Car: Powerdrive, 1956

In the arcane world of British microcars, David Gottlieb is a near-mythical figure. The designer of three of the most infamous of these Suez crisis-era fuel-misers—the Allard Clipper, Powerdrive, and the Coronet—the whiff of failure surrounding them is also the aroma of his mystique.

1956 the car Powerdrive
The backers of the 1956 Powerdrive did everything they could to make it appear a “real” roadster rather than a puny penny-pincher.
1956 the car Powerdrive
1956 the car Powerdrive

In 1953, Gottlieb’s Powerdrive company sold the concept of a three-wheeled economy car with rear-mounted, single-cylinder engine and egg-shaped fiberglass body to London sports car manufacturer Sydney Allard. The car had serious design flaws, especially overheating, and Allard bailed out in June 1955 after making just 22. Yet, an undaunted Gottlieb launched his own Powerdrive car just a month later, this time backed by London garage chain Blue Star. It was a small, aluminum-bodied sports car with three-abreast seating and attractive lines.

1956 model of the car Powerdrive
1956 model of the car Powerdrive
model of the car Powerdrive 1956
model of the car Powerdrive 1956

It had two wheels at the front with a single, rear wheel cleverly concealed by the supposed “big car” styling. Gottlieb thought buyers wanted a stylish car that hid its austerity because, weighing under 0.4 tons, it attracted motorcycle tax rates. The tubular chassis had a two-stroke British Anzani motorbike engine forward of the rear wheel, with a three-speed-and-reverse Albion gearbox, and Austin A30 steering and front suspension. Talk of selling five a week, however, proved hopelessly optimistic. At £412, a “real” car such as the Ford Popular cost just £1 more. But two years later, Gottlieb recreated the car as the Coronet— which proved his motor industry swansong.

“Look closely and you’ll see it’s a three-wheeler cleverly disguised to look like a grown-up four-wheeler.”

Daily Express Newspaper, 1956

Specification: model of the car Powerdrive

HISTORICAL STATUS: production car
ENGINE: two-cylinder, 20ci (322cc)
LAYOUT: rear-mounted engine driving the rear wheel
BODYWORK: two-door, two-seater roadster
TOP SPEED: 60mph (97kph)