1951 Thrift-T. (source: Hemmings Motor News)
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Mark Zalutko was looking for an unusual restoration project back in 2005 when he came across this Onan-powered Thrif-T three-wheeler.
In just eight months, the little slab-sided utility roadster went from a two-color, best-viewed-from-20-feet collectible-in-the-rough to an AACA National First Prize winner. And though Zalutko is intimately familiar with his microcar's mechanicals, its history, as well as the history of the company that manufactured it, remain somewhat of a mystery.
To the best of the owner's knowledge, the car you are looking at is the last surviving example. Actual Thrif-T production numbers have thus far eluded Zalutko, though it is known that the three-wheeler was designed by the Tri-Wheel Corp of Oxford, North Carolina, and manufactured by the Tri-Wheel Motor Corp., in Springfield, Massachusetts. Production of these cars and their variants lasted from 1948 until 1955. Thrift-Ts were produced in two standard colors, Hawaiian Gray and Lockhaven Green. Other colors, like the bright yellow finish on our feature car, were available at additional cost.
The interior of the Thrift-T is as bare-bones as its name implies: a bench seat and a floor mat for the driver and passenger but no door panels, kick panels or sound insulation of any kind. Controls and gauges are minimal, too, consisting of a steering wheel, a stick shift and a small array of gauges.
The Thrif-T is powered by a 62.5-cu.in., horizontally opposed, 10hp Onan engine, coupled to a Crosley transmission and axle, which rolls the little car's 4.50 x 12 tires to a top speed of 40 mph.
Zalutko says the car's most unusual feature is that you can separate the Thrif-T's steel body from its chassis and powertrain in less than 30 minutes, as the drivetrain rests in a cradle under the body and is connected with a trailer-ball and hitch setup.
This article originally appeared in the OCTOBER 1, 2007 issue of Hemmings Motor News.
(source: Courtesy of Hemmings Motor News)
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