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Seattle designer puts 1930s flair on the road

ACE Cycle Car brings back 'romance of driving'

By BRAD WONG
P-I REPORTER

Seattle radio host Bob Rivers was driving on Interstate 90 when the low-slung, red three-wheeler with bug-eyed hot rod headlights caught his eye.

Rivers, seeing the driver in a black helmet and goggles, thought the red baron had arrived in Seattle. His reaction: "My wife will say no," he joked, referring to buying one.

Pete Larsen photo

 

Pete Larsen displays his custom-designed, three-wheeled ACE Cycle Car, built using a Harley-Davidson engine, at his shop, Liberty Motors of Seattle. Larsen was inspired by the British-made Morgan models from the 1930s.

 

 

 

Rivers had spotted Seattle designer Pete Larsen zipping around in his ACE Cycle Car, a motorized tricycle influenced by the British-made Morgan models from the 1930s.

"When I drive a regular car, I feel numb," Larsen said. "When I drive this, I feel alive."

It is easy to see why.

His rear-wheel-drive prototype sits about 6 inches off the ground, hugs corners and runs on a Harley-Davidson twin cam 88 engine.

The driver takes off the steering wheel, slides into the fiberglass-and-steel tricycle -- which can reach speeds faster than 100 mph -- and sits under the sky. With a push of the ignition button, the motorcycle engine rumbles.

While the 1,000-pound ACE can get 40 miles to the gallon, it was not designed as a daily commuter or fuel-saving vehicle.

"It's about the romance of driving," he said. "It drives like a car, but technically, it's a motorcycle."

Automobile enthusiasts will be happy to know the ACE will go on sale soon.

Larsen, who owns Liberty Motors in South Seattle, is building six models that he hopes will fetch about $40,000 each.

One potential customer already called from England to inquire about it. Another has flown to Seattle to see it.

Larsen, 59, initially tried to import a Moto Guzzi three-wheeler from England years ago but ran into too many bureaucratic problems.

So, similar to other U.S. designers, he thought: "I'll just do it here."

When he was not building custom sidecars for Harley-Davidson motorcycles at his shop on Rainier Avenue South, he spent time behind his drafting board.

Later he created models from paper, wire and Styrofoam.

"It keeps him going," said Patty Billings, his wife and business partner. "He loves the challenge."

Larsen attached chrome rearview mirrors and low-profile glass windshields from an old sports car.

A chrome gas cap sits on top of the turtleback-shaped rear. Custom fenders cover the front wheels.

And he has incorporated parts from a Ford and Honda in the 58-inch-wide and 128-inchlong ACE.

His prototype first ran in 2005, capping about five years worth of work.

That first test drive had everything he wanted in a motoring experience: wind, sun, lowness to the road and the roar of a Harley engine.

Brian Pollock, a Mercer Island resident who owns original British Morgans, drove the ACE last year.

"It has a lot more power than my vintage three-wheeler. The steering was a lot more precise," he said, giving Larsen credit.

"He doesn't take shortcuts. If it's not 100 percent, he'll keep working on it until it's perfected."

And the chrome parts, flash of red paint and design make heads turn when the ACE rumbles down the street.

During a recent test drive to Seward Park, a man sitting on a bench at Lake Washington stood and turned nearly 360 degrees to see the ACE.

When Larsen drives the ACE, he is so low to the ground that he looks up at motorists in MX-5 Miatas, Mazda's tiny convertible.

The lowness to the ground and the acceleration power also give the sensation that his three-wheeler will slide around turns.

But at Seward Park on this day, it just hugged them.

Larsen is just happy his custom vehicle runs -- and runs to his satisfaction.

When he was younger, he wanted to build two or three vehicles on his own. Those projects, though, never left the ground.

"When I got to 50, I just pressed on," he said.

BUYING AN ACE CYCLE CAR

  • The Seattle-made ACE Cycle Car sells for about $40,000. Six models are being built and more will be made if there is interest. Serious buyers who put down a 50 percent deposit can go for a test ride.
  • For information, call the shop at 206-568-6030 or visit cycle-car.com. The company can be reached by clicking on the "comments" link.
  • P-I reporter Brad Wong can be reached at 206-448-8137 or bradwong@seattlepi.com.
     
     

     

                                           carol@the-webmistress.com