Donation Spotlight - 1916 Carden Cyclecar

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Half motorcycle, half car, all fun.

In the early 20th century, engine-driven vehicles were a luxury. Cars were expensive and mostly reserved for the wealthy and the upper classes, while motorcycles were loud, messy and impractical for long-distance travel. There was really no such thing as an “economy car,” or a car for the everyman. To fill the gap between luxurious automobiles and rugged motorcycles, the cyclecar was invented as a compromise between the two in both price and practicality. Cyclecars were lightweight cars powered by small displacement engines, often from motorcycles. They were little more than soap box cars with an engine strapped on, but their affordability and practicality made them the best option for many. As the Ford Model T’s numbers grew and competitors began selling presenting other affordable options, the cyclecar lost its appeal, and by the early 1920s they were all but gone from the market. For just a brief moment the cyclecar had its moment in automotive history, but these often-forgotten cars live on at the Petersen.

This Carden Cyclecar was built in 1916, a creation from the mind of engineer John Valentine Carden. Carden was in his mid-twenties when this cyclecar was produced, and though it is spartan and very simple, that was all part of his design. The vehicles were entirely designed and engineered by Carden, focusing on lightweight and simple construction. His engineering prowess led to several other engine-powered pursuits, including the design and production of tanks and the modification of early sailplanes and airplanes. Carden tragically passed away in 1935 in a plane crash, but his creations would go on to support the British effort in WWII. From his humble beginnings designing these little cyclecars, Carden went on to great things.

This cyclecar was generously donated to the museum by Dr. Edward Carden. You wouldn’t want to take it on the freeway, but it can be safely enjoyed on display in the Petersen Automotive Museum’s newly refurbished vault, now spanning an entire city block. The vault houses hundreds of the rarest and most important automobiles (and even a horse-drawn carriage, sans horse) built across the decades of automotive history.