It’s all well and good to unearth obscure JDM models and occasionally find American or European classics, but what about something truly novel for a change? Tokyo has that, sometimes. In this case, we are about to take a small tour that will take us around a tiny piece of South Asian heritage.
Three-wheelers are no longer a thing in Japan these days, but they used to be. That’s how Mazda and Daihatsu got started, for instance. So I guess any Japanese three-wheeler nostalgic must look abroad for an appropriate substitute. I imagine China has some, but I don’t think they export to Japan. Other options might include a Piaggio from Italy or a Thai tuk-tuk. But the one region where three-wheeler van is still the king of the road is South Asia, where the preferred term for these is rickshaw. Bajaj of India is the best-known of the lot, but there are many makers across the region and beyond.
This Sazgar contraption hails from Lahore, Pakistan. The engine is either 197 or 225cc 4-stroke, runs on CNG and is water-cooled, but I’m not sure how many cylinders we’re talking about. Likely two, but don’t quote me on that. Power output is either 15.5 or 17hp, depending on displacement.
I’m not super clear on the transmission beyond the fact that there are four forward gears; power is sent to the leaf-sprung live axle and allegedly propels this Sazgar to 95kph (60mph), which seems unreasonably quick. The brakes are drums all around – mechanically activated for the front wheel.
There are a bunch of different rickshaw makers all over India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Sazgar have been in business since 1991 and currently are in talks with BAIC to start assembly of Chinese cars in Pakistan, but for the past 30 years, their mainstay (vehicles-wise, anyway) has been rickshaws like this one.
Present-day examples feature square headlamps and chunkier plastic mirrors and the range is broader, with fully-enclosed, pickup and LWB “Deluxe” versions and the like. It seems disc brakes are also part of the package now, at least for the larger seven-seaters like this one.
I’m personally much more familiar with the Thai tuktuks. Should do a post about those someday – I have a bunch of photos like the above. Tuktuks are a slightly different kettle of fish sauce: they have a central gear lever and the engine is much bigger (from 400 to 1000cc).
How lucky were Sazgar (and several other companies, if I remember correctly) that Studebaker went under when they did? This allowed the recycling of the Studebaker “S” logo in countless iterations across many countries.
The logo may be uninventive and the vehicle itself is not exactly cutting edge, but both get the job done. Well over 1.5 billion folks depend on rickshaws for everyday transport in South Asian countries alone. Not sure where these are exported, but they are – and it seems a number of these made it all the way to Japan. I found some articles on the web regarding this fun fact dating back to 2017, so I’m guessing this one dates back to roundabout this era. Seems three wheels and 200cc is all you need to go from one end of Asia to the other.