Ner-A-Car | The Automobile Alternative

The name Ner-A-Car was both a crafty product description-"nearly a car"-and a clever play on designer Carl A. Neracher's last name. Contemporary with the Megola and another excellent example of the experimentation that went on in the 1920s, the Ner-A-Car was a fascinating fork in the motorcycle's evolutionary road.

Patented in 1919 and put into production in '21, with funding provided by "Razor Royalty" King C. Gillette, the $175 Ner-A-Car was promoted as an inexpensive alternative to the automobile. The Ner-A-Car was car-like by design. The low-slung, pressed-steel perimeter frame was arranged like an automobile's, and the single-cylinder, two-stroke, 255cc engine was turned sideways with its crankshaft oriented longitudinally. Instead of a conventional transmission, the engine's exposed flywheel met a fabric-covered drive wheel at a 90-degree angle. A lever moved the drive wheel to different positions against the flywheel, thereby altering the gear ratio-a primitive form of a scooter-style CVT. The Ner-A-Car also used a double-leading-arm front suspension with hub-center steering-the first production use of that arrangement.

The lightweight, 175-lb. Ner-A-Car was marketed specifically toward women and new riders. The feet-forward recumbent riding position was comfortable and compatible with dresses, as was the fully enclosed drivetrain. The long wheelbase and low center of gravity delivered particularly confident handling. Ads from the day featured riders standing on the floorboards with their hands in the air, or sitting reclined and steering with their feet, to highlight the machine's exceptionally stable, easy-to-ride nature.

Sales were initially strong, driven by the low cost and supreme efficiency-the Ner-A-Car got nearly 100 mpg, and the manufacturer boasted it could deliver the owner "300 miles on a dollar." Popularity fell off, however, as automobile manufacturers like Ford continued slashing prices and were soon selling six-passenger cars for as little as $250. The Ner-A-Car Corporation ceased production in 1927, but not before more than 10,000 machines rolled off the company's Syracuse, New York, assembly line-with another 6500 made under license by Sheffield-Simplex in England.

Endorsed by King Gillette and selling for only $185, the Ner-A-Car seemed destined for success in 1924. Alas, the company was out of business just three years later.
Two Ner-A-Car variations from 1925: At left is a standard model powered by a 255cc, two-stroke single; the one on the right is a 285cc Model B.