero cycle car was the closest thing to flying. Gotta agree.

Last edited 24 days ago by Canopysaurus
Toecutter
Toecutter
24 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

I think I get an experience comparable to an old cycle car with my custom built 3-wheeled “bicycle”:

https://i.imgur.com/1KvhZN8.jpg

https://i.imgur.com/j75uGn7.jpg

https://i.imgur.com/1aaEtdp.jpg

https://i.imgur.com/tzO209r.jpg

https://i.imgur.com/Jrz8rYc.jpg

As photographed above, it weighed 91 lbs, and could fly down a state highway at 50 mph when it had 4 peak horsepower on tap. 0-30 mph in about 4-5 seconds. Could travel hundreds of miles on $0.25 worth of electricity, and could hold a few days worth of groceries in the trunk.

It was later upgraded to 13 horsepower, 0-30 mph dropped to about 2 seconds, and took a Dodge Charger V6 at a stop light last year. He didn’t catch up until about 30 mph, because my voltage limitation cut my peak power off at a low RPM. Top speed remained unchanged.

Being upgraded to AWD and 25+ horsepower with a roll cage and more aerodynamically slippery body shell, and expected to weigh about 120 lbs in that guise. Top speed expected to be over 80 mph at 72V, and 0-60 mph may be under 4 seconds.

Luvmeadeadpedal
Luvmeadeadpedal
23 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

I have been lucky enough to own a more modern M3W for about 4 years now and it a lovely little car.

Motoring is what you would more likely call the experience.

It rattles and vibrates and wiggles while at idle but the raucous 2.0L v-twin really shines once you have it rolling down the road.

It is exhilarating when you push it a bit and it is easy to see your apex as you can literally see the tire on the road as you are making your turn (the left side anyway).

It never ceases to draw a crowd and make people of all types and ages smile.

Here she is pretending to be a barn find while visiting the beach.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/dnRfMf1Gp82WHPxv8

Anybody visiting the PNW I am happy to take you on a spin.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
24 days ago

I’ve driven a car with the steering reversed. There is a trick to coping: you hold the wheel with one hand at the bottom (6 o’clock) and that hand moves right to turn right, and left to turn left. You get used to it really quickly.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
23 days ago
Reply to  Captain Muppet

You can’t just leave it there: why/how was the steering reversed?

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
23 days ago
Reply to  Captain Muppet

Ahh, the trailering trick. And I’ll echo TOSSABL: we need to know more about the circumstances.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
23 days ago
Reply to  OrigamiSensei

There used to be a place a few miles from my house that did weird driving experiences, drive a tank, off-road an Unimog, that sort of thing. They had a Fiat 126 (ridiculous tiny car) with reversed steering as a nasty surprise between driving the big stuff. I dread to think how they reversed the steering, but you only got to walking pace in it because it was terrifying, and also only 26bhp.

I went there for the Unimog.

Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
22 days ago
Reply to  Captain Muppet

Probably a RHD rack in a LHD car or vice versa, turned upside down.

WaxhawFive
WaxhawFive
24 days ago

If you haven’t already (maybe you did on the OTHER site), please do an article on the modern homemade cyclekart races and builders. I’ve joined all the FB groups and will be building mine “soon”, The headline photo of this one even features the same torpedo-shaped fuel tank design. https://www.facebook.com/groups/cyclekart

Toecutter
Toecutter
24 days ago

I think this type of vehicle could make a big comeback as new vehicle prices get ever more expensive, and/or should there be resource shortages in the future.

The potential to get 4-digit MPG exists with modern material sciences and aerodynamics.

WaxhawFive
WaxhawFive
24 days ago

Early use of turning headlights on the La Vigne!

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
24 days ago

Seems weird how all the designs settled on a front engine, rear drive layout. I would think it would make more sense to put the engine in back and eliminate the loooooong chain drive.

Am I missing something here?

Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
24 days ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

The looong chain drive acts like a driveshaft with U-joints, allowing the suspension to travel up and twist side to side without binding. You need a good length of bike chain to provide the torsional freedom to navigate early 20th century roads.

Edit: It would be possible to build a zero-torsion setup with trailing arms, but you’d need twice as many drive chains and your control cables would all have to be routed out back on what’s supposed to be the cheapest possible solution. I’ve seen a good few cyclecars with rear-mounted engines in videos, but they’re usually either more complicated than the front-engined versions or have no suspension in the rear.

Last edited 24 days ago by Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
24 days ago
Reply to  Ricardo Mercio

I have to correct myself on my second point, it seems like most of these have 2 drive chains already. I’m not sure why, perhaps it makes suspension construction simpler, or maybe the gearing necessitates 2 separate chains so they take less stress. But this means a rear-engined setup wouldn’t be that much more complex, though it would also not be any simpler.

ExAutoJourno
ExAutoJourno
24 days ago

How could you not mention the Auto-Red-Bug?

It was either gasoline-powered or available as the first EV Cyclecar!

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
23 days ago
Reply to  ExAutoJourno

There’s a certain uncertainty in the history of the Flyer/Red Bug but it appears most likely that the electric version didn’t go into production until around 1924 (despite some claims to the contrary) which means there were earlier mass-produced electric cyclecars. Slaby-Beringer, for example, started production of theirs in 1919.

Toecutter
Toecutter
23 days ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

I didn’t know about the Slaby-Beringer. What a machine.

It’s a shame like everything else of the era it ignored aero drag. Its range per charge could easily have been tripled or quadrupled on the same battery while being turned into an enclosed vehicle.

DubblewhopperInDubblejeopardy
DubblewhopperInDubblejeopardy
24 days ago

Imp Cyclecar not to be confused with the Baron Of Hell Cyclecar by Chrysler.

A. Barth
A. Barth
24 days ago

Begin the day with a cyclecar,

A companion unobtrusive.

Chasing speed that’s so elusive

The combustion engine makes your voiture move.

Chronometric
Chronometric
23 days ago
Reply to  A. Barth

Bum suspension – wood in tension.
JAP engine is a cur, no that’s not a slur.
Brake by wire, skinny tires
Cable steering, lots of veering.

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