G.N. Cyclecar

via RM Sotheby's

via RM Sotheby's

Contemporary carmakers don't have to worry about becoming the subject of doggerel rhyme, to quote Wikipedia

Nash and Godfrey hated cogs,
Built a car with chains and dogs.
And it worked, but would it if
They had built it with a diff

I'm quoting Wikipedia because, well, how else would I have been able to bring you that tidbit of information? Is this sort of thing widely known in the enthusiast community, or are you now filled with another useless tidbit about a long-gone cyclecar manufacturer.

Cyclecar? Yeah. They're essentially the most hipster of all vehicles; the automotive equivalent of a fixie. For that, you have to love them. More importantly, our great-grandparents would have had a ball on these contraptions. Cyclecars were cheap, quick sporting machines that were wildly popular in the U.K., France, and (somewhat) in the U.S. They ranged from well-engineered to deathtrap—and without a cyclecar expert beside you, how are you to know whether to buy a Grofri or a Jack Sport or a D'Ultra?

That's what I love: these were small operations, and even after purchased, owners often modified their cyclecars extensively for competition. 

If you wanted to be in with a shout, a G.N. cyclecar was a good place to start. This is one of the few articles where I'm including photos of different G.N. cyclecars—they are often so unique that for the purposes of this piece I'd like to make you aware of these sweet, simple machines.

The main car I've picked to represent the breed is this 1914 G.N. Cyclecar, a car that's now more than 100 years (!) old. Last year, it sold at an RM Auction for more than $100,000 U.S., and was offered from the estate of John Moir—a man who knew his stuff when it came to cars. The pictures are nice, too.

First launched in 1910, a typical G.N. came with about 10 horsepower from a V-twin engine sources from the motorcycle world. Actually, I'll let the RM Auctions description explain how wild these things are:

"The G.N. featured barely there roadster bodywork, which was essentially a single-seater tub in which the driver faced a long steering column that extended to the front axle. Up in front, below what John Moir refers to as “the Tin Woodsman’s approach to streamlining,” an air-cooled V-twin engine sent power back to the rear axle through a dog clutch, chains, and belts, with the driver hand-pumping oil into the crankcase. It was wild, woolly, and wonderfully unconventional."

Today, I cycled to lunch, and in hindsight, if I had an errand to run after, something like a cyclecar would have been ideal—enough power to put along with traffic, a bit of room for purchases—and it requires no pedalling. History shows us that people want bigger vehicles, and lawmakers are all to happy to legislate all of the equipment we need to feel nice and cozy when behind the wheel.

Could we go backwards this far and reimagine our cities to support vehicles that are closer to this than what we're driving now? I doubt it—but if things change, wave back when I pass in my G.N.