Abstract: A Reinterpretation of the Rise and Demise (and Rise) of Cyclecars

D.G. Brian Jones, Alan J. Richardson


Between 1910 and 1923 a new form of personal transportation was developed that combined the technology of motorcycles with the utility of automobiles. Known as “cyclecars”, these vehicles were typically constructed from off-the-shelf motorcycle parts and assembled in small batches by a myriad of manufacturers. Current scholarship suggests that the cyclecar craze was ended by the introduction of low cost ‘real’ automobiles such as the Ford Model T, Austin 7 and Morris Oxford. We use a content analysis of cyclecar advertisements to construct a brand positioning map of this emerging segment of the transportation market. We argue that while the core cyclecar positioning was in direct competition with small economically positioned cars such as the Ford Model T, a significant part of the market could be considered as sports cars. This segment of the cyclecar market, along with the development of cyclecars into urban delivery vehicles, continued over time and has re-emerged in a range of three-wheeled sports vehicles including the updating and continuation of the Morgan brand which was launched during the heyday of cyclecars.