Tony Cotton takes a break from racing cars and looks at that
rare animal the three seater car
I'm always intrigued by solutions in search of a problem. The iPad is
one – until it came along who needed an oversize iphone without
a keyboard....or a phone? 70 million people, apparently. The pre-peeled
fruit that M&S sold for a while for those who really were either too
busy or too stupid to peel an orange. Half bottles of wine. Though that
one may be my own problem. Or Cheryl Cole. I never worked out what she
was for. Another ongoing solution to a problem I've rarely had is how
do you seat 3 people in a car? To me the obvious answer is just leave
a seat unoccupied in your Golf, but this hasn't been good enough for some
of the most ingenious motoring brains of the last half century or so,
and the results have varied from the breathtakingly impressive to the
Starting in the early 1950's, the Jowett
Jupiter was a horizontally opposed four cylinder powered open tourer/sports
car made in Bradford. It was an attractive little car with engineering
novelty, designed in part by AutoUnion engineer Eberan Von Eberhorst.
That had the obvious answer for 3 people in a 2-seater, a bench
seat. The equally obvious disadvantage was that there wasn't much
side support in cornering, but maybe that was okay at the time.
An equally early candidate was the Series One Land Rover. Not a
car, I hear you say, but as I've seen pictures of one racing in
a car race at Silverstone in the 50's, I stay my ground. That had
the simplest solution you can imagine – stick 3 seat cushions
side by side, so a variant on the bench seat but separate cushions
and a saving on seat foam. The prototype, built in 1947, was unique
among Land Rovers in having a centre- mounted steering wheel. The
attraction was that it needed no left-and right-hand drive variants,
but it proved a bit too radical and a conventional layout was adopted.
Staying with 3 side-by-side seating, the 1973 Matra
Simca Bagheera and the later less pretty Talbot Matra Murena introduced
3 bucket seats in a row. The driver's moved, the passengers' didn't
and whilst the picture with a model makes it look a big car, I suspect
she's one of these car-specialist models who is perfectly in proportion
and about 4foot 9inches tall. My guess is that whilst the Bagheera
was lovely to look at and was a wide car for the time (1735mm compared
with the competing MGB at 1524mm, but 1740mm for my Mk4 Golf) it
didn't have enough space to be truly comfortable either for 2 passengers
or one travelling in the narrow seats. In the time since the Murena
ceased production, cars have got safer, needing thicker, stronger
doors and, to be blunt, the average set of hips has got wider, so
we've probably seen the last of 3-in-a-row.
Incidentally, 3 Bagheeras were built with U8 (not V8) engines.
However, that centre steering wheel
in the Land Rover reappears a bit later. No, not the McLaren yet,
but the Kieft Bristol. Cyril Kieft's racing cars were produced in
my home town of Wolverhampton, and I knew Cyril towards the end
of his life. His designer Gordon Bedson penned a Bristol powered
formula 2 car, like the contemporary Cooper, but it wasn't made.
The designs were converted into a 3 seat sports racer by hanging
outriggers on either side with two small seats. Whilst balance was
then ideal, the driver had a prop shaft running through his legs
and the pedals also had to circumvent the prop shaft. Whether any
passengers were carried is anybody's guess, but it satisfied the
rules and is another variation.
The same 3 seater concept to circumvent the rules works much
better with a rear engine as there's nothing to get in the
driver's way, and this was a layout adopted by Gian Paulo
Dallara for the 1000cc powered sports racing car bearing his
name, which ran with considerable success in the early 1970's.
There was probably room for Action Man in the left seat and
Barbie in the right, or maybe Felipe Massa.
Staying with cars designed for the track, the 3-seater
appeared a few times in the 1990's and early 2000's when there was
a fad for “F1 experience” cars. The trouble was that
McLaren did it properly with a close coupled two seater driven by
Brundle, probably the most intelligent F1 driver who could thrill
in safety. Few drivers could do that, the cars weren't as inherently
safe as the McLaren and they died out. Arrows tried it with lesser
drivers than Brundle and I suspect their insurers told them to stop.
After all, passengers paying several thousand pounds can probably
afford good lawyers, and probably don't appreciate being the deformable
structure. For what it's worth, pictures of a Ferrari F1 3-seater
appeared on the internet. Whether it was genuine, I leave to your
However, no matter how genuine or not the F1 3-seater
is, by jumping back to the 1960's we can see that an arrow-3 format
was adopted by Ferrari for the rather gorgeous 365P Guida Centrale.
Based on some of the parts of the 365P2 sports racer, just two were
built for Gianni Agnelli (the FIAT boss) and Luigi Chinetti, the
original North American Ferrari agent. The car had a V12 4.4 litre
engine and the styling was like a scaled up but flattened Dino,
albeit about 4 years earlier. The clever part was that the designer
realised that hips and shoulders are the wide parts of the body,
so if you stagger the seats a bit the legs can tuck in alongside
the body of the driver. The result was a luxurious but manageable
nearly side by side 3 seater. The downside was that it was a little
wide, and Mrs Chinetti supposedly didn't fancy it because of that.
