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WITH THE obvious exceptions of H.F.S Morgan’s trikes and the Messerschmitt KR200 Kabinenroller, many 3-wheel cars have been promoted by whackadoodles, not to say outright con artists. I offer two examples of the latter. Both carmakers spent time in the slammer, one of them giving authorities a tough decision of which cellblock, men’s or women’s.
[By the way, I owe an editorial correction here to car friend Craig Childers: I originally had the DeltaWing among 3-wheelers, though in fact it has two (closely aligned) wheels up front. As contrition, I’ve revised my opening to include the KR200’s designers among non-whackadoodles.]
Let’s begin with the less outrageous one, Glen Gordon “Gary” Davis. The Davis Motorcar Company was based in Van Nuys, California. It built perhaps 15 to 17 cars, all 3-wheelers, in 1947-1948.
Davis cars bore excellent pedigree, that of famed race car designer Frank Kurtis. In 1941, millionaire playboy and Indy 500 driver Joel Thorne commissioned Kurtis to build “The Californian.” After World War II, Gary Davis acquired this 3-wheeler, from which his car evolved.
Using investor money, Davis bought an ex-World War II aircraft assembly building, of 57,000 sq. ft. He envisioned starting production of the Davis car in 1948 at 50 a day, later increasing to 1000/day. His earliest prototype was the Baby. There were other prototypes, the Delta and 482, as well as a 494, a Jeep-like vehicle except for its single front wheel. Three 494s were cobbled together, two of which were sent to the U.S. Army for testing.
The company failed in 1948, its workers sans pay, its investors and (300!) dealers threatening lawsuits. Gary Davis was convicted of fraud and sent to the slammer, albeit a minimum security one for two years.
Sixteen of the franchise holders formed the Delta Motor Car Company and tried to work a deal with England’s Reliant Engineering, which produced the quite successful Bond Reliant Mini Cars. Nothing came of the deal.
Geraldine Elizabeth “Liz” Carmichael and her Dale 3-wheeler make the Davis story sound banal. Another product of southern California whimsy, her Twentieth Century Motor Car Corporation was situated in Encino in 1974.
The Dale 3-wheeler, with its lone wheel aft, was designed by company partner Dale Clift. Envisioned as powered by a BMW two-cylinder, the Dale claimed 70 mpg and a $2000 list price—both hot selling points following the first U.S. fuel crisis in 1973.
Liz expected sales of 88,000 cars in the first year, 250,000 cars the second. Her facility supposedly enclosed 150,000 sq. ft. (take that, Davis!) and had more than 100 employees. For the startup, Liz claimed to have millions of dollars from private parties. She was on her way to taking on GM.
Two prototypes were built; perhaps one ran—powered by Briggs & Stratton, not BMW.
Rumors of fraud got the attention of the California Securities Commission and other government agencies. At first, Dale Clift believed in Liz and her promise of $3 million in royalties. Then he realized he’d been given only $1001—plus a $2000 check that had bounced.
Twentieth Century Motor Car Corp. dissolved in 1978. Liz Carmichael was charged with fraud, securities violations and grand theft.
And this was when matters got really bizarre.
With full identification, Liz Carmichael turned out to be a man—Jerry Dean Michael—and on the lam from an FBI counterfeiting charge. Arrested on the Dale charges—and in the midst of a sex change—she gained bail (again), this time covered by a news outlet in return for her story.
Once more, Liz/Jerry jumped bail and went into hiding until ratted out by a 1989 “Unsolved Mysteries” TV episode—within minutes into the broadcast. Carmichael had been working as a flower vendor in—of all places—Dale, Texas.
According to a grandchild (evolving from the Jerry Michael era), Liz Carmichael died in 2004.
As Anna Russell used to say, “I’m not making this up, you know.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013