There are 10 groups of 3-wheeled vehicles, to whit;
* The 1950 Munich-built Hoffmann – see the photos - (no relation to the motor cycle manufacturer) sported rear-wheel steering. It turned out to be an extremely complex affair, making for a weird bulbous vehicle with an asymmetrical windshield; aside from the strange looks, this 3-wheeler Micro-Car was almost uncontrollable at speed and not many ever saw service. I have included it here strictly as an oddity and to show how far the imagination took some designers.
Motor Cycle Side-Car Rigs.
Motor cycle side-car rigs were invented by Victoria Nürnberg in 1907 (see the photo section as it relates to Victoria), originally as an industrial application, soon to be followed by large comfortable affairs worthy of the lady of the house. Eventually more and more side-cars came into use including in the English world in which side-cars became as popular as in their country of origin. During WW-1, the Belgian Army used FN side-car rigs armed with machine guns as an attack weapon, which inspired General Guderian * to establish such a military branch in the Wehrmacht in 1937; see the essay on `Kradschützen´.
* General Guderian was the `father´ of the German armored troops, heavily influenced and inspired by the British General and historian J. V. C. Fuller, the founder of modern armored warfare tactics. This Brit was one of England´s most respected military historians and has been swept down the memory hole of history because of his unflinching telling of the truth about Anglo-American military aggression vis-à-vis Germany starting in early 1914.
Side-Car design evolved rapidly so that one may say without fear of contradiction, the definite side-car design paradigm was established in the middle 1930´s. Industrially side-cars were used until the demise if the 2-wheeled industries in Europe as delivery vehicles. Today in the early part of the 21st.Century side-cars are again gaining tremendously in popularity including an improved resurrection of the `Schwenker´ (Leaning) principal patented in 1935 in Köln by the inventor Heinz Kloster. Present-day industrial usage seems to be limited to one design by Hartmuth Bubenezer of Germany.
Side-Car racing has never abated and it was here that massive wind-cheating advances were made by Steib and others. German teams have frequently dominated this class of racing and looking at some of these racing rigs one gets the impression of looking at things from outer space. Also, a totally new class of side-car racing rigs has been created, in which country I do not know; it is called `The Kneeler´. Racing enthusiasts take an existing motor cycle and lower the frame to the point were the rider is kneeling, rather than sitting on the machine. This is accompanied by an extremely low side-car. Incredibly, enthusiasts have taken classic bikes, such as the Horex Imperator and have converted them into `kneelers´. These machines are used exclusively for local Club racing.
Internationally there are an astounding amount of side-car manufacturers plying their wares (it is claimed in rump-Germany alone 125 of them; to me this seems to be an exaggeration) most of them technically very advanced with truly innovative and creative ideas. Some are building replicar side-cars to the precise original specifications. Most manufacturers in our time amount to no more than small workshops of between 1 and 6 men (this is a repetition of the 1920´s and 1930´s in Germany when most side-car and hundreds of motor cycle producers were very small work-shops), diligently working away and creating wild and wooly designs. Industrial usage these days is practically unknown, since motor cycle riding today is strictly for entertainment or sport, whereas in the first half of the 20th.Century motor cycles were mostly used for daily transportation, industrial transport - sporting activities coming in a distant third.
I predict this will not go unnoticed by the Chinese, who are building a fabulous 3-wheeled delivery machine with a motor-cycle front, attached to which is a large box - open or closed - for the transportation of goods; in short, the Chinese took their inspiration from European vehicles of this sort many, many years ago. The machine is powered by a single cylinder 250-cc 4-stroke and the vehicle is being sold as of this year (2009) in Chile and elsewhere in South America.
There are essentially two types of designs of 3-wheeled cars/trucks, to whit;
* The exception was the fabulous Messerschmitt Karo of the 1950´s, a wind-cheating design if ever there was one.
Odd Designs & Exceptions.
True - there are also those with rear-wheel steering (the Hoffmann has been commented on above) and after WW-2 even some which tilted in corners (in side-car jargon a `Schwenker´), but these are very rare exceptions and in the case of 3-wheeled cars far from proven. The first Schwenker-type car was built by Neumann-Neander in 1946. He had been fiddling around with the design throughout the war years and had somehow managed to save his plans and research even though his city of Düren was completely leveled in a barbaric air attack by the Royal Air Force; and barbaric it was!
And I Quote Air Marshall Harris of the Royal Air Force:
`It had never been our intention to hit German industrial targets; that was too difficult to do. It had been our intention from the start to annihilate the civilian population of Germany in order to demoralize them by spreading terror.´
By contrast both Hitler and Goering ordered the Luftwaffe to avoid civilian casualties whenever possible. THIS has been verified by British military historian Sir Basil Liddell Hart, Professor of History at Oxford A.J.P. Taylor and other non-German historians whose books on the subject are difficult, is at all possible, to find for reasons which need no explanation.
