Powered three-wheel vehicles have been around since the dawn of the motoring industry. In fact, many early machines were known as forecars – a motorcycle behind an attachment that included two wheels up front with a passenger seat between them.
Beginning in 1909, English-built Morgan cars famously took the motorcycle engine and placed it in front between two wheels, put the seating behind it, and followed it with a third wheel. While Morgans have been perennially popular, there’s a revived interest in three-wheeled motoring. For example, Polaris offers the Slingshot and there’s the Canadian-built Campagna T-Rex. Two wheels up front, one out back, and driver and passenger are seated side-by-side in these vehicles. Helmets are required, as they are technically considered motorcycles.
In the early 1980s, the Trihawk was built in California using a Citroen flat-four engine. Less than 100 examples were constructed. CREDIT: Katie LeBlanc Photo by Katie LeBlanc
But as Brian LeBlanc discovered, there’s another brand of three-wheeler that was introduced in North America in the early 1980s – the Trihawk.
“I look for vehicles that are unique, that I can afford and that I enjoy driving,” LeBlanc says, and after seeing a three-wheeled vehicle on eBay several years ago, the Calgarian began digging a little deeper. He visited two companies in England building modern three-wheelers, including Triking, but didn’t make a purchase.
Returning home, he discovered the Trihawk 304, which stands for three wheels, four cylinders. According to the website Trihawk304.com, a forum for Trihawk enthusiasts, the vehicle was created by Lou Richards, an engineer and an inventor who worked first in the food processing design industry at Hollymatic and then set up his own company, Formax.
In the early 1980s he became inquisitive about the automobile industry and, “He aspired to create a high-performance, light-weight sports car in the spirit of the Lotus Super 7,” the website claims, “but was dismayed by the mountain of regulations that applied to automotive design.” That’s when Richards decided to focus on a three-wheeler, because the vehicles “…(are) legally designated as motorcycles by the federal government, had fewer safety requirements, simplifying design and production for a small operation,” the site explains.
Brian with his three-wheeled wonder. Photo by Katie LeBlanc
The Trihawk is powered by a 1,299cc, 64-horsepower flat-four engine built by Citroen. The powertrain was sourced from the Citroen GSA, a model the French automaker made from 1980 to 1989. Photo by Katie LeBlanc
Brian LeBlanc’s 1984 Trihawk easily fits into a parking spot. Photo by Katie LeBlanc
Race car designer Bob McKee sketched the bulkhead and perimeter frame and David Stollery, the mind behind the 1978 Toyota Celica, drew the fibreglass body. While preliminary work took place in Mokena, Illinois, a location in Dana Point, California was selected for Trihawk’s base of operations.
To fit design parameters, a flat-four engine was required. Richards approached Subaru, but the automaker wasn’t willing to participate. But French automaker Citroen was. They supplied the 1,299cc, 64-horsepower front-wheel drive powertrain from their GSA model, a car built from 1980 to 1989. Citroen also assisted with some engineering, and a Trihawk was tested in the automaker’s wind tunnel.
Weighing 1,370 pounds with a full 11-gallons of gasoline, the Trihawk was a joy to drive. Auto journalist Michael Jordan reviewed the Trihawk in the June 1983 issue of Car and Driver magazine, and wrote, “You just stab the throttle and steer the wheel; it’s kind of like a Formula Ford, only better.”
There were big plans for the company, with hopes of building 150 examples annually. Price for the three-wheeler in 1983 was US$14,888. In reality, however, less than 100 Trihawks ever left the factory. When Richards’ health began failing in 1984, he sold the company in June of that year to Harley-Davidson. The motorcycle maker was going to move Trihawk to Wisconsin and continue production, but Harley never followed through with the opportunity.
In 2018, LeBlanc tracked down a 1984 Trihawk for sale in Springfield, Oregon. After agreeing on a price with the seller, LeBlanc and his son-in-law, who is a heavy duty mechanic, flew down in late June of 2019 to see and test drive the car.
“I did a lot of research on the Citroen powerplant,” LeBlanc says. “They’re a very reliable engine, except the timing belts (there are two) can be problematic. The seller didn’t know when the timing belts in his car had been changed.”
That didn’t deter LeBlanc. After a good test drive, he went in to do the paperwork while his son-in-law went to work replacing the timing belts. “He had it done in less than an hour, and we started it up and drove it from Oregon home to Calgary with no issues,” LeBlanc says.
It’s really unbelievably fun to drive.
Since then, LeBlanc has been driving and enjoying the machine. He’s added an additional oil cooler to address some overheating issues and relocated the oil filter. Finding parts for the Citroen engine and suspension is becoming a challenge, and LeBlanc does wish there were some bolt-on high-performance parts available. There aren’t any, he says.
That won’t, however, stop him from driving the Trihawk to California in the company of two friends, who will be riding motorcycles. Leaving on August 13, the trio will take in the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
“The Trihawk corners like a Lamborghini, it’s really unbelievably fun to drive,” LeBlanc says.
And it is indeed unique, he concludes, “Every time I stop somewhere, somebody’s got something to say about it.”
Greg Williams is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). Have a column tip? Contact him at 403-287-1067 or email@example.com