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Simply “The King” : The Trikes of Elvis Presley

During the 1970s craze for Trikes, legend Elvis Presley rode these with joy

Compiled by Ujjwal Dey from multiple internet sources
11/27/2016


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Elvis Aron Presley was born in the heart of America at Mississippi. He was a twin whose twin brother was stillborn. At Memphis, at the young age of 19, he recorded his classic rock and roll debut song at Sun Records. In 1958, Elvis was drafted in the US military service. The first ever globally broadcast concert via satellite was an Elvis rock concert at Hawaii. No solo artist in history has sold more records than The King Elvis Presley.
 
 

 

There was no overnight success. There never is. Elvis Presley received only a C in music in eighth grade. He was also shy and could not perform in public in his teenage years. He never received formal music training or learned to read music, and only studied and played by ear.  In 1953, overcoming much anxiety and reluctance, Elvis performed at the Humes’ Annual Minstrel Show.

"I wasn't popular in school ... I failed music—only thing I ever failed. And then they entered me in this talent show ... when I came onstage I heard people kind of rumbling and whispering and so forth, 'cause nobody knew I even sang. It was amazing how popular I became after that." – Elvis reminiscing about his 1953 song and dance routine.

 

B.B. King recalled that he had known Presley before he was popular, when they both used to frequent Beale Street. Elvis Presley never considered race. His love for music was universal and he enjoyed the blues and gospels of the segregation era.

 

 
 

The only reason Elvis Presley ever stepped into Sun Records studio was to try and pay for studio time to record one or two songs as a gift for his mother. He was curious how he sounded on record. Record studio personnel asked him about his style of music. Elvis could not answer, he played all music. They scrutinized him and asked for a specific genre. Elvis was unique and he could not explain it.

"I sing all kinds. I don't sound like nobody.” – Elvis Presley, 1954

Nothing came of his audition at Sun Records. Elvis also failed local vocal quartet audition. He explained to his father, "They told me I couldn't sing." Local professional bands rejected him.

 

Elvis finally got himself a job as a truck driver. A job many of us who dream and chase dreams know as the job that pays the bills for the expensive hobby of dreaming.

 

 
 

Sam Phillips, the famous owner of Sun Records, called Elvis to try out a few songs he thought would work great with Elvis’ singing style. This session held on 5th July 1954 was futile until really late in the night. When they were about to give up and go home, Presley picked the guitar and sang Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right”. Sam recorded it. The local radio played it. A single was pressed. A legend was born.

 

 
 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following text and images are sourced from multiple advertisements, publications, promotional materials, web-based sources, blogs, tributes and fan clubs. We compiled it here to TCB – Taking Care of Business – of creating a ready reckoner. If you own an exclusive license or copyright to any text or image, please contact us for redressal and redaction. Our gratitude to the millions of fans and associates of Elvis Presley who continue to help new generations explore and celebrate his legacy.

 

 
 

1975 Rupp Centaur Trike

In the summer of 1975, Elvis bought several Trikes (three wheeled motorcycles), the first of which was a 1975 Rupp Centaur with a 340cc two stroke engine. Within weeks two other types would follow.

 

Before the emergence of the quad ATV and the banning of off-road trike sales, the three-wheeler was king. In the mid-Seventies, their off-road popularity spawned a whole mini-industry in adapting them for the street, with about a dozen makes by 1974. Brands like Dunecycle, BGW, Heald and Snowco offered either road versions or, more often, conversion kits, and even the most street-oriented Tri-Sport RTS SL or BGW RL-20 still ran on fat dirt-style rear tires and at best a 10-inch front.

 

The industry had two hot spots, Southern California and Ohio, and in Mansfield, Ohio. Herb "Mickey" Rupp‘s company was thriving, making minibikes, snowmobiles and dirt bikes. A three-wheeler to join the growing scene was not a stretch for them, but unlike most competition theirs was a clean sheet design, not an adaptation. Reportedly they designed it to accept a VW four-cylinder engine and transaxle, but couldn‘t come to an agreement on price with the Germans, and so they switched to a 339cc Kohler SK-340-2AS two-stroke. We don‘t know why they didn‘t use their own snowmobile 440cc Vee-twin; it's possible it didn't ?t. A centrifugal clutch and belt drive was available right out of their snowmobile parts bin.

