Throughout The Car Industry
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People in my profession—and outside it, too, I suppose—have always railed against government “interference” in the production of vehicles. Sure, the seat belt was a good idea, but airbags, “safety” bumpers, and—more recently—the laundry list of electronic nannies like automatic braking and stability control?
“No, damn it!” they say. “These things just add weight, cost, and complexity that we—trained motorcar operators—should be able to opt out of if we want.” Well, if you're of that opinion, then I'd like to introduce you to just about the most opting-outest “car” ever created: The Velorex 16/350.
Now to look at it (either in person or on paper), the 1966 Velorex 16/350 might seem barely able to get out of its own way. But don't let the looks—or what you may have heard about the average Velorex—fool you.
I'm not talking about one of those early models with single-cylinder, two-stroke engines with single-figure hp figures. No, this baby left the factory with the highest-horsepower powerplant the firm ever fitted to a three-wheeled vehicle (which, by the way, is what gives it its model name).
For those of you unfamiliar, here are that namesake engine's specs: it's a 343 cubic centimeter/21.36 cu. in. (yes, they seriously rounded it up) two-hole, two-stroke, rear-mounted, and air-cooled motor that puts a whopping 16 horsepower to its motorcycle-style—but bicycle-wide—single rear wheel.
That engine, by the way, features a name that might lead you to believe it came from the tiny tin-sellers of Tatooine. [If you don't get the reference, I'm not gonna spoon-feed you this time. But I will pause to let you earn a shred of sci-fi cred by looking it up. Just remember: Do, or do not. There is no try.]
Get it? Cool. Now you, too, are at least part-nerd. Let the hate flow through you…
OK, I'll stop. Back to the action on this planet, don't let that horsepower figure fool you; at just ten feet long, 4.6 feet wide, 4 feet high, and 684.4 lbs. empty, this Velorex model has a claimed “cruising speed” of just over 37 mph and a you'll-never-see-it-because-it's-scary-as-hell top-speed of just under 53.
[I'm assuming that's only if piloted by an undersized five-year-old. It does not say so explicitly, but I doubt it can hit those figures with an average-sized American at the helm despite a claimed maximum weight capability of just over half a ton. Yes, folks, that means the weight of the occupants (it can carry two)—and fuel/oil load—of this Velorex cannot exceed 400 lbs. combined.]
But before you Size Zero types feel emboldened to hop aboard, consider the fact that even the sveltest of sylphs' weight will all be on one side, leading a 'Rex to list like the Costa Concordia. So you better have at least one bold friend who shares your body type on hand every time you want to take your trike around the block.
But even if you eat like an American, consider the fact that this “car”—a term I'm using VERY loosely here—is made out of vinyl panels stretched over thin metal tubing that's then snapped (with snaps!) onto a conglomeration of even more of that tubing (though there are a few thin metal slats in “critical” areas like the engine cover, as you can see in my pics), and I think you'll find that not only will you have a hard time finding any passenger willing to enter this deathtrap, but even if you did, you'll find that 20 mph is plenty fast enough for them (and you).
Even the bravest of souls will feel the cold embrace of fear the second they see these pictures and imagine travelling the quoted top speeds in a vehicle that's little more than a motorized umbrella. Just look at the door; how much side-impact protection can you get from an inch-thick metal frame covered in fabric?
[Which puts the phrase “suicide doors”—which they are, BTW—into a whole new light...]
Speaking of which, what kind of company could construct such a vehicle and get away with it? And for years! Apparently Velorex. Never heard of it? Well, you can read, um… SOME about it on its Wikipedia page. But I'm sure you're dying to learn more right now, so I'll give you everything you need to know—and more—right here. OK? Here we go...
This Velorex model's history shakes out like this: the 16/350—the apex of the “Model 16” tricycle's evolution—came into being sometime during the 1960s and ended in 1971 after 12,000 were built.
Before the speed demon 16/350 came into being they made the 16/250 (2,500 produced) and the 16/175 (800).
[Yes, the company—which started building these trikes (a term I use specifically because they were originally an assemblage of bicycle parts until they moved up to using motorcycle bits) in 1945—decided to drop down a few cubes in engine size mid-run in 1956, about the same time they dropped the original namesake's, well, name, from the car—changing the “Oskar” to the “Velorex”—because said Oskar refused to join the Communist Party.]
But 1971 wasn't the end of Velorex. No, they switched over to a four-wheeled car that same year—called the Model 435-0 (which must have re-jiggered the three-wheeler's naming convention as I doubt it had zero horsepower)—only to end production of those in 1973 for the greatest and most pathetic reason EVER:
As Wikipedia tells it, “[Its] inability to compete with higher-category cars (including the cheap Trabants), made the four-wheeler a commercial failure.”
