7 Best Possible Uses for an Elio Motor


When Elio Motors first showed its Trikke concept several years ago, it was powered by a 900cc gasoline engine from a 1990s Geo Metro. Hardly a promising concept, in other words. Since then, Elio has unveiled a thoroughly re-engineered and modernized version of that engine that’s designed to deliver great mileage, low emissions, and high levels of reliability to Elio customers. Still, the very idea of designing, building, and certifying your own engine in 2014 seemed a bit nutty.

“I had no choice,” explained Paul Elio, in a phone interview (paraphrased). “I went to other manufacturers and asked about existing engines, but they didn’t take us seriously in the volumes we were talking about,” he explained. “It’s better this way … we have an engine that’s designed especially to meet our targets, and we have a source of revenue, too.”

Elio Motors, selling Elio motors.

It was a clever idea, that. It represented a massive, up-front investment, sure, but even if Elio never gets the $200 million DOE loan he needs to get production of his three-wheeler started in 2015, he’s got the IP and tooling for his new, highly efficient, relatively lightweight, inexpensive 3-cylinder engine. That got me thinking about some of the different project builds one could undertake with an Elio engine, and that led to the list, below. So, sit back, and enjoy (what I think) are the 8 best possible uses for an Elio motor.


1. Formula Elio

Race series like Formula Ford and Formula Vee (as in, “VW”) are designed as budget-friendly proving grounds for young driving talent, but there are so many small series with different engines (Formula Renault and Formula Mazda are real things, as just two more examples) that it’s becoming tougher and tougher to figure out who’s where and what’s what. A Formula Elio that placed emphasis on getting the most from a fixed fuel load would be relevant to IndyCar and Formula 1 scouts, as those series move towards a sharper focus on efficiency, and could be enough of a “neutral ground” to attract sponsorship from a family of Chevy dealers, for example, who wouldn’t be caught dead supporting a Formula Ford event.

IndyCar is trying out the idea of a spec engine devoid of OEM relationships (and, alternately, stigmas) in 2015, by using a 2.0 liter turbocharged 4 cylinder developed by AER. If that works for IndyCar’s Indy Lights feeder series, you can bet there will be a push for spec engines in the higher formulae.


2. Elio Midget Sprint Car

No form of motorsport is as arguably American as dirt-track oval racing. Even so, the “American” manufactures don’t put in the level of support that they could, leaving Honda and its Ohio-built 4 cylinder engines with some of the cheapest, most visible OEM advertising out there.

With a low cost of admission, easy access to fans, and a largely conservative, rural, and midwestern ‘Murica-style fanbase, oval racing involvement should be a no-brainer for Elio. Watching a Made in the USA Elio-powered sprint car tear it up alongside the big OEMs, and maybe not do to terribly badly if they lobby for the right advantages to offset their lower displacement engine, could go a long way towards establishing the Elio engine as a real player in the automotive universe.


3. Locost Elio 7

locost race car

Another budget race car, the Locost is based on the Lotus nee Caterham 7. That car, in various guises and with various engines, has been a mainstay of the gentlemen racer set for nearly 50 years, now – and there are plenty of forums out there full of people who will help you build your own with whatever you happen to have handy. Suzuki made waves when one of their 600cc engines found its way under the hood of one, and Elio might be able get the string back driving glove set excited about its engines the same way.


4. Elio Manx Dune Buggy


I could go on and on about how the old VW based dune buggy rides were the most fun you could have with your clothes on (or, depending on what beach you drove to, off). I could talk about how Bruce Meyers is all about new technology and all the different ways the EPA is cracking down on those old VW engines, but the real reason is much simpler: Elio should make this happen because dune buggy.


5. Geo Metro Restoration


Tinny, rattly, and s***ty, the Geo Metro LSi convertible was a half-hearted attempt by GM to cash in on the success of Mazda’s Miata in the 1990s. It was objectively horrible in every way, and almost any car guy worth his salt today would stop to look if they saw a clean one in a dealer’s lot. These things are inexplicably going up in value as clean examples get harder and harder to find, and Elio’s Geo-based motor should be a direct swap (or damned near).

If Elio Motors wanted some glowing, warm-hearted enthusiast press, it could do far, far worse than to find a rust-free Arizona Geo and drop its new motor into it. That would be worth a Recycled Hawtness post, at least, and would probably end up on Hooniverse, Jalopnik, etc.


6. Elio Big Wheel

I can already hear you guys complaining about ALL these ideas. “Blah blah Elio is building a trike. Yadda-yadda all those things have four wheels.” Well, feast your eyes on the 426 cubic inch Hemi-powered trike shown here:

hemi big wheel trike

F*** YEAH x 1000!

Built way back in 2005, the Hemi-powered big wheel was way, way too much. Too much fun, too much awesome, and too much horsepower to keep the ass-end of the thing from doing anything but shred tires. The Elio’s compact 2WD engine and transmission package, however, would be more than up to the job of sending a single, naked passenger up the road at entertaining speeds. If they styled it right and kept a 30-odd inch front wheel paired to some 12″ Minilite racing wheels out back, they’d have my money.


7. Elio Competitive Chainsaw

That, dear friends, was a Buick V8-powered 2 man hotsaw. Through the years, I’ve been involved in a weird number of crazy hotsaw builds (“weird”, I’ve discovered, loosely translates into “any number higher than zero”), and let me tell you that the Elio motor, at nearly 180 lbs. fully dressed, is not ideal for this kind of competition. To be really competitive, you need a small 2-stroker or an ultra-lightweight rotary engine.

Even so, at 180 lbs., a strong man could weild the Elio saw alone, and it would be a glorious sight to behold. Besides that, it would put a positive spin on the “Elio vs. tree” Google searches that are bound to occur, given a long enough timeline.


So, that’s it. My list of 7 best uses for an Elio motor. I’m sure some of you Elio fans out there will tell me that putting an Elio motor into one of Elio’s crazy, tandem-seat tadpole autocycle things should be number 8 or something, but you can make your case for that in the comments while I bug Paul for a competitive hotsaw sponsorship. Enjoy!


Original content from Gas 2, with apologies to Paul Elio.


Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.