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Fast and furious trikes can't help but turn heads

2011 campagna t-rex

Sylvain Dumais

Campagna Motors occupies an odd niche in the world of vehicle manufacturing, turning out superfast three-wheelers that blur the boundary between cars and motorcycles. "We're pretty much alone in the category," says president André Morissette. "You've got a steering wheel and seat belts, but you're out there, like you are on a motorcycle. It's a special ride."

The company operates out of a 25,000-square-foot facility on the outskirts of Montreal. It's a small-volume outfit, selling about 150 machines a year, mostly in the southern United States - partly due to the climate. Since Campagna's machines are wide open, they're less appealing in colder countries like Canada. Its greatest challenge, however, is bureaucracy. Campagna's trikes can't be licensed in Ontario - home of Canada's largest concentration of potential buyers - since the province's registration system has no category for these types of vehicles.

Red tape is nothing new for Campagna. It fought a successful court battle to make its vehicles street-legal in Alberta. In most provinces, Campagna's three-wheelers must be registered as a motorcycle, and drivers must hold a motorcycle licence and wear a helmet. (In Quebec, one model, the T-Rex, can be operated with a regular driver's licence.) "It gets pretty frustrating when the only thing holding you back is government," says Morissette.

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The T-Rex is Campagna's best-known product - a high-performance trike that sells for up to $60,000. The wind-in-the-hair machine tops out at more than 250 kilometres an hour. (Owners include celebrity magician Criss Angel.) All its vehicles are based on specially designed frames built in the company's Quebec factory. Body parts and components such as suspension arms arrive from a network of suppliers. The mechanical core of each trike comes from a new motorcycle that Campagna buys and disassembles - the T-Rex uses parts from a Kawasaki ZX-14. After removing the engine, transmission and wiring system, it sells the remaining parts on eBay.

Campagna has 25 employees, and it is privately owned. Launched in 1994, the company ran into financial difficulties over the next decade. Morissette bought it in 2008, after it went into receivership. "We cleared off the books and started fresh," he says.

If it can overcome the licensing issues, Campagna plans to increase production and expand into new regions, including China. "We have something special," Morissette says. "You get the performance of a $500,000 car for a tenth of the price."

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