by Tony Marshall (published in the Isetta Gazette September 1980)
In this article we travel back in time to the mid-fifties. Every enthusiast of British motor cycles must surely be familiar with the magnificent shaft driven Sunbeam machines, often described as the 'Rolls Royce' of the motor cycle world. how many of them are aware, though, that there was a three wheel car that was related, albeit in only a minor way, to those Sunbeams? The link that provides the connection between bike and car is the designer. Erling Poppe became well known for his design of the Sunbeam S7, but his attempt at making a three wheel car went almost unheralded. "And no wonder," you may exclaim when I tell you that the car was the Gordon.
Like many small cars of the period, the Gordon was manufactured by a company that had been hitherto completely unconnected with any aspect of vehicle manufacture. In this instance it was Vernons Industries of Liverpool, whose main claim to fame was, and still is, the football pools. The origin of the name 'Gordon' seems to have been forgotten in the mists of time that have elapsed since ten.
When the Gordon was announced at the beginning of 1954, it was to join the already established makes of Bond, Reliant, A.C.Petite, and, like them, it was of fairly conventional car shape, but with only one front wheel. The chassis was basically a two inch section tubular backbone, and on this was mounted an open body constructed of aluminium at the front and rear 'ends', with a centre section of 'Zintec' steel sheet. The front end, which looked as if it housed the engine, was empty apart from the steering assembly, batteries, petrol tank, and the enormous front wheel. There was only one door, and this on the left. It was not possible to fit a drivers door as the lower portion of the space normally allocated to such items was the mounting point for the engine. Fitted low down, it did not intrude much on interior space since it was placed partially outboard, and covered with a bulging metal panel. From here, the drive was by chain to the offside rear wheel.
Prototype models were two seaters, but by the time the car went on sale in April 1954, the body had been altered to accommodate two sideways facing hammock seats in the back for children, and the hood was extended to that it stretched from the windscreen right to the rear of the car, rather like a marquee!
The bodywork was of angular styling with flat panels and squared off corners. The size of the vehicle was quite considerable, being ten feet two inches in length and four feet nine and a half inches wide, though of course the engine and its cover contributed to much of the width.
The power for this 'incredible hulk' came from a Villiers 8E/R two stroke engine of only 197cc, with three forward gears and a reverse. There was an electric starter which turned the flywheel by belt, quite an unusual arrangement, but one which was shared by the Bond Minicar Mark 'C', which had the same engine.
Probably the most attractive feature of the Gordon was the price. It cost £269.17.9d including purchase tax. This made it considerable cheaper to buy than any other car on the market at that time.
Surprisingly, perhaps, it was reported in contemporary roadtests that the uneven weight distribution, even with only a driver in the car, did not really affect the handling, not that the single rear wheel drive was not a cause for concern. In fact, most testers seem to have been impressed by the comfort and performance of the Gordon.
The makers drove one from Lands End to John O' Groats as a publicity exercise, and claimed to have covered 1937 miles using only 31 gallons of petrol, approximately 62.5 mpg. One continuous run of 24 hours covered 546 miles, and another stretch produced a fuel consumption of 69 mpg.
Taken all in all, the Gordon was quite successful, and continued in production until 1957, by which time a deluxe model was on offer, boasting two tone paint, modified body trim, and white wall tyres!
Today, the Gordon is rare. One is in the Surrey Micro Car Collection. Only one other is known at the time of writing (1980).