Oh. My. God. Do you have ANY idea how hard it is to build something that's not just less successful than the Trabant, but is considered down-market from it?
For a taste of the “Trabi” experience, imagine a shopping cart covered in lunch room trays powered (ha!) by a diesel leaf blower that smokes more than the Marlboro Man. Well, that is BETTER than a Trabant. And I should know; I almost owned one when I was an exchange student top Germany in 1990.
Not to get off topic, but when “The Wall” fell so many East Germans were streaming into the West with their horrible environmental-disasters-on-wheels—Trabis, mostly—that the West German government stepped in and banned their entry into the country.
Think about that: How bad does a car have to be for a government to overlook a massive influx of unknown, unregistered PEOPLE into their country in favor of a Trump-esque xenophobic war against their CARS.
My Trabant near-miss was due to a guy who offered to trade his bright orange “upscale” Trabant—denoted by the “S” it wore for some reason—for ten dollars American and two pairs of Levi 501s. Thankfully we were on our last day in West Berlin—yes, the wall had “fallen”, but so recently that you couldn't tell—so I kept my money and my pants.
Anyhoo, back to Velorex and the world for which it was created in the 1960s (which, apparently, persists to this today):
“About half of the production was exported to Eastern Bloc countries (Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, East Germany)—7,540 vehicles in total. In Czechoslovakia, the demand exceeded the supply and the new cars were sold only to the disabled after thorough examination by an official commission. Part of the production was allocated to companies and organizations.
“As of 1996, 62.5% of the three-wheelers sold in Czechoslovakia were still registered. As of 2006 the vehicle can be still seen occasionally and it has obtained cult-like status among its owners. Several Velorex clubs exist in the Czech Republic. Rallies are regularly organized in Boskovice (last in 2007) and in Lipnice nad Sázavou, inside the Lipnice Castle. Until 2000 only the motorcycle driving license (A) was required, afterwards the B1 license (car from age of 17).”
So, basically, if you're looking to join a marque-specific club—ala the Porsche Club of America—you're going to have to dump the “of America” part (and the word “Czechoslovakia”) in favor of a club somewhere in or near what they now call the Czech Republic.
Which makes it all the more strange that I found our subject car on the docket of an American auction house. Motostalgia—an auction company about which you've probably never heard—sold what must be one of the finest Velorexes on Earth at their Amelia Island sale on March 12.
Here's what they had to say about it:
“This Velorex 16/350 is fresh from a 2015 nut and bolt restoration. It is powered by the larger Jawa 350 vertical twin engine. Jawa motorcycles were imported into the US, enhancing parts support for this vehicle. The unique two-stroke is timed at top-dead-center allowing the Dynastarter to fire the engine in either direction allowing this Velorex four speeds in either direction. The fit of the interior and exterior upholstery is fantastic. The attention to detail in reproducing the correct tight-fitting outer panels is exquisite. The dash retains its correct Skoda instrumentation. Fine wood finishing covers the dash and floor. With fewer than a dozen of these cars in the US and none likely in this condition, this amazing Velorex will be the cornerstone of any microcar collection.”
What they also said, however, is that somebody went to the trouble (and great expense) of importing—and restoring—one of these death traps for the grand (pre-auction-fees) sale price of, drum roll, please... $18,700.
This would lead one to believe that Motostalgia was either extremely optimistic or painfully ignorant as the price estimate range they expected was $35k–45k. Then again, maybe they just didn't take into account the fact that American buyers tend to see things like assigned VINs, two-stroke motors, drum brakes, and the constant specter of death riding shotgun on our SUV-packed roads as negatives.
Still, if you were looking for an apparently screaming deal on the best example of one of the weirdest models from a nearly-unheard-of make that will be welcome at just about any show or event—even non-car-related ones—it'd be hard to do better than this cheeky Czech convertible.
Just keep the speed down. Instead of trying to show its performance at something like the Colorado Grand, aim for microcar events where you can break up the monotony of Isettas and Messerschmitts with something that is (almost) never seen on these shores and is much cheaper than examples of the two that I just mentioned in similar condition.
But if you DO want to demonstrate its performance, focus on the fact that it has a manual transmission with four forward AND reverse gears, theoretically giving it the ability to drive equally-fast(-ish) in either direction, something few (if any) other microcars can boast.
And just remember, when it comes to microcars, the weirder they are, the cooler they are.
[They won't be laughing at you, they'll laugh with you. Honest!]
Photo Gallery (click a thumbnail to enlarge)
Posted In: Auctions, Car News, Classics, Driving, Exotics, Good, Bad & Ugly, Humor, Hybrid / Green, Miscellaneous, Safety, Special / Limited Edition, Technology
Tags: motostalgia auctions 1966 velorex 16/350 trabant s Czechoslovakia czech republic east germany two stroke three wheel convertible fabric body
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