Most things built to eat up mile markers are meant to be more than a conveyance to get us down the road with urgent promptitude. They are built for the rapid pursuit of pure joy. For upstart American manufacturer Vanderhall Motor Works, the fun factor was up on the drawing board from day 1.
After some five years of development and wheelbarrows of cash, Vanderhall brought three models to market in 2015: the Laguna, Laguna Sport Premium, and the posh Laguna Bespoke Motoring Experience, a mouthful of a marque that’s officially tagged as “sold out” on the company’s website. For 2017, the Provo, Utah–based maker rolled out the Venice, fitted with sleek ABS bodywork sitting on a mono aluminum frame. Priced at $29,950, it’s competitive with other autocycles on the market, such as the Polaris Slingshot. One might call it the factory’s entry-level hot rod.
Autocycles are loosely defined as three-wheeled, enclosed vehicles—a crossbreed between car and motorcycle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration classifies them as motorcycles, but states differ on regulations. To casual observers, if it has a steering wheel and side-by-side seats, it’s a car (no matter how many wheels). Perception, however, is not the law.
All Vanderhalls share the same driveline: a Chevy 16-valve, 1.4L turbo usually found in the Cruze and Sonic and matched with Chevy’s surprisingly sure and smooth-shifting six-speed 6T40 automatic transmission. The Venice offers a dealer-installed bump shifter option for $995, included with my test mule. The automatic torque converter allowed for clutch-less hand shifting, which I preferred around town. The engine likes to spin over 2,000 rpm and tends to lug at low speeds in automatic mode. Like a motorcycle in city riding, the Venice mill is better in a gear lower than it would choose for itself for quicker acceleration.
The engine size doesn’t sound impressive or inspire images of a mighty, snarling beast. After all, it’s smaller than many motorcycle engines. But as a result of some secret in-house tweaking and tuning, this powerplant has the deep-down grunt and go that makes the Venice a hedonistic pleasure. The trike makes a claimed 180 hp at 4,950 rpm and 185 lb-ft of torque at 2,450 rpm. For a vehicle weighing in at a slight belt notch below 1,400 pounds, it has a power-to-weight ratio that translates to a nice shot of adrenaline. The Venice gets about 30 mpg in combined driving, and its 9-gallon fuel tank gives it all the range you’ll want before refueling.
The company claims 0–60 will happen in 4.5 seconds, which would smoke most things that come with a steering wheel—and it costs less than $30K. Riding sans stopwatch, I can faithfully report the Venice has got some serious giddy-up. Fast off the line, its roll-on power is even more impressive—the kind of go needed to swiftly pass anything moving at legal speeds and accelerate with aplomb from onramps. When riding/driving things built for speed, quick acceleration is a safety feature—in the right hands. The tach has no redline, but factory specs put it at 6,500 rpm—good to know when in standard shift mode. Top end is a claimed 140 mph. In a vehicle that rides less than 6 inches off the tarmac, even half that speed feels like you’re straddling a missile. Add a couple of wings, and the Venice might depart the planet.
Like most production trikes, early Vanderhall experimental models used motorcycle engines. According to Dan Boyer, director of sales and marketing, those proved to be lacking the desired torque and electrical output. Vanderhall eventually went with the GM transverse, inline-four, front-wheel-drive engine, which checked the rest of their power boxes.
The Vanderhall’s aesthetics are based very loosely on a 1960 Formula 1 car. I got enthusiastic thumbs-up from plaid-shirted guys in pickups; leathery, hardcore bikers; quaffed and polished sports-car snobs; smiling pedestrians in miniskirts; and weirdos on bicycles. The whir and hiss of the turbo and autocycle’s vintage stance had my passenger describe the Venice as “steampunky.”
I’ve ridden most every type of two- or three-wheeled contraption, and most take some getting used to, while some behave so counterintuitively they defy good sense and maybe physics. Some were a dream to ride—others a nightmare. I was prepared for a significant learning curve when I first lowered myself into the door-less Venice.
It’s an awkward entrance that will have you reaching for something to hold on to. The only thing to grab is the windshield, which will crack if you pull down on it. I was very mindful of this, keeping all appendages away from the glass while still trying to get into the bucket seat. It would be helpful if proper lodge and dislodge from the cockpit was diagrammed in the owner’s manual, which is a downloadable document that begins with “The Vanderhall Venice is NOT a car,” but no such luck.
The Venice instantly fired to life with a low, deep grumble. Modifying or upgrading the pipes immediately came to mind, but then again, I like it loud and growly. The shifter sequence takes you from Park to Reverse, Neutral, Drive, and all the way back and down for standard mode. That’s where the shiny, silver knob on the driver-side panel (where a door would be) comes into play. The panel serves nicely as an armrest, with the shifter knob poking up exactly where my hand found comfort. Initially, I kept it in automatic.
