Homegrown: Larson’s Battlestar Galactica inspired this ’70s three-wheeler
Welcome to Homegrown—a new limited series about homebuilt cars and the ingenuity of their visionary creators. Know a car and builder that might fit the bill? Send us an email at email@example.com with the subject line HOMEGROWN. Read about more Homegrown creations here. —Ed.
The beauty of building your own ride from scratch is that you can indulge your wildest automotive fantasy. Ric Murphy, 77, of Mesa, Arizona, designed and built what he called the Tryon Viper in the 1980s and ’90s, shortly after the unforgettable Battlestar Galactica TV series aired. Murphy sold five Vipers total, in both finished and kit form, with prices starting at $3200. Later, one of his customers sold a finished Viper for $37,000!
Murphy’s current business, Precision Model Distributors, constructs radio-controlled scale models of semi-tractor trucks and earth-moving equipment whose prices range from $1000 to $10,000.
Murphy, of course, also has a Tryon Viper of his own. Though it is licensed and insured as a motorcycle, Murphy built it to be safer, more efficient, and more weather-resistant than any two-wheeler: “A 1/8-inch wall thickness rectangular steel tubing framework encircles the driver and a passenger with substantial protection aligned with a car’s bumper height. Highly aerodynamic bodywork pierces the air with only 1/10th the drag [coefficient] of a motorcycle and rider. A top speed of over 100 mph along with 40+ mpg are well within the Viper’s scope.
“Of course, no motorcycle provides the restraint of seat belts or any significant comfort in inclement weather!
“Key dimensions are a 110-inch wheelbase, a 43-inch overall height, and a maximum width of 76 inches. The rear luggage compartment provides 8 cubic feet of space. A pair of tanks located behind the rear wheels carry 10 gallons of gasoline. The color-impregnated fiberglass bodywork is lined with Core Mat to retain its shape. Interior bulkheads are laminated while the outer shell is still in the mold for maximum strength. To eliminate assembly and alignment issues and to provide maximum strength, the completed body shell is bonded to the steel perimeter frame. Finished weight ranges from 1200 to 1800 pounds.
“The recommended powertrain for a Tryon Viper is a 1969-or-newer Volkswagen 1600 flat-four air-cooled engine with your choice of manual or automatic transmission. There’s sufficient space in the back to bolt in a turbocharged rotary engine from a Mazda RX-7 with up to 250 horsepower but that alternative would require a liquid cooling system.
“The rear suspension is torsion-bar trailing arm equipment from a VW Beetle or Type 3 Squareback. The front end is a single leading arm with motorcycle-type dual coil-over dampers guided by a VW Type 1 steering gear and column. An 8.00-18 trailer tire with high-speed capability is fitted in front while there are 205/70R-14 radials at the rear.”
On-center seating accurately mimics that of an aircraft. According to Murphy, “There’s ample room inside for two large occupants with the driver supported by a fiberglass dune-buggy seat and a tandem passenger in a custom-made seat with knees spread for clearance. The windshield and side glass are made of smoke-tinted acrylic plastic.
“For entry and egress, the entire hinged canopy can be raised at the touch of a dash button or remotely thanks to a 1957 Buick’s convertible top hydro-electric lift cylinder. The instrument panel can be outfitted with standard engine-oil temperature, fuel level, and speedometer gauges along with artificial horizon, vertical compass, and bank-angle indicators for aviation enthusiasts.
“Tryon Vipers have experienced service throughout the galaxy and have proven suitable for combat or merely hopping between star systems. They also make excellent ‘Ground Cruising Vehicles’ except for this concern: They always grab more than their share of attention in traffic including that of law enforcement officials.
“I enjoy informing the curious that neutronic, anti-matter, and quantum propulsion systems are all available in this machine. It cruises at Warp Factor 1 and attacks at Warp Factor 3. And that Tryon Vipers have proven totally effective intercepting Klingon cruisers.”