First Ride Review – 2019 Vanderhall Venice Speedster

In 3 Wheels, America, Reviews by AbhiLeave a Comment

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If you’re warming up your fingers to comment, “this isn’t a motorcycle”, don’t worry – we all know already. You may not want this today, you may not want this tomorrow, but how are you going to get your open-air fix when you’re too old for two wheels? Maybe you just want a different toy in your garage. Who knows? There are plenty of good reasons to have one.

Since their first model was released in 2016, Vanderhall has sold nearly 1,000 units. Based on customer surveys, they know that 49% of their customers are self-described “motorcycle enthusiasts” over “automobile enthusiasts”, while 98% currently owned or have owned a motorcycle in the past. So I present the Vanderhall to you not as a motorcycle, but as something fun that motorcyclists are interested in. Still with me?


Photos by Tom Morr and Abhi Eswarappa


“OK, fine. But what’s a Vanderhall?”

It’s a 3-wheeler that the United States Department of Transportation calls a motorcycle – though the term “autocycle” has started to take over as a more accurate descriptor. The motorcycle definition means that the Vanderhall doesn’t have to pass any sort of crash testing, and it also means you may have to wear a helmet depending on your state of residence.

UPDATE: As noted by wonkothesame in the comments, the center caps on the front wheel are yellow, while the center cap on the rear wheel is red as they serve as side reflectors.

In a general sense, the Venice is similar to a Morgan 3-Wheeler or Polaris Slingshot, though those are rear wheel drive with manual transmissions and the Venice is front wheel drive with a slushbox and an optional bump shifter. The “Speedster” addition to the name comes from the fact that this is a single seater variant of the Vanderhall Venice that Nathan reviewed a couple of years ago. So if you absolutely need two seats, Vanderhall has you covered. Other changes for the Speedster include a shorter windscreen, unique paint job, and a few changes to clean up the space where a passenger seat would be: removal of the counter and hoop behind the seat space, as well as a tonneau cover.

Right from the outset, I’ll say that I prefer the 2-seater over the solo option. But I appreciate Vanderhall’s pricing structure. When companies like Lamborghini start cutting out carpet and seats to create a “Superleggera”, they charge you more for less under the guise of exclusivity and weight savings. Vanderhall at least has the decency to charge you less for the disappearing seat act. The Speedster costs $26,950, which represents a $3,000 discount over the two-seater Venice.

What’s new with Vanderhall?

Vanderhall was founded in 2010 by CAD designer Steve Hall, but I’m more interested in their recent history. If you want to learn more about the history and you enjoy podcasts, check out this interview of Daniel Boyer, Vanderhall’s Director of Sales and Marketing, by my buddy James McKeone of NoBraking. (If NoBraking sounds familiar, it might be because he recently had me on for an episode as well.) The company has approximately 50 employees, and they’ve just moved from a 80k square foot facility into a 180k square foot facility that has the potential to scale up to 1 million sq ft. Mr. Boyer believes it’ll take 10-12 years to get to that point, but when it happens they’ll have the “longest building in Utah“.

Looking beyond the Beehive State, Vanderhall now has over 40 dealers in the United States, and they’ve commenced a 3-wheeled invasion of Europe as well. But what are they invading with? Vanderhall invited me to find out for myself, so they bought me lunch and gave me a Venice Speedster for a few hours. Here’s what I thought:

The Basics

The drivetrain is the same as the Venice that Nathan rode drove in 2017, meaning it’s got a 1.4L turbo four and 6-speed automatic transmission sourced from GM. The drivetrain puts out 180 horsepower at 4,950 rpm and 185 lb-ft of torque at 2,450rpm.

Because the curb weight is under 1,500 pounds, the Speedster is said to get from 0-60 in 4.5 seconds. The average motorcyclist may not be impressed by that number, but the lateral grip figure of .95g should be encouraging. Beyond that, the other specifications worth noting are an 8.5 gallon fuel tank and some convenience features that we’ll discuss in a moment.

While the MSRP is $26,950, the Speedster I drove cost $37,644 as tested because it had several extras. I asked Vanderhall to clarify exactly what the extras were, and they kindly provided this list of “Dealer Installed Options:”

Bump Shifter
Gear Indicator Gauge
Traction Plate
Dead Pedal
Aviator Gauge Bezels
Rear Fender
Cowl Grille
Big Brake Kit
Dakota Brown Leather Interior
Dakota Brown Seat Credit
Dakota Brown Leather Sill
Dakota Brown Dash
Dakota Brown Tonneau Trim
Stripe Decal
Gill Insert Decals
Equipment Sub-Total
Dealer Labor (est.)
Destination
Total

$995
$395
$485
$185
$165
$419
$179
$2,650
$2,250
($850)
$229
$395
$275
$374
$98
$8,244
$1,475
$975
$37,644

The only extra I thought was silly was the gill decal set:

If they’re just stickers, are you even allowed to call them gills?

Hop On In

It’s hard to look distinguished as you get into the Venice Speedster. There are no doors, so you have to thread the needle with your first foot to make sure you don’t hit the door sill, seat, or steering wheel. But once you’re in, it’s a pleasant place to be. There’s too many exposed components and wires underneath the dash for my liking, but the cockpit is stylish otherwise and I adore the Nardi-esque steering wheel. The Venice Speedster tries to strike a balance of classic and contemporary throughout, but I think it’s better executed in the interior versus the exterior – the front has always felt too stub-nosed for me to call it attractive.

