GRR

Six bonkers cars with six wheels

28th March 2021
Laura Thomson

Less is more, they say. Well, they clearly haven’t driven a six-wheeler. While the age-old adage is true in many cases, when it comes to vehicles, things get a little more… complicated. Sure, two wheels are great, four are fun, but six?

We’ll let you read on and make your own mind up…

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Mercedes G63 AMG 6x6

What would this list be without the stereotypical six-wheeler that is the Mercedes G-Class 6x6?

While it’s more commonly seen in Clapham than Catterick, believe it or not, the G Wagon was originally designed in the mid-‘70s for military use.

And nothing is more utilitarian than the six-wheeled derivative designed for the Australian Army (and later used by the Finnish Defence Forces), which boasted a huge payload of 3,000kgs, and could be used to transport troops, cargo or artillery on long range reconnaissance missions. Delivered from 2012, they were powered by 187PS (137kW) Mercedes-Benz 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine, mated to an automatic gearbox with full-time all-wheel drive.

But if canvas and camo sounds a little too ally for you, take a look at the civvy conversion – the Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6x6, a limited run of which were built between 2013 and 2015 by Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria.

Combining the G63 AMG’s 5.5-litre, 543PS (400kW), 780Nm (560lb-ft), twin-turbo V-8 with 6x6 portal axles, a pick-up G-Class body and a luxury interior, it was an absolute beast, and could sprint to sixty in just 7.8 seconds, despite weighing a whopping 4,105kg. But it was just as capable off-road too, with ground-clearance of 460mm, a fording depth of 1,000mm and an onboard tyre compressor for quick inflation while changing terrain.

Around 100 were built, and sold almost immediately, despite the huge price tag of £370,000.

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Tyrrell P34

To F1, and in fact Goodwood, followers, the Tyrrell P34 needs no introduction.

Designed for the 1976 season by Tyrrell's chief designer, Derek Gardner, it featured four 10-inch diameter wheels at the front, with two ordinary-sized wheels at the back. Faced with a level playing field due to powertrain uniformity (Cosworth DFV engine, Hewland gearbox and Goodyear tyres), he hoped to improve aerodynamics with the radical design.

Speaking to Autosport magazine, he explained: “I did some calculations, and concluded that if I had a car with four small front wheels, contained within the width of the bodywork, I could reduce the amount of lift generated by normal front wheels. That in turn would allow me to back off on the front aerodynamics. And, hey presto, the figure I came up with was the equivalent of 40-odd horsepower!”

Gardner pressed ahead with the prototype, keeping it a secret from almost everyone – including its future pilots – and managing to convince Goodyear to produce the tiny 10-inch tyres.

The P34 debuted at the fourth round of the 1976 season, at the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama in the hands of Patrick Depailler. Despite showing promise on fast straights and long corners, the car fell victim to a braking issue. A fortnight later, Jody Scheckter pushed the P34 to fourth in Belgium, before Scheckter and Depailler scored second and third at Monaco behind Niki Lauda’s Ferrari.It was during its fourth outing when the P34 struck gold, with Scheckter and Depailler finishing first and second respectively at the Swedish Grand Prix, making Scheckter the only driver to ever to win a race in a six-wheeled car. Believe it or not, however, he left Tyrell at the end of the season, reportedly calling the car a ‘piece of junk’.

A redesign for 1977 left the P34 wider and heavier than before and, despite promising results from Scheckter’s replacement, Ronnie Peterson, it had lost its competitive edge. The following season, Tyrell returned to a more conventional layout.

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Panther 6

Inspired by the above, the Panther 6 was a British-built six-wheeled convertible that launched at the 1977 Earls Court Motorfair. Just two were built, powered by a mid-mounted 8.2-litre twin-turbocharged Cadillac V8 engine, which was paired to a three-speed automatic transmission. Reportedly, the model made 610PS (449kW) and could reach a claimed (yet never proven) 200mph top speed.

Hand-in-hand with the power came extravagant luxury, with an extensive spec list including a detachable hard top, convertible soft top, electronic instruments, air conditioning, automatic fire extinguisher, electric seats and windows, a telephone and a dashboard-mounted television set. New, it cost £39,950 – that equated to roughly 40 per cent more than the top tier Ferraris and Lamborghinis of its era.

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Covini C6W

There’s no denying the Italians are inventive. After all, they brought the world the wonders of Pizza and Parmesan.

And the Covini C6W continues that trend, with its dramatic design and six-wheel layout (once again inspired by the Tyrrell P34). Originally designed in 1974, it lay dormant for three decades due to lack of tyre availability. But, it was revived in 2003 in a joint venture between PMI and Covini Engineering, with the first prototype seen the following year and a production model arriving at the 2005 Salon International de l'Auto. Limited production of between six and eight cars per year was planned thereafter.

Four-wheel steering, a sub 1,200kg kerbweight and a mid-mounted 434bhp 4.2-litre Audi V8 all conspired to push the two seater coupe to a reported a top speed of 186mph.

Williams FW07D and FW08B

While the P34 pioneered the twin front-axle design, it wasn’t the only six-wheeler to grace Grand Prix circuits. Other manufacturers saw the promise in Gardner’s work and followed suit, moving the extra set of wheels to the rear of the vehicle.

In the early ‘80s, it was Williams’s turn. First came the experimental FW07D, which featured four driven rear wheels, and two undriven fronts. It was tested by Alan Jones once at Donington Park, reportedly matching the conventional four-wheeled FW07’s lap times – enough proof for Williams to push ahead with the FW08B, the six-wheeled derivative of their Frank Dernie-designed FW08. Powered by a 3.0-litre Ford Cosworth DFV engine, and exploiting aerodynamic regulations via its unique design, the FW08B looked promising.

But alas, the model never actually made it to competition, with a ban on four-wheel-drive and six wheelers introduced in 1983, reportedly because "someone in a FOCA meeting said it would drive up costs and cause chaos during pitstops".

Could modern F1 cars have looked markedly different today had this project been allowed to prove itself? I guess we’ll never know…

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Hispano-Suiza H6A

I bet you didn’t think this list would take you all the way back to the 1920s…

But, believe it or not, the Hispano-Suiza H6A was one of, if not the, world’s first six-wheeled cars, and an absolutely luxurious one at that.

La Hispane Suiza Fabrica De Autommobiles was founded in 1904 in Barcelona by Spaniard Damian Mateu and a young Swiss engineer called Marc Birkigt. Over the following decade the pair designed several innovative racing cars and engines, before switching their focus to aeroplanes for the Allies in the war effort. It was this knowledge that enabled them to later build the Hispano Suiza H6, which featured a heaving 6.5-litre straight-six engine and, in an industry first, mechanical servo-assisted brakes on all four wheels. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the star of the 1919 Paris Motor Show.

Various wheelbase models were built, including a six-wheeled H6A, reportedly ordered by the King of Greece. However, after his abdication it was purchased by the motion picture director D. W. Griffith for $35,000, later appearing in the 1933 film "My Lips Betray" as well as a number of war movies.

  • Six Wheeler

  • Tyrrell

  • P34

  • Williams

  • FW08

  • Panther

  • 6

  • Mecedes-Benz

  • Mercedes-AMG

  • G63

  • Covini

  • Hispano Suiza

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