I’m fascinated by innovative vehicles, and 3-wheelers have been around for a long time, popping up here and there. They never seem to take off and stay in production, but I think this one might just have a chance, so let’s take a look it.
Tadpole 3-wheelers History
There have been 3-wheeled vehicles since the beginning of the gasoline engine, starting with the Benz Patent-Motorwagen in 1885. However, there is one quirk to the three-wheeled layout, and that is…do you put two wheels in front? or two wheels in the back? Well, the TV show “Top Gear” demonstrated the weakness of placing only one wheel out front (The “Delta” configuration), back in 2010 with a Reliant Robin (click here).
When driving downhill, if you need to suddenly make a sharp turn, the vehicle has a tendency to roll onto it’s side. Even in the United States, this is widely considered to be “bad form”. So, every vehicle in this article from here on out will be using the “tadpole” configuration, where the axle with two wheels is out front, for stability.
There is only one Shotwell, it is currently owned by Jay Leno (click here), and it has a fascinating back-story. During the great depression (starting in 1929), a 17-year old Bob Shotwell from Minnesota couldn’t afford a car. He grew up on a farm, and from a young age he was involved in complex repairs to farm equipment.
So…he did what any resourceful Minnesotan would do, he simply fabricated one from scratch. He salvaged a 4-cylinder air-cooled Indian motorcycle engine, and built it up from there.
The Morgan company is based in Worcestershire, England. Their name is somewhat famous for their 3-wheeled “cycle-car“, and they made their first one in 1909. The definitive models using an air-cooled V-twin engine were made from 1911-1939. Not only were they affordable and provided great fuel economy, but…their impressive power-to-weight ratio made these vehicles a lot of fun to drive.
The reasoning behind making a 3-wheeled car still applies today. They are much more stable than a 2-wheeled motorcycle. It can be lighter, less expensive, have less aerodynamic drag, and…better fuel economy than a 4-wheeled car.
I’ve seen many examples of a tadpole motorcycle being sold these past two decades, and I’ve thought that if I ever found one with a worn out gasoline engine, it would make an excellent base for an electric conversion. If you are curious about the current batch of tadpole 3-wheelers that are available, I’ll list a few here, by category.
If you want a fairly narrow scooter or motorcycle, you could check out the Yamaha Tri-city, the Micro Microletta, the Niu TQI, and the Piaggio MP3
One of the reasons I like the tadpole configuration is because of its stability, and this next category is made from models that have a wide stance with the two front wheels. It includes the Elio, The Vanderhall Carmel, Campagna T-Rex, the Can-Am Ryker (one seat, $8800), the Can-Am Spyder (two seats), and the Polaris Slingshot (using a Zero motor and controller).
This final category is made with ELECTRIC 3-wheeled tadpole vehicles. The Corbin Sparrow is a fully enclosed vehicle with electric drive. It only has one seat, and it is most famous for it’s cameo in the comedy movie “Goldmember“. Sadly, the company went out of business.
The Aptera is very futuristic-looking, and it has the most aerodynamic shape of any vehicle here. Although they have had a rocky start, they are still in business.
The Vanderhall Edison2 is definitely available for purchase, and it appears to use two Zero motorcycle motors to provide it’s front-wheel drive system. This system should give the driver excellent handling, and the price is listed at $34,950. It is essentially an electric version of their Carmel model.
The Arcimoto uses two seats similar to a car seat (but in tandem), as opposed to a motorcycle-style of seat. The driver has handlebars like a motorcycle. It has all the benefits of electric drive, and a price tag of $17,900. They are also promoting a package delivery version with only one seat.
The Nobe 100GT
And now we get to the EV feature of this article, the Nobe 100GT. There are several things I like about this, first of which is the retro style. Back in 1989, the Mazda company believed that the market was ready for a small reliable car that resembled the sports cars of the 1960’s, especially the 1962 Lotus Elan. The Mazda Miata / MX-5 was a BIG hit.
I believe it was the one car that started the steady flow of retro-styled cars, such as the 1997 VW Beetle, the 2001 Mini Cooper, the 2005 Ford Mustang, the 2007 Fiat 500, and 2008 Dodge Challenger.
The founder of the company is from Estonia, a small North-Eastern European country that gained their independence from Russia in 1991.
One outstanding feature that grabbed my attention is that the Nobe uses AWD, which makes them absolutely phenomenal in slippery conditions, like snow. They accomplish this by using three hubmotors, which also saves space in the main body for the battery and controller. The video below shows the Nobe ripping through snow, so it’s not just a theory.
Of course I am wondering what kind of heater they use to keep the front window defrosted, so I will keep looking. I assume it’s electric, which could cut down on the claimed range.
There are other features that I like, even as much as I like the style. It uses a composite body. Hopefully that’s one of the things that will keep the price affordable, and it is definitely one of the things that keeps it light.
I grew up in Southern California, where the weather is typically mild. But when I lived in Chicago, I was exposed to the practice of “salting the roads” which is done to prevent ice from forming. I saw cars that were not that old, and they had a horrible amount of rust in the wheel-wells from the salt, which is very corrosive.
If it was up to me, many more vehicles would have the option of composite body panels, rather than steel or aluminum. At the very least, the bottom 1/2 of a car would greatly benefit if their body panels were composite. If you live near the oceans’ salty sea air, or anywhere that cars have a problem with rusting away, the Nobe should last a VERY long time.
I haven’t seen a rear this nice since the 2012 Olympic games in London.
It’s has a $2500 reservation fee, with $29,000 as the full price. Their advertising claims a top-speed of 68-MPH (110-kph), and a range of 136 miles (218 Kilometers).
Nobe has been getting a LOT of interested feedback. A few people have mentioned how their platform was specifically made to allow a variety of body styles, and I really like the front of their “Next Model” prototype drawing.
The Nobe 100GT now has Munroe and Associates as a US dealer, and that was the one thing that made me feel this was the real deal.
Written by Ron/spinningmagnets, April 2021