Its a cabin motorcycle the sports cars of the future? They are fast like a Porche, economical like a Smart Car and offer fun like a Super bike—without the hassle of getting wet. A small company in Winterthur manufactures them.
Do you love the feeling when driving a motorcycle, but hate heavy leathers? Then you surely have already dreamed about a motorcycle with a roof: A vehicle, which keeps you warm, offers driving fun, and does not ruin your hairstyle, because hairstyles do poorly in a helmet.
Such a vehicle exists from one Swiss manufacturer. The small company PERAVES from Winterthur has built cabin motorcycles for more than 20 years. The unusual machines, once called Ecomobiles (connoisseurs say Eco), are fast like Porsches, economical like Smart Cars, and unfortunately as expensive as a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Therefore, Ecos are nearly as rare as old Bugattis. Only 100 exist today.
Arnold Wagner (66) invented the vehicle. He was formerly a jumbo jet captain with Swissair and at the same time boss of an aircraft construction company in Kirchheim, Germany. "Shifting between the two jobs led to 80,000-kilometer drives each year. It gave me sufficient time to reflect about better and progressive means to think about movement," says Wagner. Other people muse only Wagner drove his project further and invented an all-around enclosed vehicle that stays upright. With a push of a button there were retractable side wheels.
Armed with technology for retractable landing gear and a light, strong Kevlar, monocoque frame, Arnold Wagner learned from aircraft construction. In 1982, the Eco began: The first prototype rolled, still propelled from BMW's double-piston engine; 1985 model Ecos were equipped with robust engines (BMW K-models) used today on U.S. police bikes.
However, before the desired road permission became legal for the Eco, a three-year fight with Swiss authorities followed, of whom Wagner sounds to this very day furious. "We cannot permit this thing, they said to me, on two wheels. It is a motorcycle. It may [sic] thus only have one headlight in front and similar characteristic(s) in the back. However, if the side wheels are out-folded, it is a car. Then it must have two headlights in front and needs similar characteristics, one in front and one in the back. How do you want to solve the problem?" Wagner was persistent. He pulled the project up for review with the Upper House of Parliament in Berne, got support right at the top and won.
Since 1987, Ecomobiles are delivered from a factory in Winterthur. Most sell in Switzerland, Austria and Germany, some in Czech, Sweden and Belgium, some in Japan and in October 2002, the USA.
In the meantime, Arnold Wagner withdrew himself from daily operations and handed the company to sons Felix (41) and Urs (38). Additionally, there was a model change, when a Czech factory burned and the fire ruined the old molding forms for the Ecomobile. The Wagners took advantage from this incident as in the 'Rise of the Phoenix' —they did not restore the old molding forms but built an entirely new model: The Monotracer replaced the Ecomobile.
"After 20 years it became time for advancement," says the young PERAVES principal, Felix Wagner, with justified pride. The progress is actually obvious: The roundish-good design from the Eighties yielded a modern dress with fine edges and elegant, smooth surfaces. The price came down at the same time: The new Monotracer costs about $69,000, including air conditioning, Navigation, and cruise control. An airbag is available in 2008. The old Eco with the same equipment (airbag not included) cost approximately $20,000 more. "We count the price discount on larger numbers of units, which makes more rational production possible," explains Arnold Wagner. The customers are pleased.
In Czech, Brno, approximately 100 kilometers north of Vienna (Austria), at the Gran Prix Circuit, the Wagners invite new and old customers once a year, in order to learn and go on the hunt for driving excitement around racing curves with the Ecomobile and assorted vehicles. While there, the Monotracer celebrates its driving premiere. The Monotracer was just unveiled recently at the Geneva's World Auto Salon in March 2007.
Actually, the innovations and the driving feelings not only compare with the old Ecos but also are strikingly different with the Monotracer: The newer model feels much more precise in curves. The reason is that Ecos drove with motorcycle forks from BMW. For the Monotracer, PERAVES developed a fork with the Italian specialist Marzocchi, which copes better with the 480 Kilos unloaded weight of the Monotracer. The Monotracer is much more quiet. The old Ecos howled with speed like an old jeep; the Monotracer purrs. Finally, the cockpit and interior equipment includes high-quality fabrics and Recaro seats.
The model change worked. "A full success," announces the pleased Arnold Wagner after the test travels into Brno. The first Monotracer delivery has been confirmed, 15 more are on order. However, new buyers need patience: Approximately six months is required for delivery and shipping of the hand-assembled machines