Three wheels on this week's wagon
By Mike Duff / Saturday, 10 December 2022 / Loading comments
While most of the cars chosen for Brave Pill require little introduction, this week we’re heading into the unknown. Award yourself a PH house point if you were even aware of the existence of the Carver One before clicking on this story. If there is a typical Brave Pill – one that is large, German, and with a juicy V8 up front – this is the exact opposite. So completely different you can imagine a giant foot descending from the sky above it while Sousa’s Liberty Bell March plays.
Although enthusiasts love to celebrate minor differences, most cars are very similar. A reconnoitring alien visiting earth at 20 year intervals would likely report that the planet’s dominant lifeforms seemed to evolve very slowly: they have four-wheels, are made from metal, and live with angry members of a bipedal sub-species trapped inside them. Take the long view and ask yourself what was the last truly radical automotive innovation: front-wheel drive? Monocoque construction? Go-faster stripes?
But every so often, the dam seems to break and somebody produces something completely fresh. The Carver One is definitely one of those moments, a vehicle that pretty much manages to defy categorisation.
There have been plenty of three-wheelers in the hinterland between car and motorbike, of course. That list extends from Edwardian three-wheeled Morgans through Bond Bugs and Reliant Robins, all the way back to the Morgan Super Three. All of those were closer to being cars than bikes. On the other side of the balance were the chunky trikes favoured by a certain type of chunky biker: a motorcycle front end with two wheels at the back. But the basic physics of having three points of contact meant that even these cornered without leaning.
Not the Carver One. Produced by a Dutch company called Vandenbrink, after an 11-year development process that reportedly included assistance from Prodrive, the Carver added the ability to tilt to the stability of having three wheels. It has conventional car-like controls, with a steering wheel, gearstick and three pedals in the footwell. Steering is done through the 17-inch front motorbike wheel, but it also has a hydraulic ram at the back which leans the whole cockpit over in response to how quickly the steering wheel gets moved, tilting into a turn like a bike would. While the party was going on up front – with the passenger compartment leaning at up to 45 degrees – the rear-mounted engine and gearbox stayed upright and sensible between the dual rear wheels.
The motor was a 0.6-litre turbocharged Daihatsu unit from a Japanese Kai car, which then drove conventional 15-inch car tyres through a five-speed manual gearbox. The standard version had 68hp, which worked against a 670kg mass to give a top speed of 115mph and an eight second 0-60mph time. Original reviews also said that there would be an optional 85hp version which would add a bit more performance, but the dealer selling our Pill quotes the figures for the basic engine. Given the novelty of the driving experience, that’s probably enough.
There weren’t actually many contemporary reviews, and I’ve never seen one, let alone driven it. Richard Hammond drove it for Top Gear, the then baby-faced presenter seeming to love it and bubbling over with boyish enthusiasm as he slalomed his away down straight roads. Other write ups were more guarded in their praise, and seeing an old friend’s name on one of these I broke the fourth wall and asked if he had any memories. “It was fun, but also terrifying,” he said, “I turned motion sick after about five minutes and remember it felt quite sketchy in the rain and over bumps, there wasn’t much front end grip and with the cabin leaning over it was hard to tell what was going on. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t sorry to get out of it.”
The driving experience was novel, but the Carver had other issues. Practicality was limited with a fore-and-aft tandem seating layout, although the dealer’s pictures of this one show that it does, unexpectedly, have a cup holder. The gawky looks left the front suspension and steering gear on view, but were well short of dynamic machismo. A bigger problem was the seriousness of its price tag. When the Hamster drove the one in 2003 he quoted a price of £22,500, but three years alter that had increased to £27,500 in the UK, meaning it cost the same as a Lotus Elise – a comparison it was always going to struggle to win. The Carver’s rarity in the UK suggests that very few were actually sold here, with the lack of a handed steering wheel making it easy – pre Brexit – to bring them in from elsewhere in Europe. Yet it might have been a canny investment for its first buyer, considering the dealer selling our Pill has it up for £34,995.
It would seem to be a later life import. Despite wearing a 58 registration it is showing as having been first registered in July 2016, suggesting that might have been the point at which it entered the country. There’s another clue in that its first MOT recorded kilometers, with all the subsequent ones being in miles. Use has been sparing in that time, with the official record showing that this Carver did just 31 miles between its 2017 and 2018 tests, then 29 the next year and 34 the one after. Mileage trended upwards in 2021, with the dizzying total of 1200 miles between passes. The good news is that there hasn’t been a single advisory on any of its tests, but the most recent ticket ran out last month and will need to be renewed.
The price being asked for this one is likely to get some bread thrown in the comments, but another example sold last year at auction for £30,300 before fees; it’s not as if they come up for sale very often. The Carver company still exists and is now offering a fully electric version with a redesigned front end but a much lower top speed – even the most potent S+ seems to be limited to just 49mph. But the ‘leccy version is also being sold for just £14,490, meaning you could have two new ones for the same price as this one. That would double the seating and give the chance to transport a family for a weekend visit to the pub. Who doesn’t love a bit of Sunday Carvery?
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