1975 Rupp Centaur Trike
Elvis Presley's Motorcycles

In the summer of 1975 Elvis bought several Trikes (three wheeled motorcycles), the first of which was a 1975 Rupp Centaur with a 340cc two stroke engine. Within weeks two other types would follow. Not long ago Hemming Motor News published a great article detailing the history of the Centaur along with its short comings and for simplicity sake we've reprinted it here:

Ad for Rupp Centaur and Elvis in his 1975 (two-seat) Rupp Centaur Trike - 1975
Photos courtesy wikipedia and Paul's Elvis Candid Central

Before the emergence of the quad ATV and the banning of off-road trike sales, the three-wheeler was king. In the mid-Seventies, their off-road popularity spawned a whole mini-industry in adapting them for the street, with about a dozen makes by 1974. Brands like Dunecycle, BGW, Heald and Snowco offered either road versions or, more often, conversion kits, and even the most street-oriented Tri-Sport RTS SL or BGW RL-20 still ran on fat dirt-style rear tires and at best a 10-inch front.1

Elvis in his Rupp Trike in 1975 and the Trike parked years later in back of Graceland. Note the passenger foot rests on the sides of a two-seater model.
Photos courtesy Paul's Elvis Candid Central and © EPE, Inc. 1992

The industry had two hot spots, Southern California and Ohio, and in Mansfield, Ohio, Herb "Mickey" Rupp‘s company was thriving, making minibikes, snowmobiles and dirt bikes. A three-wheeler to join the growing scene was not a stretch for them, but unlike most competition theirs was a clean sheet design, not an adaptation. Reportedly they designed it to accept a VW four-cylinder engine and transaxle, but couldn‘t come to an agreement on price with the Germans, and so they switched to a 339cc Kohler SK-340-2AS two-stroke. We don‘t know why they didn‘t use their own snowmobile 440cc Vee-twin; it's possible it didn't fit. A centrifugal clutch and belt drive was available right out of their snowmobile parts bin.1

two and single seat versions of the Rupp Centaur (this two-seater is equipped with a console cover in the front)
Photos courtesy ebay and the Rupp Centaur Fan Club

One- and two-seat bodies were molded in fiberglass in four colors (Blue, Red, Yellow and White), and priced at $1,700. A 16-inch motorcycle-style front wheel with a 3.25-16 tire and B60-13 (60-series 6.70-13) Wide Oval rear tires helped it achieve a 55 MPH top speed in much less spooky fashion than those on dirt tires. Three hydraulic disc brakes were provided, as well as a transmission brake and a parking brake, since the centrifugal clutch was disengaged at rest and the vehicle could roll.1

Inside the body, was a two piece plastic instrument panel. The first piece housed the Speedometer and Tachometer along with lights that indicate Right or Left turns, Headlight High beam and Neutral indicator for the transmission. There was also Engine Choke and Electric Key ignition. The second piece covered the gear shifter and emergency brake levers. It was also equipped with full leather interior.
The Handle bar controls were also quite simple. Like conventional motorcycles the right side is where the front brake lever, Engine run/stop switch and throttle are located., The left had the clutch lever, headlight high/low beam selector, left/right turn signal and horn.

Photos courtesy eBay

In concept, the Centaur was the right vehicle at the right time, but it failed in execution. Stresses on the fiberglass body led to premature cracking, but worse, there were serious reliability problems with the transmission. The oil-injected Kohler engine was not really designed with continuous high RPM operation in mind. either.1

Elvis in his Rupp Centaur and a Centaur 340cc 2 Stroke motor
Photos courtesy Paul's Elvis Candid Central and web

Early adopter Elvis Presley had problems with his, soon switching to a VW-powered trike custom built by Ron Elliott at Super Cycle. Owners who stuck with them could expect a 500 mile service interval, which didn‘t help sell the Centaur as a viable alternative to a car. After less than 18 months of sales starting in early summer of 1974, Rupp ended production, with approximately 1,200 sold.1

Elvis with girlfriend Linda Thompson in the Super Cycle built Stallion VW Trike followed by Billy Smith in the Rupp Centaur - ca. 1975
Photo courtesy Paul's Elvis Candid Central

Mickey Rupp's bikes in general are collectible, but the Centaur has long been a funny cousin to them. Many of the survivors have been converted to 1.3-liter vw engines, a relatively easy process given Rupp designed the bikes with that in mind. You'll have to haunt fringe trike and Rupp groups quite a bit to find one for sale, but on the street they‘re a distinctive reminder of the era.1

Elvis' 1975 Rupp Centaur on display at Graceland - Dec. 9, 2011
Photo © James V. Roy

Today, Elvis' Rupp Centaur remains part of the collection at Graceland and has been on display at the Auto Museum there.

page added October 5, 2015


1 text © Live it Rupp! - The short-lived 1974-'75 Rupp Centaur street trike by David Traver Adolphus, HEMMINGS MOTOR NEWS - OCTOBER 2012
2 courtesy Rupp Centaur Fan Club


All photos on this site (that we didn't borrow) unless otherwise indicated are the property of either Scotty Moore or James V. Roy and unauthorized use or reproduction is prohibited.

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