When upstart American manufacturer Vanderhall Motor Works set out to make a vehicle, “fun factor” was a guiding principle from Day One.
The Provo, Utah-based maker of “American-made, handcrafted auto-cycles” brought their first three-wheeled retro car/motorcycle crossbreed, the Laguna, to market in 2015. And this year, they’ve rolled out the Venice, fitted with sleek ABS bodywork sitting on an aluminum frame and powered by a Chevy turbocharged 1.4-liter transverse inline four matched to a smooth shifting six-speed 6T40 automatic transmission.
It’s not a car. Technically, you’re riding a trike.
Vanderhall 1 (3 images)
But who cares how it’s classified? This thing is fast, cool and — thanks to an odd legal loophole — you don’t even need a motorcycle license or helmet to ride one (cops may stop you to contest those points, however). At $29,950, it’s also well-priced to compete with every other trike and autocycle (aka enclosed trike) on the market.
A standard shifter option ($995) was included with my test mule, and the automatic torque converter made for clutchless hand shifting. The motor size doesn’t inspire images of a snarling beast: it’s smaller than many motorcycle engines. But after some in-house tweaking and tuning, the Venice has enough grunt and go to make riding it a serious pleasure. The trike claims 180 hp at 4,950 rpm and 185 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,450 rpm. For a vehicle weighing in a belt-notch below 1,400 lbs., that translates to a nice shot of adrenaline. The Venice also gets about 30 MPG in combination driving, and its nine-gallon tank gives it all the range you’ll want.
Vanderhall 2 (2 images)
Vanderhall boasts a 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds, which smokes most wheel-operated vehicles — regardless of how many wheels they have — under $30k. Fast off the line, its roll-on power is even more impressive: the Venice tops out at 140 MPH, and in a vehicle that rides just under six inches off the tarmac, even half that speed will make you feel like you’re straddling a missile.
The design is based loosely on 1960 F1 cars. Little kids went nuts over it. Old ladies gave me a wink and a smile. And I got enthusiastic thumbs-ups from plaid-shirted guys in pickups, leathery bikers, quaffed sportscar snobs, pedestrians in mini skirts and even bicyclists. The dash has the usual suspects of instrumentation, plus a row of curious toggles and switches you’d expect to activate James Bond villain deterrents; in reality, they’re a little more mundane (think cruise control).
One of the coolest features is how low the cockpit sits: the seats are just 12 inches or so off the ground, allowing a taste of a world most non-track driver have never experienced. I smelled tires as they passed by, saw lug nuts spin into a blur, inspected a giant truck's chassis as it rumbled by over my head. I felt like a pilot fish riding alongside a shark.
If there was one thing I didn’t like, it was getting into the seat. Climbing into the doorless Venice is a maneuver best left to a yogi master: the only thing to grab onto is the windshield, which will crack if you put too much weight on it. I was very mindful of this, keeping all appendages away from the glass while still trying to make a smooth descent into the bucket seat. After a brief struggle, though, I was able to plop in with all the grace of a giant mastiff sliding into a high chair.
Other questions, answered:
Uh, what do you do if it rains?
In a downpour, the Venice looks like it will fill up like a bathtub, but there are two drain holes that keep the cockpit properly irrigated.
What kind of shoes do you wear in the Vanderhall?
Naked feet, or something without a big heel to help ingress and egress.
Can you catch a tan while driving the Vanderhall?
It’s hard not to.
Can the Vanderhall drive under a semi, Fast & Furious style?
It would be close, but they don’t recommend it in the manual.
Will Shaquille O'Neal fit in the Vanderhall?
No, but they’re making a stretched version for him.
Can I listen to music in the Vanderhall?
It’s got Bluetooth plus a hidden 600-watt stereo, so yes, go for it.
That said, we’d recommend leaving the tunes off on the highway — you really haven’t heard the sounds of the road until you’ve sat in an open cockpit at worm-view level.