 

 
 

One- and two-seat bodies were molded in fiberglass in four colors (Blue, Red, Yellow and White), and priced at $1,700. A 16-inch motorcycle-style front wheel with a 3.25-16 tire and B60-13 (60-series 6.70-13) Wide Oval rear tires helped it achieve a 55 MPH top speed in much less spooky fashion than those on dirt tires. Three hydraulic disc brakes were provided, as well as a transmission brake and a parking brake, since the centrifugal clutch was disengaged at rest and the vehicle could roll.

 

Inside the body, was a two piece plastic instrument panel. The first piece housed the Speedometer and Tachometer along with lights that indicate Right or Left turns, Headlight High beam and Neutral indicator for the transmission. There was also Engine Choke and Electric Key ignition. The second piece covered the gear shifter and emergency brake levers. It was also equipped with full leather interior. The Handle bar controls were also quite simple. Like conventional motorcycles the right side is where the front brake lever, Engine run/stop switch and throttle are located. The left had the clutch lever, headlight high/low beam selector, left/right turn signal and horn.

 

In concept, the Centaur was the right vehicle at the right time, but it failed in execution. Stresses on the fiberglass body led to premature cracking, but worse, there were serious reliability problems with the transmission. Also, the oil-injected Kohler engine was not really designed with continuous high RPM operation in mind.

 

 
 

Early adopter of the Rupp Centaur Trike was the famous client, Elvis Presley who had problems with his, soon switching to a VW-powered trike custom built by Ron Elliott at Super Cycle. Owners who stuck with Centaur Trike could expect a 500 mile service interval, which didn‘t help sell the Centaur as a viable alternative to a car. After less than 18 months of sales starting in early summer of 1974, Rupp ended production, with approximately 1,200 sold.

 
 
 

 

Mickey Rupp's bikes in general are collectible and exceptional, but the Centaur has long been a funny cousin to them. Many of the survivors have been converted to 1.3-liter VW engines, a relatively easy process given Rupp designed the bikes with that in mind. You'll have to haunt fringe trike forums and Rupp groups quite a bit to ?nd one for sale, but on the street they‘re a distinctive reminder of the era.

 

Today, Elvis' Rupp Centaur remains part of the collection at Graceland and has been on display at the Auto Museum there.

 

 
 

1975 Super Cycle Stinger VW Trike

Sometime in the summer of 1975 Elvis bought his second trike. Some accounts say that he initially saw one around town driven by Marvin “Shack” Shackleford, a former partner at Super Cycle in Memphis first, but Ron Elliott there remembers him first coming in on his Rupp Centaur with his girlfriend Linda Thompson, asking if there was anything they could do to give it more power. He said the motor was less than adequate for a two-seater and though they could improve it, he recommended one of the Volkswagen powered trikes they built there from kits. The first of two that Elvis would buy there was a Stinger, built from a kit obtained from “Trikes By Stires” in Garden Grove, CA.

 

Super Cycle in Memphis was started in 1971 by the Elliott brothers, Lew and Ron, and Shack as a motorcycle parts and custom service shop. At one time they had ten people working in the shop in the early seventies when bikes and trikes were becoming the rage. There were several manufacturers offering kits and completed VW based trikes but “Trikes By Stires” was one of the largest and, according to their literature, the only licensed as an Original Equipment.

 

 
 

Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, the hot rod builder and artist responsible for “Rat Fink” however is credited as the originator of the VW Trike kits and most that were offered since were inspired by, if not copied from his designs. He built his first trike, the Candy Wagon from a Harley-Davidson Servi-car around 1967 and got the idea for his next after seeing the rear half of a VW bug with Harley-Davidson forks welded on to it. He made his first, the American Beetle, in 1968 from a 1957 bug with a 36 hp engine, Honda fork and a fiberglass body.

 

Several more like it with various themes followed and in 1971 Roth applied for a patent for a three wheeled motorcycle. He had planned to license kits but was pretty much out of the VW Trike phase when he received the patent in 1973.