Another Schwenker prototype – a motor-cycle-car hybrid - was tried out by NSU in 1953. It was called the `Kurvenneiger´ a weird looking rather short single-seater; an engineering student had designed it and build it in his garage at home consequently succeeding in getting NSU interested. NSU tested it extensively on the Solitude racing circuit, eventually abandoning the idea as not feasible. It was claimed the machine did nothing whatsoever to re-assure the driver of his own safety even though the designer himself demonstrated it driving it at high speeds with aplomb. The end of the strange apparition came when a highly qualified driver-motor cycle journalist almost killed himself due to massive mechanical failure (?) of the machine´s complex `leaning´- mechanism; this mechanism had to be activated by the driver, it was NOT automatic!
The reason I have added a question mark is the following: The journalist was known to frown upon any machine which was too revolutionary. It is very possible, that it was HE who made a mistake while engaging the leaning mechanism! The designer of the machine had demonstrated it with aplomb w/out experiencing any difficulties. The same journalist, a certain `Klacks´ almost killed himself when he mishandled the shifting mechanism of Norbert Riedels revolutionary motor cycle, the Victoria Swing some years later mistakenly shifting from 3rd.gear at speed into 1st. rather than 4th; consequently `driver error´ could easily have been at the bottom of the machines failure.
Three-Wheeled Micro-Cars and Trucks.
The motorized 3-wheel-concept was invented by Karl Benz (Mercedes-Benz) in 1886 but was slow in gaining acceptance; a rather magnificent three-wheeled bicycle had been produced by Adler of Frankfurt in about 1875. After the turn of the century in 1905 Brennabor and a number of other manufacturers came to market with a delivery truck using this principle and in 1907 Phänomen came to market with a 3-wheeled medium sized truck powered by a 1.5 liter 4 cylinder 4-stroke air-cooled engine mounted above the single front wheel. The Phänomen truck was built with great success until the middle 1920´s and exported all over Europe, especially to the Scandinavian countries; the air cooled 4-cylinder engine, with modernizing up-grades of course was used as far into the future as the middle 1970´s!
Concurrently the concept took hold in England with a vengeance resulting in a myriad of British 3-wheelers; in fact, even today, enthusiasts of every variety design and built some rather adventurous, really great-looking three-wheeled sporting cars in Britain as well as in the USA.
Even though there was a plethora of three-wheeler cars being built in Germany, the industrial variety is the one which caught on and became wildly successful.
The 3-wheeler being built in Germany most often used the simplest design paradigm, namely 1 wheel in front and 2 in the rear. This simplified the steering mechanism as well as drive-line drastically, since in Germany the engine was almost invariably located on top of the front wheel, driving it via an enclosed chain. There were many exception to this, such as the passenger car Goliath Pioneer which was powered by a 200-cc Ilo rear-mounted engine. This car was really special for its times and as many other products by the design genius Carl F. Borgward took the road un-traveled – see the essay on Goliath.
In order to avoid excessive competition in the field, the Hitler government in 1938 restricted 3-wheel designs to Tempo and Goliath only and then only for industrial purposes; the Norton-powered Neumann-Neander was the exception for it was a limited production sports car built only for well-to-do enthusiasts at special order; whether the wild and wooly Kaiser of 1935 ever saw production I have been unable to determine, but it certainly was the most advanced vehicle of its type in Europe at the time. 3-wheeler passenger cars had in the meantime gained the reputation (in Germany) of `the poor man´s´ transportation system and therefore had lost all market appeal - excepting of course the market for delivery vehicles or for the esoteric few whose tastes are not dictated by the masses.
As mentioned previously there was a myriad of 3-wheelers, including some really wild ones, produced in the USA, England, France and Italy got into the act as well even though never with any conviction.
The three-wheeler enjoyed a tremendous renaissance in Germany in the 1950´s when a myriad of Micro-Cars opted for this system. Goliath built a gorgeous, an utterly beautiful 3-wheeled world-record setting car in the early 1950´s when Carl F. Borgward was very active in international racing competitions.
Today in the 21st.Century, a plethora of adventurous engineers all over the world, are experimenting with truly incredible three-wheel designs. Some of them have been marketed, especially in England, where many designers have been emulating the great British pre-war Morgan three-wheeler; even Big Boys like Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW are experimenting with 3-wheel designs, inspired by the great German visionaries and dreamers Neumann-Neander, Fritz Fend and not to forget the highly individualistic and quite pretty Jurisch Monoplane 1955.