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CAR top 10: the 10 best cars with three seats

Thu, 05 Jun 2014

By Chris Chilton

Motor Industry

05 June 2014 17:15

Did anybody ever achieve greatness merely by re-arranging the chairs? Maybe not, but this lot gave it a good go.

World’s most famous three-seater’s central driving position was claimed to offer perfect weight distribution, but Gordon Murray’s main-frame brain must have calculated that he could save hours giving demo rides to all his friends and neighbours if he installed an extra chair. That’s true efficiency.

Twenty years earlier French weirdos Matra, them of the Rancho, Espace and multiple race victories, launched something similar, albeit minus the central-seat layout and a few trivial details like the carbon chassis and about 549bhp. Voted Mormon Sports Car of the Year 1975. Probably.

In the mid-’00s Merc planned to add a three-seat sports car to its Smart family. But then it realised that the kind of person who finds fun in a sports car with a gearbox and steering this slow probably doesn’t have two friends so sensibly axed the idea.

Japan’s answer to the original Smart city car went one-and-a-bit better with 3+1 seating. Despite the brainy name, the Toyota team couldn’t add up: the car bombed and the fallout of it being yanked off sale included a mercy killing for Aston’s gussied-up Cygnet variant, which was arguably the roomiest Aston on sale.

Vans and trucks often come with a three-person bench, and the coolest – and most car-like – of the lot was Chevy’s El Camino, particularly in absurdly over-endowed 450bhp LS6 V8 form. Getting to the builder’s merchants on time was a serious business back in 1970.

Experience the thrill of a hot lap in an ’03 Jordan F1 car converted to carry two passengers! Of course for the full Jordan experience you’d have to lose your engine supplier, have your spurious lawsuit against a sponsor rubbished by a judge and land a podium only because it was wet, everyone crashed and the race was red-flagged.

Old Mao wouldn’t have approved, but for modern China’s chairmen no car lets you lord it up quite like the Geely GE and its two-plus-throne layout. Shown as a blatant Rolls rip-off concept in ’08, it starts production this year with a new nose. But will the Billy-no-mates seating make the cut?

Inspired by its 2014 Pinocchio Le Mans racer, Nissan wants to put the three-cylinder, beer-bottle-shaped BladeGlider street version into production, complete with arrow-head seating configuration. It’ll take more than a few bottles of beer before you’d call it pretty, though.

Here’s an earlier example of a car requiring a skinful before appreciation. Get past the fact it looked like the sort of cancerous growth normally seen on a Channel 5 shock-doc though, and the mutated Milanese’s two rows of three seats made it a fabulous MPV.

Jesus may have walked among us, but his Papal Highness often prefers to cruise around in the back of a car like an African dictator. Fair enough, but surely the Pontiff deserves better than a Mercedes ML with an ensuite shower cubicle? Still, Pope Francis does a smashing job of looking thrilled as Benz boss Dieter Zetsche hands over the keys.

By Chris Chilton