 

 
 

The Ed Roth Patent Trike

ABSTRACT

A motor vehicle having two spaced rear wheels and a single centered front wheel mounted for steering movement, with the frame and body of the device having relatively wide rear portions between the two wheels carrying and enclosing a driving motor, and having narrower forwardly projecting portions carrying a driver's seat at a location at which the driver's legs straddle those portions, with the forwardly projecting portion of the frame extending upwardly toward its forward end to connect pivotally to a fork mounting the front wheel. A second seat is desirably located back of and at a lever higher than the driver's seat, with the driver's seat preferably being located lower than, and the second seat preferably being located higher than, the level of the tops of the rims of the rear wheels.

 

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention provides a novel three wheeled vehicle which overcomes the disadvantages of the prior three wheeled devices of which I am aware, and which in particular achieves vastly improved operational stability under much higher speed conditions and more abruptly turning conditions than has been possible with such prior vehicles. My arrangement enables the center of gravity of the vehicle and its driver to be extremely low and very close to the road surface, while still maintaining a required minimum clearance between the lowermost portion of the vehicle and that road surface. At the same time, the driver is given very full and free visibility in all directions, in spite of the low center of gravity. Further, a passenger in addition to the driver may be carried at a location minimizing any adverse effect on the handling characteristics of the vehicle which might be caused by the weight of this passenger, and also locating the passenger to himself have very wide and free visibility. In addition, the vehicle is so constructed as to be simple in manufacture, and therefore low in cost of production.

 

Tony Thacker, who with Ed wrote his biography “Hot Rods by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth” wasn’t sure “if Roth ever licensed anybody to build versions of them—maybe, but mostly people just stole the idea and modified the design somewhat. He added that trikes “are inherently unstable: three wheelers work much better when the two wheels are in front rather than in back. That said, Roth defied convention and put a lot of miles on his trikes. They come up for sale occasionally and don't fetch much money.”

 

 
 

Trikes by Stires : Clyde Stires

“Trikes By Stires” (Clyde Stires) began manufacturing their own version of a mail order kit in 1970 in a garage and grew to an International organization with distributors throughout the United States and Europe. They advertised that their kits were capable of being put together by most anyone in a few weekends. At the very least they acknowledged Roth as the concept originator in their literature. The Stinger model that the Elliotts built and first sold to Elvis was based on Roth’s "American Beetle." It has a rear-mounted, air-cooled VW engine, four-speed manual transmission in rear-mounted transaxle, springer-type front forks, VW independent rear suspension, and rear-mounted VW drum brakes.

 

According to Shackleford, Elvis wrecked it the day it was delivered. “He got the front end just fine through Graceland's gates, but the back fender got hung on the stone.” If true, that may have been the motivation for buying the second one, while the Stinger was in for repairs. Ron said Elvis had been pulled over and written up for driving it without a helmet. The police called him to find out if there was a way around having Elvis go to court. Ron told them he could re-title it as a VW which would eliminate the need for a helmet. The legality of it was questionable but none the less Ron wound up with the original plate from when Elvis was cited.

 

 
 
 

Stires continued to offer both models of trikes and kits through the seventies which had increased to five models before selling their operation in the eighties. The trikes weren’t the only things the Elliotts sold Elvis. He continued to do business there until he died, having his motorcycles serviced there and getting specialty items like golf carts for Lisa Marie and a snow mobile with wheels instead of skis in the front so he could drive it around Graceland. They’ve nothing but good things to say about him and also his cousin Billy Smith who they dealt with on many occasions. The business at 624 S. Bellevue Blvd. continued to grow and outlived many of the motorcycle businesses in the city.

 

With a large inventory of hard to find parts for vintage Harley-Davidsons and a full machine shop and paint booth, Super Cycle can rebuild components or custom build machines to your specifications. They employ licensed Harley-Davidson mechanics. A long time employee, Earl Smith had worked for several shops in the city since the ‘50s and at the Memphis Harley-Davidson in 1956 serviced Elvis’ first bikes. He was at Super Cycle into his 90s.

