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1912 Bédélia BD-2
1914 MHV Hawk

A cyclecar was a type of small, lightweight and inexpensive motorized car manufactured in Europe and the United States between 1910 and the early 1920s. The purpose of cyclecars was to fill a gap in the market between the motorcycle and the car. A key characteristic was that it could accommodate only two passengers sitting in tandem.[1]

The demise of cyclecars was due to larger cars – such as the Citroën Type C, Austin 7 and Morris Cowley – becoming more affordable. Small, inexpensive vehicles reappeared after World War II, and were known as microcars.


1911 Violette
Advertisement for 1914 La Vigne
Advertisement for 1912 Premier

Cyclecars were propelled by engines with a single cylinder or V-twin configuration (or occasionally a four cylinder engine), which were often air-cooled.[2] Sometimes motorcycle engines were used, in which case the motorcycle gearbox was also used.

All cyclecars were required to have clutches and variable gears.[citation needed] 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. Methods such as belt drive or chain drive were used to transmit power to the drive wheel(s),[3] often to one wheel only, so that no differential was required.[citation needed]

The bodies were lightweight and sometimes offered minimal weather protection or comfort features.

The rise of cyclecars was a direct result of reduced taxation both for registration and annual licences of lightweight small-engined cars. 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. As a result of this meeting, the following classes of cyclecars were defined:

Class Max. weight Max. displacement Min. tyre section
Large 350 kg (772 lb) 1,100 cc (67 cu in) 60 mm (2.4 in)
Small 150 kg (331 lb) 750 cc (46 cu in) 55 mm (2.2 in)


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 sales boom shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, with Temple Press launching The Cyclecar magazine on 27 November 1912 (later renamed The Light Car and Cyclecar), and the formation of the Cyclecar Club (which later evolved into British Automobile Racing Club). From 1912, the Motor Cycle show at Olympia became the Motor Cycle and Cycle Car Show.

The number of cyclecar manufacturers was less than a dozen in each of the UK and France in 1911, but by 1914, there were over 100 manufacturers in each country, as well as others in Germany, Austria and other European countries.[4] By 1912, the A.C. Sociable was described as "one of the most popular cycle cars on the road, both for pleasure and for business",[5] though another source states that the "Humberette" was the most popular of cycle cars at that time.[6] Many of the numerous makes were relatively short-lived, but several brands achieved greater longevity, including Bédélia (1910-1925), GN (1910-1923) and Morgan (1910–present).[7]


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 the Second World War, 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.

Motor racing[edit]

Several motor racing events for cyclecars were run between 1913 and 1920. 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. The Auto Cycle Union was to have introduced cycle car racing on the Isle of Man in September 1914, but the race was abandoned due to the onset of the war.[8]

List of cyclecars by country[edit]















United Kingdom[edit]

United States[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Special Features / Cyclecars". www.carhistory4u.com. Archived from the original on 22 June 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
  2. ^ "American Cyclecar Manufacturers". www.american-automobiles.com. Archived from the original on 18 June 2009. Retrieved 25 December 2018.
  3. ^ "Motoring memories - Cyclecars". www.autos.ca. Retrieved 25 December 2018.
  4. ^ The Light Car, C.F.Caunter. HMSO 1970 (first published 1958)
  5. ^ The Motor Cycle and Cycle Car Show, The Automotor magazine, 30 November 1912, p1448
  6. ^ The Car and British Society, Sean O'Connell, Manchester University Press, 1998, p17
  7. ^ "The Competitors in Trials and Races, the Rivals in Business". www.morgan3w.de. Retrieved 25 December 2018.
  8. ^ "Current Chat", The Motor Cycle magazine, 3 September 1914, p300
  9. ^ Kimes, Beverly Rae (2007). Walter L. Marr, Buick's Amazing Engineer. Boston: Racemaker Press.

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.