Recently I had the privilege of visiting an automaker based in Utah, of all places, called Vanderhall Motor Works. At first glance the sole model, called the Laguna, is a pretty wild vehicle. Also crazy are the obstacles Vanderhall has been facing in its home state, thanks to restrictive dealer laws undoubtedly passed to keep Tesla Motors from selling within the borders, because someone must think of the children.
During the recent Utah Auto Expo, Vanderhall had its booth literally walled off at the last moment. Consumers with sensitive eyes couldn’t be exposed to a direct sales model, because it would certainly violate them in the most heinous of ways. The funny thing is the move has spread word of the company even further.
In the interest of full disclosure, Vanderhall Motor Works did treat me to a Diet Coke and some Cheetos during my visit. I also became aware that several of my friends are related to or live in the same neighborhood as Daniel Boyer (the director of marketing) and Steve Hall (owner). Still, I was pretty skeptical of the company and its product, considering it looked potentially like a marriage between a Morgan and Polaris Slingshot.
Unfortunately, my scheduled visit at Vanderhall happened to coincide with a fairly substantial snowstorm. That meant I couldn’t go out in one of the auto-cycles. I was told they actually perform quite well in the white stuff, but the concern was morons on the road crashing their Camry into a $77,000 vehicle. That seemed pretty legit, considering that I had to navigate to Vanderhall’s shop on I-15 with a group of people who acted like they’d never seen, let alone driven in, snow before.
I did get to sit behind the wheel of a Laguna in the showroom, and was surprised at how comfortable and roomy it was. At 6-foot 2-inches and 240 pounds I don’t fit in most roadsters, yet I was able to not only get in, but breathe and stretch my legs a little. The little three-wheeler doesn’t look that big, so I was genuinely surprised.
On paper, the Laguna is impressive. The GM-sourced turbocharged 1.4-liter four banger might not be a fire-breather with a peak 200 horsepower and 200 lb.-ft. of torque, but it doesn’t have to be since the vehicle tips the scale at a mere 1,550 pounds. Acceleration is supposed to be brisk, with a claimed 4.5 second 0 to 60 time.
Just try to compare the Laguna to a Morgan or Polaris (even worse, an Elio) and you can see Steve Hall, who has worked on his creation tirelessly for years, bristle. He’s quick to point out that the auto-cycle is front-wheel drive, which he says makes it handle far better. The aluminum frame comes with all the fasteners integrated, plus the Laguna’s center of gravity is only about 11 inches off the ground. A 70/30 front-to-rear weight distribution, pushrod front suspension and swing arm setup in the rear make for a ride Hall claims isn’t like anything out there. When pressed, he conceded that the closest comparison is probably a rear-wheel-drive mid-engine car, while insisting it’s still a little different. Fair enough, the Laguna is weird in a strangely compelling sort of way.
Vanderhall also offers a level of craftsmanship that exceeds most other auto-cycles. The body panels are fabricated out of carbon fiber, which makes it feel like you’re flinging a stack of papers when shutting the doors. Wool carpeting like what you find in Rolls-Royces graces the floor. Snapping the roof on or off is quick and easy, and there’s even a boot in the rear that’s large enough to stow a weekend bag or two, not that owners would likely take the Laguna on an epic road trip, which could be a true adventure.
Steve Hall has big plans for Vanderhall. Right now buyers can get four different editions of the Laguna, or opt for a bespoke vehicle. Even at a price that some might view as steep, the company has no problem selling each auto-cycle it makes. Most of the work is performed by hand, which is part of the appeal. A new facility that would boost production as much as tenfold is in the works, and should be operational soon. Of course, being able to sell to consumers in the company’s home state would be a nice bonus. Hall and Boyer have been busy pushing for the new vehicle laws in Utah to be done away with, giving consumers more choices while celebrating a little thing called capitalism.
Some think the Vanderhall Laguna is ugly, and that’s their prerogative. After all, not everyone finds the Porsche 911 or Lamborghini Aventador attractive. Others think it’s outrageously priced, which is a rash judgment if they haven’t seen it in the flesh (I should know). The fact is the auto-cycle is aimed at affluent people who want something fun, finely crafted and incredibly different, not shoppers who’re looking for a budget-friendly performance vehicle. Seeing the Laguna in person, you realize it exudes a certain panache, drawing you in as you take in the deceptively simple details. That’s why Vanderhall isn’t exactly struggling and in fact faces what seems to be a bright future.