A 1905 Indian tricar, sold for $45,000.
Whether there were two wheels in the front and one in the rear, or vice versa, three-wheeled cycles have been around about as long as two-wheeled motorcycles, although they went by various names.
When the vehicles had one wheel in the front they were often called a light car. H. Pokorney was making light cars in Indianapolis by 1904. The wheelbase was 66 inches and the width was 52 inches. The vehicle was steered by a hand lever. It had a 4 ½ hp engine mounted at the rear of the car. Other models had up to 6 hp engines.
Some models were equipped with air-spring attachments by 1904.
When the two wheels were in front, and a single wheel in the rear the vehicles were called tricars, forecars, or a trimo. One maker called it a carette, and another referred to the riders of three-wheeled vehicles as tricyclists.
In 1904, it didn’t matter a lot how many wheels your vehicle had because all were open-air vehicles. The biggest factor in deciding which to purchase seems to have been the price of the vehicle compared to the features it offered. Though the tricars or lightcars were less expensive than the automobile, some thought for what they were, they should have sold for less.
Several men who were considering purchasing a vehicle wrote in to inquire of the readers of Motor what the advantages and disadvantages of a tricar compared to a motorcycle with a side car for their passenger. One indicated that the single speed tricar did not have the horse power needed to climb a hill successfully.
Makers included Bat, Singer, Wolf, Heighton, Bradbury, Sharp, Rover Cycle Co., Hobart, Riley, Imperial Swift Motor Co., Excelsior, Indian, etc.
One manufacturer claimed two people could tour the countryside in relative comfort at a whopping 20 mpg in a tricar. At least on some models, the forecar was removable making it possible to convert it for use without a passenger. On others, the front of the forecar could be folded up when not in use considerably shortening the length of the vehicle.
Perhaps the best, or at least the most critical, review of the tricar came from a gentleman who said he had, “run over the roads of Dumbarton, Renfrew, Ayr, Stirling, and Perth”, in Scotland and averaged 75 mpg. He discussed problems with tires and with wear on the steering mechanism which eventually caused looseness in steering. He found that quite disconcerting. He felt the tricar was inferior to both the motorcycle and the motor car.
Having traveled these roads myself in modern times I was struck with how narrow they were, how curvy they were, with the state of disrepair they were in, and how fast the locals were going. Those roads would be a rough ride on a motorcycle today, and for a little over a hundred years ago, it must have been a real adventure.
Source: Motor magazine, multiple issues, 1904.