1964 GM Runabout: The Dream of a Three-Wheeled Car Remains Elusive
“The three-wheeled runabout will appeal especially to women because it was designed especially for shopping and other daily errands. Men will also find the Runabout a handy vehicle – well-suited for commuting, but also containing adequate load space for golf clubs and other recreational equipment.” – GM press release from 1964 That text, plus a few scant references on the Internet, appear to be all that remains of the Runabout, a concept car that GM displayed at the 1964 World’s Fair. It was meant to fulfill a vision that’s as old a motor vehicles themselves: the dream of an everyman’s automobile that’s easy to afford and cheap to keep. Call it a “people’s car,” if you will, a true "volks wagen." PHOTOS: See More of the 1964 GM Runabout Concept
Others have tried to fulfill this dream. One was Henry Ford. Another was a crazy dictator that caused a lot of misery about 75 years ago. One problem that designers inevitably run into, however, is the need to balance three factors: safety, comfort, and low cost. Given that virtually no one will buy a car that’s neither safe nor comfortable, price usually gets the shaft. Building a cheap four-wheeled vehicle that offers the driver a reasonable chance of getting home alive seems to be impossible in today’s world. The Chinese and Indians are trying, but their offerings are a long way from getting US government approval.
One way to go around this issue is to reduce the number of wheels. This has the potential simplify design and slash production costs. On the other hand, it also reduces road contact, can lead to stability issues, and makes the car looks like a glorified motor bike. In fact, one reason the triple-wheel formula saves so much money is that Uncle Sam classifies such vehicles as motorcycles. This exempts the builders from many of the onerous standards imposed on car manufacturers.
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As of right now, there is only one developer (that we know of) which is seriously pursuing the three-wheel concept: Elio Motors. They claim their Louisiana-based factory will be up and running in early 2015, selling safe, comfortable vehicles for under $7,000.00. Time will tell. In the meantime, if anyone has additional information on the 1964 GM Runabout, we’d greatly appreciate it if you sent it our way.
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