Threewheeling
(article reproduced by kind permisson of Andrew English)

Forget Del Boy’s van: three-wheelers have a proud place in the past, present and future of motoring, and the Norfolk-built Triking is arguably the finest of them all, says Andrew English

Three-wheeled peach: Andrew English takes Tony Divey's Triking out for a spin

You wear a Triking like a diving suit. You stand on the driver's seat and then slide, straight-legged, into a cigar tube of a footwell, hips embraced by an upholstered frame.

The intimacy is both profound, delightful and, for the claustrophobic, disturbing. Everything is so contiguous with the driver; you could have sex at a greater distance than this.

Waggling your feet around reveals a small set of pedals, the tiny windscreen could only have come from an artist's pen, the Lilliputian wipers are charming and inside the dolls' house-sized instruments, miniature needles shiver in anticipation. What is there not to like?

It's a conclusion that bigger car makers have drawn as well. With even sports cars getting bigger, safer and more boring, they have had to cast a wide net to find something different to convey their corporate joie de vivre. In the last 12 months, BMW, VW and Peugeot have exhibited three-wheeled concepts, some with more intention of production than others. And if the industry's big guns have decided the best fun you can have on four wheels is to remove one of them, the UK's three-wheeler specialists must be gnashing their teeth.

Men like Tony Divey, managing director of the tiny, Norfolk-based Triking company, have seen it all before. In fact Peugeot once invited him to consult on the designs for a three-wheeled concept.

'A Moto Guzzi V-twin bike engine nestles in a tubular frame, book-ended by specially laced, motorcycle-thin wire wheels'

Triking, acknowledged by one rival as "the Rolls-Royce of three-wheelers", is probably the most exclusive such manufacturer, making 160 cars in 28 years.

Divey, a Morgan racer and skilled technical artist for Lotus, sketched the Triking while working for MAN in Germany. In 1978 he built the prototype and decided to drive over to Norfolk and let his former boss at Lotus, Colin Chapman, have a look, but the first person to emerge from the office was former world F1 champion Mario Andretti.

Divey recalls: "He said, 'My Gawd, what is that?' then jumped into it and disappeared up the road for ages - I was quite worried, and so was Colin when he appeared." Eventually Chapman had a drive as well and both men pronounced the Triking a great little car.

"I think I got it about right the first time," says Divey, adding that he has merely fine-tuned the idea over the years. It's that first Andretti example that he's leaning over right now. Turning the key on the spluttering, knee-high monster, he says: "I can't prove it, of course, but I reckon this one's done more than 600,000 miles."

That must make this V-twin-powered three-wheeler a contender for the world's best-travelled trike and a sharp dose of reality for the rest of the motor industry, for which three wheels is an itch it can't avoid scratching.

I first spotted a Triking at the Brighton Speed Trials in the early 1980s. What struck me was the sheer perfection of its design, with subsequent road tests proving the old adage, "If it looks right, it is right".

'The rack-and-pinion steering is razor sharp'

The ostentatiously mechanical Moto Guzzi V-twin bike engine nestles in a tubular frame, book-ended by specially laced, motorcycle-thin wire wheels. At the back, this Triking has a pleasing bumble-bee tail rather than the ugly but more practical barrel back that accommodates a spare wheel. Divey favours a specially made 15-inch rear wheel with a narrow car tyre that will survive a blow-out more safely than a motorcycle equivalent.

Drive goes back from the engine into a Toyota or Ford five-speed gearbox and then via a propshaft into the Guzzi bevel-drive unit. Guzzi engines always idle unevenly and Divey's mildly tuned unit biffs and bats as it warms. The lightly loaded gearbox slots like a rifle bolt and the lightweight clutch powers the Triking away with the characteristic tail-in-the-air Guzzi torque reaction.

From the off this is an exceptional experience. Wind in your hair, yes. Flies in your teeth, check. What is difficult to convey, however, is the sheer tactile closeness you feel to this miniature car. The rack-and-pinion steering from a Mini is razor sharp and as communicative as a loquacious washer-woman.

A nudge of the wheel and zap, you're round the corner, the narrow tyres telling you stuff about the road surface that other drivers will never notice. Soft green hedgerows blur by, elderflowers flashing like sparklers in the corner of your eye. Looking down the stubby bonnet you're effectively peering at your feet, yet the Triking is as comfy as a well-worn pair of slippers.

It's quick, too. Those unused to the gruff Italian V-twin will be inhibited in extending it, but hold the gears and the Guzzi engine fires you down the road while sounding like a distant artillery barrage. It's good for 120mph or so, with 0-60mph in 7.4 seconds and about 50mpg.

Divey once explained the inherent imbalance of a three-wheeler that big car makers struggle to curb with big tyres and, nowadays, electronic stability control. His solution is more fundamental. The right configuration - a low centre of gravity, light weight and an engine ahead of the front wheels - means the Triking leans gently on its outside front tyre in corners, telegraphing its intentions. If the rear tyre loses grip it slides gently and benignly. It's so easy to correct that it becomes part of the fun.

'I think I got it about right the first time': Tony Divey and his Triking

In fact this is as perfect a machine as you could want, with a delicacy that makes a Porsche seem ponderous, but there lies the rub. Trikings are rare and expensive (at least £16,000 for a good one) and their creator is no spring chicken. A few months ago Divey suffered a minor stroke; nothing too serious, but enough to tell him that, at 74, "I ought to start thinking about retiring".

He would like to get someone involved with the company, but wants to retain an interest and is anxious that the Triking name, with its connotations of immaculate build, beautiful design and exclusivity, isn't sullied. The trouble is that his charming modesty comes from a gentler age than today's marketing-at-all-costs culture. As one of his neighbours says: "He's an unsung hero."

Is there anyone out there who will carry the torch for these remarkable little cars? It would be a crying shame if this were the last of Triking.

 
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