Sulphur Springs resident Phillip Coyle is proud to drive around in his "people magnet," a street legal "reverse trike" which he built from scratch. "I knew the thing was going to get a lot of attention, but I never expected just how much it would get," he said.
Staff Photo By Angela Pitts
What The ... ???
Self-proclaimed tinkerer Phillip Coyle's 'reverse trike' turns heads all over town
By PATTI SELLS, News-Telegram Feature Writer
April 1, 2008 - What do you get when you take a motorcycle, a Formula V race car and ultralight airplane parts and put them all together? How about a three-wheeled contraption that has heads turning all over town?
"I call it my people magnet," said Sulphur Springs resident Phillip Coyle of the reverse trike he built for himself. "Know matter where I stop, it draws a crowd. I have a ball with it."
Coyle, 61, a self-proclaimed "horse trader, tinkerer and jack-of-all-trades" said he hasn't found anything he can't build or fix.
"I've always been the type of guy that if I get curious about something, I'll learn everything I can about it," he explained. "I'll get every book there is on the subject. Or I'll go buy it then tear it apart to see how it works."
According to Coyle, at the age of 9 he began fixing up old bicycles and reselling them for sizable profit.
"For a kid that age, I had more money than I knew what to do with," he said with a chuckle.
It was no surprise that he earned his living early on as an auto mechanic.
"I've worked on everything from bicycles to semis to airplanes and everything in between," said Coyle, at one time a licensed pilot. "I even built an ultralight before I went in with a partner and bought a little Drummond Yankee two-seat job. Boy, it could roll and loop real nice."
Quite the thrill seeker, Coyle said he has raced anything and everything with wheels on it, both on- and off-road. He said he has also lived in the mountains of Arizona, prospecting for gold and living off the land, as well as being apart of the Gypsy motorcycle gang, known in the late 1950s and early 1960s as an "outlaw" group due to its notoriety.
"My life has been a situation that if I wanted to do something, somehow or another I did it. If I wanted something, somehow or another I got it," explained Coyle. "My mind is always working. I can't even go to sleep cause I can't shut my mind down.
"The thing of it is, I never did grow up," he added.
Well, almost never. Coyle said dropped out his freshman year of high school (his father died when he was 15), and at age 17 joined the Marine Corps. At 18 he went to Vietnam, came home at 19 and got married when he was 20.
But five years later, he got divorced and gained custody of his son.
"That settled me down more than anything ever has," he said.
"He's my greatest accomplishment," Coyle said of his son, Keith, who is 3 1/2 years away from retiring from the Air Force. "I'm as proud of him as I'll ever be."
Though young at heart, Coyle's back began to give him trouble in his early 40s, and at age 46, degenerative disks had him drawing Social Security and disability.
"I've been disabled now for 15 years and I can't work more than a half hour to 45 minutes at a time. But I still love to tinker," he said.
That's where his latest contraption comes in.
"I had this idea. I had this motorcycle given to me, but I don't trust my legs to a regular bike any more," he said.
So he took the best of two machines -- the frame of a motorcycle and an engine from a Volkswagen engine -- and in just over four months created a reverse tricycle.
"I used to work pit crew and do some road racing years ago, and I always liked Formula V race cars," Coyle said, describing some of the inspiration for his work of art. "From the roll bar forward, she's basically a Formula V racer. I took the forks off the motorcycle and built a bracket to hook up to the framework. It's all cable controlled, tied into the motorcycle. This is like being in a real race car -- it's nice and comfortable."
According to Coyle, the shifter components and seat were taken from an old ultralight aircraft that he had.
Sulphur Springs isn't the only place where the reverse trike has gotten attention.
"I've put it into two motorcycle shows, one in Oklahoma the other in Nacogdoches, and won first at both places," Coyle said proudly. "People are constantly saying, 'What is that thing? I've never seen nothing like it.' I get a real kick out of it."
"And this is just one of his projects," said longtime friend Thomas Funderburk, who explained Coyle also builds model train sets and model airplanes. "He's got the biggest toy shop I've ever come across."
Coyle admits he probably shouldn't be spending his money on such a creation, but it is, after all, what he enjoys doing.
"I knew the thing was going to get a lot of attention, but I never expected just how much it would get," he said. "It just tickles me to death."