Any trepidation about the how the Venice would handle vanished almost instantly. There was no learning curve. The front-wheel drive pulls it through turns effortlessly; add electronic-assist, rack-and-pinion power steering, nicely engineered front-to-rear weight distribution, a well-matched suspension, excellent brakes, and that peppy turbo, and you have a machine that performs beyond expectations. A cabin heater, plus heated seats, helps everyone stay comfy when it gets cool. LED headlights, brake lights, turn signals, hazard lights, power port, and a Bluetooth-connectable, loud-and-clear-as-hell, 600-watt sound system round out the civilized bits.
The dash-mounted clock will soon be replaced by a more relevant temperature gauge, according to Boyer. The dash includes a row of old-school toggle switches for things like cruise-control activation and cruise-speed control.
The Venice is not without some drawbacks. Besides needing yogi skills to get in and out of the vehicle, the cockpit is cramped, the seats are thin with no lumbar support, and if you are thick and/or broad, you will find hard bits poking you here and there. Legroom, however, is ample, but “width room” could use a few more inches. There is an unconfirmed story that CEO Stephen Hall had the Vanderhall built around his 6-foot, 6-inch frame, which makes sense after you climb into one. If you’re less than 5 feet 10 inches tall, give or take, you’re looking through the windshield—not over it like most motorcycle shields. There are no windshield wipers, so expect blurriness going in the rain unless you’re tall enough to look over the shield. Engine checks and maintenance begin with removing the hood via four bolts per side, a somewhat daunting chore that will likely add time between fluid checks. A hinged hood would add 65 pounds, said Boyer, a weight gain the company would like to avoid.
If caught in a downpour, the cockpit could turn into a bathtub. Boyer points out that there are two drain holes, and the carpeting is marine grade, but he also recommends the Venice not be ridden in the rain, which makes the Vanderhall model names all the more appropriate. Meanwhile, the company is developing different types and sizes of covers. Storage is about enough for a pizza and a six-pack (or two); Vanderhall is working on some options for that, as well.
The seat is just 12 inches or so off the ground, which allowed me to experience the road as I never had before. The Venice’s height makes it harder for the pilot to see around corners—and be seen. Observers compared it to vintage MGs and Morgan 3 Wheelers. This just comes with the territory in asphalt-hugging, power-sport things that go fast. It’s not always going to be comfortable, and some brass is required, which some enthusiasts on the fringe (probably me) consider good fun. The open cockpit and low-slung profile don’t detract from the insouciant experience, regardless of the element of danger. This just adds to the Venice’s unique signature and charisma.
My passenger offered this take, “I loved how children responded to it, that they were absolutely riveted as they pressed their little faces to car windows, or boys pouring out of a shop, bouncing around it like George Jetson just pulled up.”
The Venice comes in metallic black, pearl white, and metallic gray. Vanderhall is still developing its dealer network. For more information and to find a dealer, visit VanderhallUSA.com or call 949/420.9007.
Body construction: ABS composite
Interior material: V-Tex Black
Exterior colors: Metallic black, metallic gray, or pearl white
Model Year: 2017
Place of manufacture: Provo, Utah
Convenience: Heated seats, heat duel-vent system
Safety: ABS, traction control, brake assist, steering assist, rollbar
Interior: V-Tex Black
Audio: Bluetooth-connectable, 600-watt sound system
Lighting: LED (headlights, turn signals, brake lights)
Manufacturer: General Motors
Engine code: LUV
Bore/stroke: 72.0 by 82.6mm
Bore center: 78 mm
Cam design: Hollow, cast-iron
Redline: 6,500 rpm
Horsepower: 180 at 4,950 rpm
Torque: 185 at 2,450 rpm
Sump design: Wet
Fuel supply: Multi-port injectors
Catalytic converter: Yes
Type: 6T40 (Mh8)
Wheel drive: Front
Top gear ratio: .75
Clutch: Automatic torque converter
Final gear ratio: 3.87
0–60 mph: 4.5 seconds
Top speed: 140 mph
Lateral cornering stability: .95
Power-to-weight ratio: 8.6
Suspension: Pushrod, Vanderhall coilover hydraulic shocks (front); single-sided swing arm, coilover hydraulic shock (rear)
Base wheels:18×8.5-inch (front); 18×10.5-inch (rear)
Base tires: 225/40/18 (front); 285/35/18 (rear)
Brake calipers: Single-piston (front and rear)
Brake rotor: 305mm (front); 275mm (rear)
Steering: Rack-and-pinion, electronic assist
Bodywork Designer: Vanderhall Design
Base platform: Vanderhall mono aluminum
Number of doors: NA
Bodywork material: composite
Cargo capacity: 2,400 ci
DIMENSIONS, WEIGHT, and CAPACITIES
Overall width: 68 inches
Track, front: 60 inches
Height: 44 inches
Wheelbase: 100.4 inches
Weight distribution: 70/30
Ground clearance: 4.5 inches
Dry weight: 1,375 pounds
Curb weight: 1,475 pounds
Load capacity: 500 pounds
Gross weight: 1,975 pounds
Fuel capacity: 9 gallons
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Source: Hot Rod
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