According to futurist predictions in the 1960s, flying cars would be commonplace in the 1980s. That vision never came to pass, but one company — Tritan Ventures of Ann Arbor, Michigan — did build the next best thing, an aerospace-inspired three-wheeler that was briefly seen by Dominos Pizza as the future of fast-food delivery. A total of 10 were constructed for the Dominos project, and of these seven are believed to survive, including chassis 10, a 1985 Tritan A2 Aero Car to be sold by Bonhams on April 27 as part of the Tupelo Automobile Museum auction in Tupelo, Mississippi.
The idea behind the Tritan A2 was both simple and bold: A lightweight vehicle with extreme aerodynamic efficiency should require a smaller engine to propel it. Less drag, coupled with a smaller engine, should produce impressive fuel economy, which was the primary focus of the A2. Its aircraft-inspired shape resulted in a drag coefficient of just 0.15, less than half that of conventional automobiles of the day. (A 1985 Corvette coupe had a Cd of .33, while the 1985 Toyota MR2 had a Cd of 0.35. Even the experimental GM EV1, released in 1996, only managed a Cd of 0.19.)
Power came from an air-cooled 440-cc Syvaro (aka Savkel) SP-440 rotary engine, which produced 30 horsepower and reportedly delivered up to 80 mpg. The compact single-rotor engine also helped to shed pounds, as did the fiberglass monocoque construction and three-wheel design. With a curb weight around 900 pounds (pizzas excluded), even 30 horsepower was sufficient to deliver a top speed of 95 mph, and a not-unreasonable 0-62-mph time of 17 seconds. The sole transmission offering was a belt-driven automatic.
The structure at the rear of the body (fuselage?) is an Amick Arch, named for its inventor (and the Aero Car’s designer), James Amick. The manufacturer claimed that this shape helped to add stability (possibly by increasing the monocoque’s rigidity), and — under the right conditions — acted as a sail to help propel the car forward in a crosswind.
The Tritan A2 lacked conventional doors, but its entire forward roof section slid towards the nose to permit easy entry and exit. Most examples featured a single front seat and a rear bench large enough for two very close friends, but chassis 10 seems to have lost its rear seat in favor of a shelf (perhaps an effort to improve the efficiency of pizza storage).
Of the 10 examples ordered by Dominos, it isn’t clear how many were used in testing before the project was abandoned. At a price of $15,000 each, the Tritan A2 was considerably more expensive than other fuel-efficient economy cars of the day, and some sources say that liability was a concern for the company, too. Though the front and rear urethane bumpers would have afforded some measure of protection, as a motorcycle, the A2 was not subject to the same crash-test requirements as four-wheeled vehicles. Throw in the need for an operator to possess a valid motorcycle license, and perhaps complexity itself killed the project before it ever got off the ground — figuratively speaking.
Chassis 10 still carries the familiar red, white, and blue livery of the pizza chain, but its odometer shows just 1.7 miles, indicating that it never served in more than a display role. The museum has reportedly owned the Tritan for “several decades,” and it isn’t clear how much it’s been operated in this time. Before being returned to the road, chassis 10 will require a thorough mechanical sorting, made more difficult by the fact that much of engine maker Syvaro’s assets were long ago sold to Freedom Motors. Should spare parts prove problematic, Freedom Motors may just be able to configure a suitable Rotapower engine for the application (and we can’t help but wonder how hard it would be to adapt a contemporary 1,000-cc motorcycle engine and transmission).
In late 2018, a pristine and road-registered Tristan A2 sold online for a reported $23,000. This example will take a bit of elbow grease to get to that condition, and Bonhams is predicting a selling price between $10,000 and $15,000 for the no-reserve lot.
For further details on the Tupelo Automotive Museum Auction, visit Bonhams.com.