A Kit With Few Instructions Inspires an Improv Act

March 4, 2012 12:00 am

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LIKE many homes in the Rego Park section of Queens, the one owned by Steven Kaplan and his wife, Dalia, is made of red brick and has a short driveway that slopes down from the street to a small garage below.

On weekends when the roads are dry -- and not only when the air is warm -- Mr. Kaplan, a 67-year-old social worker, will walk down to his garage, where he parks a rather antique-looking car. The peculiar two-seat roadster has two wheels up front and only one in back.

Officially, this three-wheeler is classified as a motorcycle, so Mr. Kaplan will squeeze his head into a carbon-fiber motorcycle helmet. He will put on his sunglasses and step into the car, following a carefully orchestrated maneuver. He will fire up the engine -- mounted between the front wheels and fully exposed, therefore very loud -- and go for a drive around the big Tudor Revival homes in nearby Forest Hills Gardens.

"You're going to think you're in Europe, especially by the train station," he said in a voice that evoked Robert Duvall.

"It's a superluxurious area," he said of the neighborhood during a recent drive. "Since I don't have their kind of money, at least I have something that I can show off."

Mr. Kaplan, assistant director of B'Above Worldwide Institute, a Head Start agency in Queens, has always been fond of small cars. He once owned a 1934 Austin 7 convertible, a spindly mass-market creation from Britain.

Among his memories of growing up in Brookline, Mass., after World War II, he said, was seeing Messerschmitts, then one of the more popular three-wheel cars, on the road.

But when Mr. Kaplan decided he was ready to acquire a hobby project, he began looking for something different.

"Really different," he emphasized. "Anyone could buy an old car that was manufactured in huge numbers."

The car he wanted was a three-wheel vehicle made by Morgan, a British automaker, starting a century ago and lasting into the 1950s. But a vintage car of that pedigree was beyond his means. (Morgan recently introduced a modern version of the car that sells for more than $40,000.)

First Published 2012-03-03 23:04:19

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