DRIVEN. Morgan Roadster 3.7

March 12, 2015

Fresh from his first experience of Morgan machinery in January, our deputy editor takes a second shot at quintessential British motoring with the Roadster 3.7.

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EnginePowerTorque0-100kphTop speedWeightPrice
Cyclone V6, 3700cc280bhp @ 6,000rpm380Nm (280lb ft) @ 4,900rpm5.5 secs225kph950kg (295bhp/ton)$81,600

A few months ago I spent time with one of the oddest and most enjoyable road cars I’m ever likely to drive, Morgan’s aptly named 3 Wheeler. One of the reasons I enjoyed the experience so much was the sense of character and humour it conveyed, without adding a need to ‘find the limit’. And so it was that, a few weeks later, as I busied myself twirling a contemplative pencil at the C&P Oval Office, I realised I was not ready to end my Morgan experience just yet.

But the 3 Wheeler was already in the bag: done, dusted, t-shirt in the post. It was time for something new. And by that of course I mean something retro. Something characterful but not in quite the same ‘what the hell’ manner as the 3 Wheeler. Something a little more refined. Several phone calls later and at a decidedly un-retro 5am, I find myself standing in the office car park scanning the ‘almost-but-not-quite’ British Racing Green machine that marks stage two of my Morgan adventure, the Classic Range-headlining Roadster 3.7.

Though production of the Roadster is only 11 years old (the two-seater replaced Morgan’s well-established Plus 8 in 2004 following the latter’s 36-year production run), you’d be forgiven for thinking the Roadster had fallen straight out of a classic car auction. Unlike its contemporaries, Morgan insists on working with wooden frames on top of which sits a steel chassis (don’t go looking too closely for weight saving aluminium). The design is all curves, with not a garish ‘sharpened’ bodyline to be found and wing mirror stalks and windscreen wipers – all three of them – that look so delicate, you’d think a light breeze would rip them from their moorings. Likewise the running boards are aesthetically pleasing but the idea of actually standing on one sends a shiver down my spine. Which is ironic since, given the effort required to get in, is enormously tempting.

Simply opening the door and flopping your legs in one after the other won’t get the job done. Not without hacking at least one of them off at the knee anyway. With the roof stowed, I’m advised by Morgan’s regional press team and my C&P support network (newboy Yazan) to hold the headrest of the passenger seat with my right hand, slide my right leg down one side of the steering wheel, balance my weight on my right arm and slide my left leg down the other side of the steering wheel. If successfully done, I should simply flop down into the seat. If unsuccessfully done, at least one of my trouser legs will be beyond repair.

It’s a process that does draw parallels with the 3 Wheeler, in that most of my dignity has been eroded by the time I’ve landed in the driver’s seat with a crash, and I’ve managed to bend my legs in directions the human anatomy rarely intends. But there are some innate differences. I’m not furiously trying to slot the steering wheel onto the column for instance, hastily tightening my driving goggles, or re-assuring myself that ‘oh these engineers know what they’re doing, it’s not going to fall over.’ I have a fourth wheel (five if you count the spare mounted on the back), an actual windscreen, 280bhp available from a 3.7-litre Ford V6 that is capable of 225kph and for which fuel stops will not be required every 30 minutes. Even the comparatively generous ride height means my afternoon won’t be spent breathing in the carbon monoxide of passing big rigs. It’s all slightly less barmy than my 3 Wheeler experience, and as such a little more…genteel, in a P.G. Wodehouse kind of way. And I’m well up for it.

“I’m advised by Morgan’s regional press team how to alight. If successfully done, I should simply flop down into the seat. If unsuccessfully done, at least one of my trouser legs will be beyond repair.”

Of course finding a quintessentially English location to match our modern day cum 1930s roadster for a leisurely Sunday morning drive is a bit tricky: rustic country houses and afternoon tea with the vicar isn’t exactly in abundance in the Middle East. We figure though – after a quick and ultimately fruitless consultation of the map – that our best bet is away from Dubai’s ultra-modern metropolis and closer to the more rustic Fujairah, some 300km away. Fortunately the roads are still quiet as we pull out of the C&P office car park, giving me the chance to gauge the gentility of the Roadster’s interior.