Normally, when I think of a silver convertible called a Speedster, I think of the classic Porsche. My association is furthered when I insert the key into the ignition, which is on the left side of the steering wheel. That’s a classic Porsche trait, and it goes back to the days when the German company competed in Le Mans – at the time, drivers would start the race outside of the car. Porsche realized that a racer could save some time if they operated the key with their left hand, freeing up the right hand to work the gear shift immediately. That’s obviously no longer necessary, but Porsche has kept the ignition on the left due to some combination of tradition and marketing gimmickry. It was all I could think about as I fired the Speedster up.

I’m just glad that the key works normally – the Slingshot requires you to turn the key and then hit a separate start button.

My ride started in the Santa Monica Mountains, which meant cool temperatures and tight twisties. The Venice has a heater (which works fine) and a heated seat (which works amazingly) to help keep your body temperature above freezing, but the short windshield and open-air cockpit mean that you’ll still have to bundle up. The short windshield also means that hats are a bad idea unless you’re going slowly. If you’re going fast (highway speeds) for more than a short burst, I’d argue that glasses are insufficient for eye protection and you may want to wear a helmet instead. Long story short, the chopped windshield might work for a “Speedster” aesthetic but it’s so short that it interferes with my driving enjoyment. I’d request the windscreen from the regular Venice.

Vanderhall is planning to sell ~250 Venice Speedsters. Heated seats are lovely on a brisk evening.

I explored some of my favorite motorcycling roads in the area, excited that there would be minimal traffic as it was a weekday. Mulholland Highway, Malibu Canyon, Piuma, Latigo Canyon – I tried to enjoy all the classics, but I had to stop several times to take in the shocking aftermath of the Woolsey Fire.

I’ve had several friends drive the Venice before, and based on their anecdotes I assumed that the vehicle would be at its most enjoyable when in the curves. The Vanderhall is visceral, you feel everything deep inside. The low door sill, even lower seat height and reflection of the road in the front left fender amplify your sense of speed, and there isn’t much to get in the way. In corners, it has the feel of a vehicle that does not weigh very much, though it likes to understeer at the limit. It’s fun to toss around, but it never felt like a performance machine to go apex hunting with. In fact, I enjoyed the Speedster the most when I was in relaxed cruising mode.

Three wheelers are weird, and how you feel about the Vanderhall will depend on if you’re coming from cars or bikes. From a motorcyclist’s perspective, there’s plenty to hate: it’s not as fast, you can’t split lanes, it’s as difficult as a car to park, and you’re going to look pretty silly if you live in a state that requires you to wear a helmet in this. But if you open your mind, there’s also plenty to love. Open-air motoring is wonderful, and the minimal nature of the Speedster makes it better. The side-mount exhaust terminates right under you for optimal acoustics, and the turbo blow off valve sound is so good that you’ll accelerate just for the audio.

Modern cars have high door sills for crash safety requirements but they ruin the feel of cruising along and resting your arm where the window would be. Not so with the Speedster. Grab the lithe wooden steering wheel with your right hand and the optional bump shifter with your left, and just go.

The $995 bump shifter doubles as a mirror. It should also be on your list of options.

You’ll feel special while you’re driving it, and you better like being the center of attention. The Speedster is an interesting toy for petrolheads, but I couldn’t connect with it. Not because of how it performed, but because there was just one seat. This is a vehicle you should share with a friend – the whole time I was driving it I was wishing I had Vy next to me to enjoy the experience as well. Forget the Speedster and look into the rest of the Vanderhall lineup instead.

Vanderhall’s Future

2019 brings 3 new models to the Vanderhall lineup: this Speedster, the Carmel, and the Edison.

The Carmel is basically a Venice that’s been revised based on customer feedback. The average Vanderhall owner, as you might guess, is on the older side. The biggest differences are doors to ease access and provisions for a removable canvas top. The desire for a top on a car like this might be surprising, but when I spoke with Polaris management about the Slingshot, they mentioned that the most-requested feature by their customers was a top that became known as the Slingshade.

The Edison (available for pre-order) follows afterwards, and as you might guess from the name it’s an electric version. With the batteries, the plan is for 70/30 weight distribution with a 60″ track. The torque of an electric motor in this bodywork would be a blast, and they’re partnering with Zero to make sure the drivetrain works well.

Gas or electric, Vanderhall is growing, and they’re laying out the infrastructure to built 15,000-20,000 units a year. It’s always great to see a new company in this space succeed, and I wish them the best of luck.

Verdict

My previous 3-wheel experience has been with the Polaris Slingshot and the Morgan 3 Wheeler.

I truly enjoyed the Morgan as it’s perfect for the relaxed driving I’m looking for with these 3-wheelers, but the >$40k base price is comical (and you’re going to spend plenty on extras). The Slingshot is much more approachable at a $20k base price but it looks, as too many motorcycles do, like a praying mantis copulated with a robot (before biting its head off, of course).

The Vanderhall is an interesting alternative. Pricing is much closer to the Slingshot while the styling is infinitely better. The former differs with FWD and an automatic transmission – I happen to think both are negatives but I’m OK with it as I’m not racing the thing. Of all the 3 wheelers I’ve tested, the Vanderhall makes the most sense. I can’t financially justify the Morgan and I feel like a jackass in the Slingshot. I still feel a little awkward in this, but it’s much more reasonable.

So no, the Vanderhall Speedster isn’t a motorcycle. But I still had fun with it, and that’s the most important thing. Just do yourself a favor and get the two-seater instead.


Check out the 2019 Vanderhall Venice Speedster!
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