Yes, the legendary maker of the classic Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which has long celebrated its centennial, did sell a car … well, more or less.
For many years in addition to their lighter Big Twin cruisers and Sportsters. Harley-Davidson made tricycles in the form of utility and police “tricycles,” but they were lumps of Barney Rubble compared to the short-lived, but fast-paced, Tri-Hawk’s slim Mirage Fighter look of around 1984. You most likely didn’t ogle one in the showroom of your local Harley dealership because they appeared only briefly, and were attributed to a marketing miscalculation and were quickly unselected from the Milwaukee lineup.
The two-passenger Tri-Hawk had already been in limited production before Motor Factory decided to take it as their own ostensibly to fill an exotic niche that had no name. The year before, HD had made a deal with the Austrian company Rotax for engine-gearbox racing units intended for 500cc short-track racing, so perhaps it was in this euphoria of internationalism that Milwaukee opted for a three-wheeled machine propelled by a motor. French-made four-cylinder Citroën. And yes, “Citroen” seems to be loosely translated as “lemon.” But this light, knife-edged bird of prey didn’t have a bit of sour citrus.
Decades earlier, the inexpensive German “car” Messerschmidt, a bit of a recycled Luftwaffe fighter jet, had carried two passengers through post-WWII Germany. Since then, in Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory all sorts of car / three-wheel bike hybrids with motorcycle engines have been born, but none have caught on. In the early 1980s, the Tri-Hawk appeared at a time when experimenters were again looking for alternative designs and better power-to-weight options. The Tri-Hawk was the product of this enthusiasm, the design evoked by the race car engineer Robert McKee, while the millionaire sportsman Lou Richards was the one who signed the project. The finished product was assembled in a small plant located in a coastal town called Dana Point that basks in the southern California sun between Los Angeles and San Diego. The flat, air-cooled 1299-cubic-inch four-cylinder engine rode up front, while the frame and suspension echoed McKee’s race car expertise. Again, borrowing French technology, the builders incorporated a hydraulic braking system manufactured by Renault.
With a 1,300-pound scale, and with 80 horsepower through a 5-speed transaxle transmission, the Tri-Hawk has what might be called “exhilarating performance characteristics.” Plus, he wasn’t shy in the exhaust notes department, a snarling, ecstatic Formula One emanating from the pipes.
If you wanted to buy a Tri-Hawk in the fall of 1984 at the time of Harley-Davidson’s takeover of the company, you had to shell out $ 12,000 which today will only buy about two-thirds of a Big Twin. Back then, 12K seemed like a lot for a vehicle without a roof and with only three wheels. Yet it had appeal and substance, both in performance and in the appearance department. It could, should … but Factory’s infrastructure game plan was missing to support sales. Milwaukee decided not to sell them through its dealerships, leaving only the factory at Dana Point and three other franchise locations to sell the Tri-Hawk … not exactly universal availability nor were there any Super Bowl commercials in the way of the promotion. Even then, only about eleven Tri-Hawks left the factory nest monthly, again without flying out the assembly door into the waiting arms of the automotive public. So, like many endangered species, the Tri-Hawk died not from intrinsic design flaws, but from negligence.
Simply put, the Tri-Hawk is a seriously crafted, smartly designed sports machine that shares much of the adrenaline-pumping production qualities of the Cobra’s eyeball suction performance and the nimble handling of the Lotus car, but licensed from motorcycling and insurance benefits, plus a little jet hunting. thrown off. It could carry two in relative comfort and safety thanks to the integral roll bar and seat belts. And you didn’t need to know French to drive one. They weren’t touchy or temperamental, they offered good gas mileage, and they were easy to park. And in the curves, they had big Beemers and Benz for breakfast. Today, 12,000 seem like a bargain, except the last Tri-Hawk known to this author sold for $ 25,000. You could catch him near Los Angeles flying around the canyons of Malibu piloted by a guy with a big smile.