- Written by webmin
In the January 2011 issue of Hemmings Classic Car, which should be hitting mailboxes and newsstands shortly, I reviewed Robert Cunningham’s “Orphan Babies: America’s Forgotten Economy Cars, Volume 2,” an excellent and comprehensive followup to his first volume of research into the sorts of cars that usually got relegated to the one-liner notes and oddity roundups in Popular Mechanics and Mechanix Illustrated. That is, the sorts of cars we can’t get enough of here at Hemmings.
Among the cars of Captain James Martin, the American Austins and Bantams, and the Crosleys featured in this book, one in particular caught my eye: R. H. Griffin’s three-wheeler. Cunningham has shown us several times before that he’s an incredible researcher, able to tease as much information as possible out of the briefest of mentions. Griffin was a boat builder in San Diego in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and actually built two tiny reverse trikes. Cunningham states that Griffin never planned to enter production with the cars, so we can only surmise that the first appears to have been built with no other purpose than to advertise Griffin’s boat shop, located at 3520 Main Street in San Diego, across from what is today called Naval Station San Diego. For that car, he used a frame constructed of oak, a four-cylinder air-cooled motorcycle engine (perhaps Indian?), chain drive, a rubber aircraft cord suspension, and a two-passenger body with a single door on the front, like the later Isetta. It earned him a photo and a brief mention in the February 1932 issue of Modern Mechanix.
Griffin’s second three-wheeler, pictured at top and below, also used an oak frame, but had a sedan body that seated four. Passengers could enter through one of two side doors or through a single front door. According to Cunningham, the sedan weighed 975 pounds, reached a top speed of 60 MPH, and returned 50 MPG.
And that’s about all we know. The address for Griffin’s boat shop now belongs to Sloan Electric, which appears to have been in that location since 1938, so it appears Griffin was out of business or had moved by then. Griffin apparently never built any other wacky vehicles, we don’t see any patents under his name, and if anybody has any clue what happened to the two three-wheelers, we’d love to know. In the meantime, check out orphanbabycars.com for more from Robert Cunningham.