Unlike the 3 Wheeler, the space in the cabin – though still on the snug side – is much wider and longer, meaning locking the seatbelt is possible without at least three people needing to help. Even the seats are adjustable, by a couple of inches, granted, but adjustable nonetheless. There’s leather seating and upholstery, turn of the century style gauges for speed and revs, and a proper fuel gauge. And whilst Audi and Mercedes have little to worry about in terms of build quality, it’s all so wonderfully British and charismatic that I can’t help but be enamoured by it all. The only thing missing is Bertie Wooster sitting in the passenger seat inviting me to the Drones Club for a snifter.

The only thing putting a dampener on this romanticised image however are the three plastic buttons fitted to the centre console, used to navigate around the driver infotainment system for those vital figures on distance travelled, L/100km readings, kilometres of ra…good Lord, is that a stopwatch?!

“Whilst Audi and Mercedes have little to worry about in terms of build quality, the Roadster is all so wonderfully British and charismatic that I can’t help but be enamoured by it all.”

That’s still not the biggest bugbear I have though, since tucked under the dashboard is a radio. Access is limited – especially since we’ve forgotten to put batteries in the remote – and the unit is hidden well enough that it doesn’t impinge too much on the ‘iconic’ look of the Morgan. But like the modern-day plastic buttons, it’s a ghastly addition to the cabin’s classic elegance, and, frankly, an unnecessary add on: the wind noise at cruising speed is such that Drake and Chris Brown prove indistinguishable. But then what else is new…

Out of the city limits, I’m keen to put the Morgan’s V6 to good use: it was after all used in the Ginetta G60 at one stage. And I’m immediately surprised by the results. Hooked up to a five-speed manual gearbox (again, Ford), pull from first and second gear is very smooth as the Roadster starts to pick up pace, so it’s with some astonishment that third gear brings with it a tangible kick of momentum. And this isn’t even under particularly heavy acceleration. When I feel brave enough to accelerate hard, the sensation of speed is truly remarkable. By Ferrari or Porsche standards you couldn’t call it ‘aggressive’, but it’s a sensation that makes me blink quickly, especially given that the suspension is just hard enough to make the ride quite taut over less-than-smooth tarmac. It’s not uncomfortable, but you will feel those bumps in the road as you pass over them. So far, so Wodehousian.

And as is to be expected with 1930s roadsters, a few issues have started to crop up as we leave the city limits behind and plough on into the highway segment of our journey. I’m still getting used to the floor-mounted clutch pedal, which is incredibly heavy and mounted too close to the brake pedal for my size 11s to use without occasional mishap: every so often I either depress the clutch and glance the brake pedal, or come off the clutch and get my Converse caught under the brake. At 60kph I was thoroughly enjoying the Morgan’s English civility, but at highway cruising speeds, the wind is now starting to batter me from seemingly every direction. I’m even wary, given the daintiness of the door locks – and indeed of the doors themselves – to lean my full weight on the section of panelling where the driver’s side window traditionally is for fear of throwing the whole thing wide open.

But does any of this really bother me? No. Not even close. Like the 3 Wheeler before it, the Roadster 3.7 has its quirks, but each proves an invaluable addition to the experience and the adventure, one made all the richer by the sense of heritage through both Morgan’s lineage and the true-blue English identity. And whereas in the 3 Wheeler the temptation to drive as fast as you dared was still there despite it not being the most stable of vehicles, the sense of occasion and fun in the Roadster is actually more tangible at lower speeds. As I find when we finally pull off the highway and head towards the mountain roads.

It’s here that I get the first real chance to put the handling to the test. And golly, am I in for a shock.