It was, in fact, 1890mm wide compared with 1920mm for the 360 of
1999-2005, and more prosaically, 1886mm for the current Mondeo,
but as I've said before, times change. Mind you, although I find
the 365P rather lovely who can blame Mrs C if she preferred the
275GTB4 NART Spyder her husband commissioned around the same time.
car, V12, arrow 3 seater, 30 years on. Yes, it's time for the ultimate
3 seater, the McLaren F1. It was supposed to be so strong as to not
need a cage, but actually it did flex without one. It was incredibly
efficient packaging, only 1820mm wide, designed without compromise
by Gordon Murray and beautifully clothed by Peter Stevens, who also
worked for MG Rover, TWR, Lotus and some other companies who haven't
gone bust. Probably one of the only cars to which “fantastic”
can be accurately applied, and not a line wrong in it. For me it joins
the original Mini and the Land Rover in an all time top ten of great
Murray obviously likes the arrow 3 format because that has been
applied in his composite and tube chassis'd, 3 cylinder powered,
much discussed and hyped “revolutionary” T25 town car,
of which not much has been heard recently. Even its mum wouldn't
like its looks, but it's supposed to be superbly engineered and,
thanks to the seating, surprisingly roomy. I hope I'm wrong but
my guess is it will be a very expensive car for what it is, and
that it will be sold on “total life costs”. I wish it
well, and it's a 3 seater, so is GM the only designer to have done
2 wholly different 3 seaters?
Similarly expensive is the £20+k Mia electric. The Mia is
neat and practical, but costing the same as a diesel Audi? Perhaps
|So having reached a zenith with the
McLaren F1 and, despite cost reservations, the clever T25 and
Mia, we now have a different configuration, the 2 plus 1. I
have 4 candidates, the first two of which are cars with many
merits. The others aren't.
Daimler Conquest Roadster Mark II drophead coupé had
a sideways-facing single rear seat. I find it impossible to
see the car without thinking of floral print dresses and scarves,
awfully nice young ladies, tweed clad gentlemen and grooms.
It just screams upper middle class 1950's. The sideways seat
is a great idea, and I think it was copied in a much later high
performance car, but I can't remember what it was. The legroom
is the full width of the car, but whilst it's ideal for sleeping
in or a couple of miles down to the pub, I'm not sure I would
fancy a long journey watching the world pass sideways; it could
induce a bit of motion sickness.
Also a child of its
time, the Hyundai HCDII show car was a pretty 3 seater with
a semi-sideways seat that I can't quite fathom. However, it's
probably cleverly thought out. Remember that at this time
- 1993 - Hyundai weren't the company that scares European
mid-range car builders, and outsells Renault in the UK by
a factor of nearly 2. They were a Korean butt of jokes. Maybe
this would have stopped that.
And to finish on the nadir. It's as hard to choose between
these two as worst 3 seater as it is easy to choose the McLaren
as the best.
Panther Westwinds were renowned for their pretty pastiche
sports cars. J72 mimicked the Jaguar SS, Lima was somewhat
in the style of a Morgan. Their Canadian importer asked for
something special for his wife so they built a one off. A
special bodied open car, based on an XJ6/12. What could possibly
go wrong? Imagine the lady's birthday. He: “Come and
see what I have for you, my dear”. She: “WHAT
THE **** IS THAT?????!!!!!”. At great cost, the underpinnings
of a sleek saloon had been transformed into the Panther Lazer,
an oversized cheese shaped monstrosity with a comedy rear
wing. “Wacky races” was mentioned by some. Even
the point of this entry, the rear seat, was stupid as it was
perched on the transmission tunnel and the passenger's legs
poked between the front seats somewhat less practically than
Gordon's creations. It went back to Byfleet where it languished
for a year or two before being sold to the 14 year old Crown
Prince of Iran. Suddenly, the Iranian revolution looks a lot
|I'm not sure whether the last entry is really
a piece of post modern irony, or even performance art. It's
a product of the Geely company of China, the people who bought
Volvo from Ford. Called the Excellence, it's basically a productionised
version of the Powell Motors Homer from the Simpsons. Rolls
Royce got upset that the grille ripped them off, though even
Geely weren't able to imitate the “presence”, to
use the polite word, of the real Phantom and from some angles
it's almost ok. Instead of a 6.8 litre penguin roaster of an
engine as found in the Royce it has a 3 litre V6, which on a
good day might pull the skin off your custard. But the sheer
awfulness is in the back, separated by a glass partition from
the front, where there is a single seat - a throne – surrounded
by what a Chinese company or B&Q might think was luxury.
I've never considered a car before with more doors than seats.
Truly, this is the car of choice for the oppressive megalomaniac
dictator on a tight budget, as £30k or so was quoted as
Disclaimer: The above represents only the unofficial view of
the writer and not of the Monoposto Racing Club in any way whatsover.
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