 

After 44 years the business is still in operation. Earl Smith passed away in 2012 at 91, and Lew, now 84, has had several strokes which as can be expected has slowed his contributions leaving Ron, 81, at the helm. They are only open now Wednesday thru Sunday but its still a regular stop for many of the area serious riders. They have a replica of Elvis’ Stinger on display in the shop, along with Elvis’ original plate which is a popular photo op for the fans that visit. Elvis’ trikes are still part of the collection at Graceland and regularly on display across the street at the Auto museum along with the other vehicles sold and serviced by the Elliotts over the years at Super Cycle.

 

 
 

1975 Super Cycle Stallion VW Trike

Within days (or weeks, according to differing sources) of buying his Stinger VW trike from Super Cycle in Memphis, Elvis returned and bought another trike. This one was a new Stallion model, a two passenger version also built by them in 1975 from a kit offered by the Garden Grove, CA based company “Trikes By Stires”.

 

This is the one Elvis has been pictured driving around most, at times with girlfriend Linda Thompson, cousin Billy Smith, one of the Stanley step-brothers, and even Lisa-Marie and Ginger Alden. Like the Stinger, it too was offered by several manufacturers in the early and mid-seventies and one of two models at the time available from Super Cycle. It features a 65bhp, 1600cc Volkswagen air cooled engine. 

 

 
 

This model seems to be based on designs and trikes built by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, a legend in the world of hot rodding, and one of the founders of Kustom Kulture, specifically his 1969 Panzer Trike. He is best known for his incredible work creating one-of-a-kind hot rods, and for the creation of Rat Fink, that little green rat that epitomizes the world of rodding.

 

According to Mike Freeman, Ron wanted to personalize Elvis‘ Stallion by putting a crown or his name on the front. Elvis wasn't particularly interested, but Ron went ahead and painted “TCB” on the front, putting a lot of effort into the design. The next time Ron saw the bike, he was disappointed that Elvis had put a radio antenna right in the middle of the artwork. “I guess he didn't need to show off,” Ron remarked.

 

 
 

The Stallion evolved and was available with several options, including windshields luggage racks and even tour packs. By the early eighties Clyde Stires offered five models before selling the operation to Arizona Trikes Inc. in Phoenix. He had employed his brother Gary as a builder until 1976. Clyde went on to start Stires Chemco, Inc. in 1982. Super Cycle continued obtaining kits from Arizona who Ron believes to be still in business and said now only offer one of the models that Elvis built, that being a variation of the Stallion.

 

Around 1981 or 1982 EPE had the Ron and Lew Elliott at Super Cycle restore the trikes, motorcycles and other various vehicles at Graceland for something called “Wheels on Tour.” It was essentially a short lived museum on tour of Elvis’ vehicles which preceded the Auto Museum. They didn’t work on the cars, and Ron said the 1976 FLH that is part of the collection now wasn’t there then.

 

Of Elvis, Ron said. “He was a perfect gentleman. He called me and my brother Mr. Elliott. He was never presumptuous at all. He was always so appreciative of everything we did.” Elvis’ 1975 Stallion had been on display at the Auto Museum in Memphis for years but as of 2013 at least had been on loan and display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

 

 
 

A Comprehensive list of Bikes and Trikes of Elvis Presley:

§ 1956 Harley-Davidson KH

§ 1957 Harley-Davidson FLH Hyrda-Glide

§ 1958 Harley-Davidson FLH Duo-Glide

§ 1965 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide

§ 1965 Honda Dream CA77

§ 1966 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide

§ 1966 Harley-Davidson Chopper

§ 1971 Harley-Davidson FLH Electra-Glide

§ 1975 Harley-Davidson FLH 1200

§ 1975 Rupp Centaur Trike

§ 1975 Super Cycle Stinger VW Trike

§ 1975 Super Cycle Stallion VW Trike

§ 1976 Harley-Davidson FLH 1200 Electra-Glide Vetter Liberator

§ 1976 Harley-Davidson FLH 1200 Electra-Glide in Murdo

§ 1976 Harley-Davidson FLH 1200 Electra-Glide (w/ custom paint)

 

 
 

Since 1982, Fans can visit Graceland Mansion of Elvis Presley. Graceland welcomes over 600,000 visitors each year. The Elvis Presley Automobile Museum opened in Graceland Plaza in 1989. In 2006, Graceland was named a National Historic Landmark.

 

* * * * THE END * * * *


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