Turn the non-power-assisted steering wheel and there’s a pause between input and turn-in, just enough to unnerve me into the high-sweeping left and right-handers: atop the sound of that Ford V6, my cries of “wwhhhhooooaaaa” get no less emphatic as the corners come and go, and it’s some considerable time before I’ve got the hang of it. Sitting almost on top of the rear wheels, the sheer size of that bonnet also becomes clear as I heave the incomparably thin steering wheel to position the nose. Which, given my seating position, is quite tricky: I’m as far back on the runners as I can be, but there’s still no room between the bottom of the steering wheel and my legs, meaning I have to shuffle the wheel through my hands like I’m re-doing my driving test. It’s terrifying. And I’m loving it.

Even with this low centre of gravity, there is lean as the Roadster rolls into the corners: several times I worry that the passenger side front and rear wheels are going to lift off the road entirely. It’s clear that the Morgan, despite a fair amount of grip through the tyres, is not a performance machine, even with the impressive amount of power being churned out under the bonnet hinges. But then again – after landing in the beautifully detailed cabin – I wouldn’t have expected the Roadster to shine on these roads. And I’d have been disappointed if it had.

“Sitting almost on top of the rear wheels, the sheer size of that bonnet becomes clear as I heave the incomparably thin steering wheel to position the nose.”

Since landing in the beautifully upholstered retro seat, ‘performance’ has not crossed my mind. And why should it? The Ford V6 may kick out a healthy dose of power to keep acceleration entertaining, but I’ve not at any stage been looking to ‘push the limit’. The opposite in fact: I’ve wanted a drive. Just a normal drive, complete with character and a sense of heritage that’s impossible not to feel when sitting at a Morgan steering wheel. It’s the fascination with an English cruise that sparked my interest in the Roadster in the first place. And in-between beautiful design and an occasionally knuckle-whitening ride, it’s produced exactly that. It’s been an experience completely apart from the 3 Wheeler, and that’s exactly what I was looking for. And I’m no less enthusiastic about it too.

Though I have greatly enjoyed the drive to our shoot location, the time has come to tackle the fabric fold-down roof for the first time, which we’ve been assured is as simple as lift, unclick, click, press, click. Easy. Surely.

Having lifted the canvas roof from its mooring point, Yazan and I are struggle to align the clips with their housings, and several attempts at ‘delicacy’ have consistently brought us back to where we started. Soon we decide that since finesse and delicacy don’t appear to be working, brute force is required. Accordingly, as Yazan holds the roof from the inside, I throw all my might into one terrific swing to latch the clips into place. It’s ultimately Yazan’s period cap that saves his life on this day, and once the effects of a metal support arm clouting off the temples has subsided, we finally manage to get the fabric sort of into place just long enough for shots to be taken.

Sure, I’m nursing a few bruises, but it’s not left me bittersweet about my second Morgan adventure. Like the first, it’s left me amused, bewildered and on occasion fearing for my life. Unlike the first though, there’s been no sense of the downright bizarre. There’s been a sense of aristocratic living, a sense of my national identity that’s sometimes hard to relive in the Middle East. Hell, it’s just been a lot of fun. More so than the 3 Wheeler? Perhaps not but both have left me with a realization. Be it with three wheels or four, a windscreen and a sense of etiquette or just plain old fashioned barminess, Morgan is fast becoming one of my favourite car manufacturers.


*Images courtesy of Harisanker.S and Awesome Group


Technical specifications

Engine Cyclone V6, 3700cc

Power 280bhp @ 6,000rpm

Torque 380Nm (280lb ft) @ 4,900rpm

Transmission Ford six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Front suspension Independent sliding pillar with coil springs and gas filled

telescopic shock absorbers

Rear suspension Semi-elliptic leaf springs with gas filled telescopic shock absorbers

Brakes AP Lockhead four-pot callipers, 11in disc (front), 9in drum (rear)

Wheels 6.5 x 15in alloys front and rear

Tyres 205/60 15 front and rear

Weight (dry) 950kg

Power-to-weight 295bhp/ton

0-100kph 5.5 secs

Top speed 225kph

Basic price $81,600