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When Hawgs Could Fly: The Harley-Davidson Tri-Hawk
Yes, the legendary classic motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson, which is now celebrating its 100th anniversary, actually sold a car.
For many years in addition to their Big Twin cruisers and light heavyweight Sportsters. Harley-Davidson made three-wheelers in the shape of police cruisers, but they were Barney Rubble’s goofballs compared to the lightweight Mirage Fighter looks of the short-lived but fast Tri-Hawk circa 1984. you didn’t look at one in your local Harley dealer’s showroom because they only made a brief appearance, and were swapped out based on a marketing miscalculation and quickly culled from the Milwaukee lineup.
The two-passenger Tri-Hawk was already in limited production before the Motor Factory decided to keep it as its own to fill some unnamed exotic niche. In the previous year, HD had made a deal with the Austrian company Rotax for motor-gearbox racing units intended for 500 cc short-track racing, so it was perhaps in this international excitement that Milwaukee chose a three-wheeled machine made by the French Citroen four-banger. And yes, “Citroen” seems to translate to “lemon”. But this light, knife-edged game bird was not a bit citrusy.
Decades ago, Germany’s fuel-efficient, albeit clunky, “Messerschmidt car,” part of a recycled Luftwaffe fighter plane, carried two passengers in post-World War II Germany. Since then, all kinds of other three-wheel drive motorcycle hybrids have been developed in Dr. They were born in Frankenstein, but they were never caught. In the early 80s, the Tri-Hawk appeared at a time when experimenters were again looking for alternative designs and better power than weight options. The Tri-Hawk was a product of this enthusiasm, a design created by race car engineer Robert McKee while the deep-pocketed millionaire sportsman writing the project was Lou Richards. The finished product was assembled in a small factory located in a coastal town called Dana Point between Los Angeles and San Diego under the SoCal sun. The 1299 cubic inch flat four engine was mounted forward while the frame and suspension echoed the McKee sport experience. Borrowing again from French technology, the builders introduced a hydraulic brake system developed by Renault.
Topping the scales at 1300 pounds, and powered by 80 horsepower through a 5-speed transaxle, the Tri-Hawk has what can only be called “exciting performance characteristics.” It also wasn’t shy in the exhaust note department, with Formula One oozing from the tailpipes.
If you wanted to buy a Tri-Hawk in the fall of 1984 when Harley-Davidson acquired the company, you had to cough up $12,000, which would buy just over a third of a Big Twin today. At the time 12K seemed like a lot for a vehicle with no tires and only three wheels. However it was impressive, as well as content, in both the performance and the looks department. It could, it should have… but Factory’s game plan was lacking in terms of infrastructure to support sales. Milwaukee decided not to sell them through its own dealers, leaving only the factory in Dana Point and three other franchise locations to sell the Tri-Hawk… not exactly global presence and no Super Bowl ad spots in the way of advertising. Even then, only about eleven Tri-Hawks rolled off the factory floor a month, again not quite flying out the assembly door into the waiting arms of the motoring public. So like many endangered species, the Tri-Hawk died not from inherent design flaws, but from neglect.
Bottom line, the Tri-Hawk is a smartly designed and seriously engineered sports machine that shares many of the adrenaline-producing qualities of the eye-popping performance of a Cobra and the flexible handling of a Lotus car, but with the benefits of a motorcycle license and insurance, plus a bit of a jetfighter. . It could carry two people with relative comfort, and safety thanks to the integrated bar and seat belts. And you didn’t have to know French to drive one. They weren’t thin and soft, got good gas mileage, and were easy to park. And in cars, they ate Beemers and big Benzes for breakfast. Today the big 12 seems like a bargain, except the last Tri-Hawk that this writer knows of sold for $25,000. You can catch her near Los Angeles flying around the Malibu Canyons piloted by a man with a big smile.
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