It’s time to feature a vehicle which may seem more like a member of the motorcycle family, yet it has a car-like seat and a shoulder belt. The body looks like a prototype for some high-tech (and high-speed) carnival ride, as if it should soar like the rocket which it resembles. But all of this back-and-forth goes out the window (oh, wait, no windows) when you get into the Vanderhall. It’s such a terrific experience that all that comes to mind is joy and exhilaration. First, it gets you with its looks. Low and sleek, it’s ready to rock and roll at a moment’s notice. It produces smiles and thumbs-up signals everywhere you go as it announces that you’re into having fun—and fun it is.
Power by turbocharged four-banger, the Vanderhall wizards did a super-smart thing–rather than invent lots of the technology to make it go, turn, and stop, they adopted much of that effort from some tried and true GM units. For example, the engine, trans, and front suspension are from The General so maintenance and reliability concerns are quite well-handled. While the reported 200 horsepower and 200 pounds of torque aren’t major, when it’s motivating a svelte 1,550-pound machine (for you math majors, that’s 7-1/2 pounds per horsepower, which is impressive), with an extremely low center of gravity, the results are a grin-inducing: 0-60 is in a rapid 4.5 seconds. Top speed is said to be 130MPH and, though I love a good top-gear run, I didn’t feel right going over 100 (hey, it was a school zone–give me a break!).
Adding to the fun factor is the “bump-shift” option. You get a nice, round chrome ball on the end of a gear lever which provides rapid sequential shifting of the six-speed automatic (they don’t offer a true stick shift). The mechanism is mounted to the driver’s left so it’s like an exterior gearshift, resembling the technology designed for changing the gears on a 1929 Bugatti Type 35B. The Venice is like driving a Formula One car (oh, okay, not really but at least kinda) and the shifter adds to the feeling of involvement and control.
“Involvement and control” are the operative words here as there have been no reports of Vanderhall drivers texting while driving–operating this machine is way too involving (in a good way) to allow for driver distractions. It’s not a completely Spartan machine, though, as it does have Bluetooth capabilities to play your tunes through its speakers, its seats adjust fore and aft and it even sports a cabin heater.
As there are a few other three-wheeled vehicles out there, the term “autocycle” has been coined to define them. Like many of the competition in this class, the Vanderhall has two rather standard front wheels and a huge tire in the back, allowing the operator to drift with little fear of a wipeout. Some, like the Morgan 3 Wheeler, put the engine way out front, on display (and it’s a beaut) but the Vanderhall tucks its motor away, still allowing for sleek outside “lake pipes” to show some race cred. (By the way, did you know that the Morgan 3 Wheeler first appeared in 1909? Their newest versions are made with a gas-powered 82-horsepower motor and there’s also an available EV model.)
Some think that you need to wear a helmet when driving a Vanderhall but others read the DMV handbook as saying that it’s exempt, especially because it has shoulder belts. Then again, if it is a motorcycle, it can go in the carpool lane with just one person. I don’t know the answer. I drove it for a week without a helmet and sometimes–inadvertently, and thanks to the wind-blown position behind a low windshield–I drove it without a hat. But even when losing my chapeau, the Venice is so close to the ground that I simply could circle back and drive slowly, picking up the hat off the roadway while underway, like some medieval knight retrieving the maiden’s hankie left on the ground to prove his horsemanship.
Vanderhall makes a few different models, including a one-seater and an EV model. They run from about $27,000 to about $40,000. They are made in Provo, Utah and they come in an array of colors. “My” Venice was powder blue with black accents and its sticker was in the low $30,000 range. I had a great time with the Venice and was sorry to see it go. When Spring returns, I will ask to borrow it again, no doubt having to promise to write an update. However, I can imagine what it will say–“Still lots of fun!”