Cyclecar

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1914 La Vigne cyclecar advertisement

A cyclecar was a type of small, lightweight and inexpensive car manufactured mainly between 1910 and the late 1920s. Cyclecars were characterised by their use of basic materials and sometimes fragile engineering and were largely contrived to fill a gap in the market between the motorcycle and the car. Their demise was largely the result of production economies in the manufacture of more substantial economy cars such as the Austin 7 and the consequent affordability of such vehicles. Vehicles with similar qualities produced after World War II, are generally categorized as microcars.

General description[edit]

Cyclecars were propelled by single-cylinder, V-twin or more rarely four-cylinder engines, often air-cooled. Sometimes these had been originally used in motorcycles and other components from this source such as gearboxes were also employed. Cyclecars were halfway between motorcycles and cars and were fitted with lightweight bodies, sometimes in a tandem two-seater configuration and could be primitive with minimal comfort and weather protection. They used various layouts and means of transmitting the engine power to the wheels, such as belt drive or chain drive often to one rear wheel only to avoid having to provide a differential.

The rise of cyclecars was a direct result of reduced taxation both for registration and annual licences of lightweight small-engined cars. In France, for example, a car was classed for reduced rates if it weighed less than 350 kg (772 lb).

On 14 December 1912, at a meeting of the Federation Internationale des Clubs Moto Cycliste, it was formally decided that there should be an international classification of cyclecars to be accepted by the United Kingdom, Canada, United States, France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Austria and Germany. It was also decided to establish two classes of cyclecars, as follows;

  • (i) Large class
    • Max. weight: 350 kg (772 lb)
    • Max. engine capacity: 1,100 cc (67 cu in)
    • Min. tyre section: 60 mm (2.4 in)
  • (ii) Small class
    • Min. weight: 150 kg (331 lb)
    • Max. weight: 300 kg (661 lb)
    • Max. engine capacity: 750 cc (46 cu in)
    • Min. tyre section: 55 mm (2.2 in)

All cyclecars were to have clutches and change-speed gears. This requirement could be fulfilled by even the simplest devices such as provision for slipping the belt on the pulley to act as a clutch, and varying of the pulley diameter to change the gear ratio.

Introduction[edit]

From 1898 to 1910, automobile production quickly expanded. Light cars of that era were commonly known as voiturettes. The smaller cyclecars appeared around 1910 with a boom shortly before the outbreak of the First World War.

The first successful cyclecars were Bédélia of France and G.N. from Britain.

Sporting cars and cyclecar races[edit]

Some cyclecars such as Amilcar, Major or Salmson of France had sufficient performance and handling to be regarded as sports cars.

The first race dedicated to cyclecars was organised by the Automobile Club de France in 1913, followed by a Cyclecar GP at Le Mans in 1920.

Demise[edit]

By the early 1920s, the days of the cyclecar were numbered. Mass producers, such as Ford, were able to reduce their prices to undercut those of the usually small cyclecar makers. Similar affordable cars were offered in Europe, such as the Citroën 5CV, Austin 7 or Morris Cowley.

The cyclecar boom was over. The majority of cyclecar manufacturers closed down. Some companies such as Chater-Lea survived by returning to the manufacture of motorcycles.

After World War II, small, economic cars were again in demand and a new set of manufacturers appeared. The cyclecar name did not reappear however and the cars were called microcars by enthusiasts and bubble cars by the general population.

Cyclecars by countries[edit]

Argentina[edit]

Austria[edit]

Belgium[edit]

Canada[edit]

Czechoslovakia[edit]

Denmark[edit]

France[edit]

Germany[edit]

Greece[edit]

Italy[edit]

Poland[edit]

Spain[edit]

Sweden[edit]

Switzerland[edit]

United Kingdom[edit]

United States[edit]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Worthington-Williams, Michael (1981). From cyclecar to microcar the story of the cyclecar movement. Beaulieu Books. ISBN 0-901564-54-0. 
  • David Thirlby (2002). Minimal Motoring: From Cyclecar to Microcar. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7524-2367-3. 

External links[edit]