Snug in the open-air cockpit of Vanderhall Motor Works’ new single-seat Venice Speedster, I pull on protective goggles and become Sir Henry Birkin, one of the famed Bentley Boys, circa 1932. OK, so differences abound. Birkin set a lap record at England’s Brooklands circuit in his monoposto roadster, while I’m content to cruise leisurely along Southern California’s Pacific Coast Highway, roughly 20 miles north of the vehicle’s namesake town. And unlike the late racer’s history-making machine, the Venice Speedster—in Silver Vintage Metallic—has just three wheels.
“The reason we set out in the autocycle segment is because there are less design envelopes we need to work within,” says Vanderhall founder Steve Hall. “The category gives us a lot of freedom.” That sense of liberation also defines the ride sensation in Vanderhall’s offerings, making them perfect for sun-soaked spins. Perhaps that’s why the Utah-based company chose to name most of its line after West Coast communities (other models include the Laguna and Carmel).
Built off the same platform as the two-seat Venice, which debuted in 2017, the front-wheel-drive Speedster—priced starting at $26,950—comprises a proprietary tab-and-slot-constructed aluminum monocoque chassis covered in composite bodywork. The interior boasts aviator-style analog gauges, a Bluetooth-compatible 200-watt sound system, heated leather upholstery, and storage space about the size of a carry-on bag.
Propulsion comes from a 180 hp, General Motors 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine (producing 185 ft lbs of torque) paired with a Hydra-Matic 6T40 six-speed automatic transmission with torque converter.
The power-train combination can take the 1,355-pound (dry weight) trike from zero to 60 in 4.5 seconds before maxing out at 137 mph. But, unless you’re the next Formula 1 phenom, that top speed should remain hypothetical. Despite performance enhancements that include antilock brakes, traction control, and a fine-tuned suspension with coil-over shocks, the Speedster is more susceptible to road imperfections and hazards because of its wheel configuration and its ground clearance of only 4.5 inches (overall height is just shy of 4 feet).
The turbochargers elicit a high-pitched hiss as I accelerate on to the 10 Freeway toward West Los Angeles and try to ignore the fact that the low, raked windscreen offers little protection from road debris or bugs. My vulnerability is palpable, creating a heightened state of alert that is the antithesis of what those in surrounding cars are feeling as they sip lattes and listen to podcasts. And that’s what makes the Venice Speedster so special. At a time when autonomous driving technology seems to be taking over, this is motoring made more visceral, intimate, and daring.