were small, generally inexpensive cars manufactured mainly between 1910 and the late 1920s.
Cyclecars were propelled by single cylinder, V-twin or more rarely four cylinder engines, often air cooled. Sometimes these had been originally used in motorcycles
and other components from this source such as gearboxes were also employed. Cyclecars were half way between motorcycles and cars and were fitted with lightweight bodies, sometimes in a tandem two-seater configuration and could be primitive with minimal comfort and weather protection. They used various layouts and means of transmitting the engine power to the wheels, such as belt drive
or chain drive
often to one rear wheel only to avoid having to provide a differential
The rise of cyclecars was a direct result of reduced taxation both for registration and annual licences of lightweight small engined cars. In France, for example, a car was classed for reduced rates if it weighed less than 350 kg.
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, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Austria and Germany. It was also decided to establish two classes of cyclecars, as follows;
- (i) Large class
- Maximum weight 350 kg
- Maximum engine capacity 1100 cc
- Minimum tyre section 60 mm.
- (ii) Small class
- Minimum weight 150 kg
- Maximum weight 300 kg
- Maximum engine capacity 750 cc
- Minimum tyre section 55 mm.
All cyclecars were to have clutches and change-speed gears. 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.
The cyclecars appear
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 boom shortly before the outbreak of World War I
The first successful cyclecars were Bédélia of France and G.N. from Britain.
Sporting cars and cyclecar races
Some cyclecars such as Amilcar
had good enough performance and handling to be regarded as sports cars.
Races dedicated for cyclecars were also run with the first event of this kind organised by the Automobile Club de France
in 1913 and a Cyclecar GP at Le Mans
The decline of cyclecars
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 World War II, 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.
Cyclecars by countries
- 'From Cyclecar to Microcar - The Story of the Cyclecar Movement'. Author - Michael Worthington-Williams. Publisher Beaulieu Books 1981.
- 'Minimal Motoring - From Cyclecar to Microcar'. Author - David Thirlby. Publisher Tempus Publishing Ltd ISBN 0-7524-2367-3, 2002.