Do four wheels equal more fun? James finds out when he takes the Morgan 3 Wheeler out for a very public, and sometimes sideways, drive.
|V-twin, 1976cc||82bhp @ 5250rpm||103lb ft @ 3250rpm||6.0 secs||185kph||575kg (143bhp/ton)||$58,500|
With the quirky British company making a name for itself in the Middle East, crankandpiston.com takes the Morgan 3 Wheeler for a spin in what our deputy editor calls the most fun he’s ever had in a road legal car.
I hesitate slightly to write this, but my drive in the Morgan 3 Wheeler might just be the most fun I’ve ever had in a road legal car. I hesitate because this is a hell of a claim. But then everything – and I really do mean EVERYTHING – about the Morgan 3 Wheeler is an adventure.
Take the starting procedure. I alight (steering wheel in-hand) by holding one of the buttresses behind the driver’s seat with my right hand and sliding my right foot into the footwell, teetering for a few moments as I attempt to fit my left leg alongside in a space half its size. Several minutes are lost amidst barely contained laughter from the crankandpiston.com crew and quite a lot of swearing from yours truly as I struggle to fasten my seatbelt. The resultant scuffed knuckles then attempt to click the removable steering wheel into place before turning the key in the ignition, disabling the immobiliser and pressing the ‘bomb release’ starter button. Only then do I realise I’ve forgotten to take my driving goggles out of the storage pockets under the rear cowl, and have to get back out again.
A faff perhaps, but it’s already given me a story to tell and some dignity to re-acquire. It’s fun, it’s an experience, and it’s exactly the attitude Morgan had when the 3 Wheeler returned to the range in 2011, 55 years after production first ended. Designed by company founder Harry Morgan back in 1909, the original 3 Wheeler (known as the ‘Runabout’) was part of the Cyclecar generation that put the quirky British manufacturer on the map. And for the 21st century, the ‘body-on-frame’ design principle remains the same. The 3 Wheeler is powered by an air-cooled V-Twin (like its forebear) that chucks out a sedate 87bhp. Mated to this is a five-speed manual gearbox taken from a Mazda MX-5 and which, fortunately unlike its 1909 equivalent, also comes with a reverse gear. A combination of an ash wood frame, a leather padded cockpit, a lightweight tubular steel spaceframe chassis, and aluminium body panels mean the dry weight of our test model is a barely comprehensible 575kg, on top of which is the 3 Wheeler’s traditionally aviation-inspired bodywork, albeit with updated suspension and a tubular front leg crossbar for greater torsional rigidity. Ignoring the overwhelming sense of British heritage is impossible as I turn the key and fire the V-Twin into life.
Leaving the C&P oval office though proves more difficult than expected. To disengage the almost impossibly delicate handbrake for example requires pulling the lever back and popping the top down, which takes a few goes to get right. Then there’s the rather pathetic turning circle: four inches into my Morgan adventure, I’m already performing a three-point turn to avoid clouting a kerb. Ironically the only obstacle that doesn’t cause any problems is the car park security barrier, under which the 3.5ft tall Morgan simply rolls. A few moments later, I’m pulling into highway traffic.
And it’s absolutely terrifying. It’s early morning in Dubai, and the road is already thick with commuter traffic. Humble hatchbacks tower over me, and I suddenly find myself at eye level with SUV exhaust pipes, waiting to be wiped out by an over-ambitious lane change at any second.
“I’m wondering where I can find a pencil-thin moustache to complete the retro look”
Turns out I needn’t have worried, since our ‘Maxxis Tyres’-clad retro-mobile is causing quite a stir: we’ve barely gone 1km and already dozens of motorists have slowed to wave, give a thumbs up (I assume), and grab an iPhone shot. And I’m loving it. Protected from the 120kph winds hitting me in the face by a pair of driving goggles, a cap and a body warmer, the sense of occasion really starts to take hold, aided it has to be said by the cabin I find myself in.
Alongside the bomb release starter button, there are only two gauges – the speedometer and the tachometer – neither of which I can see particularly well. And it’s not just because of the super-stiff suspension making the cabin rattle. In an effort to improve driver comfort, Morgan has raised the height of the steering arm in the 3 Wheeler, partially obscuring both gauges as a result. I’ll admit my 6’ 2” frame probably doesn’t help in this regard: despite the extra room, my legs still rub against the steering wheel. It’s a similar situation with the pedals: all three (manual, remember) are fully adjustable, but without a socket set to hand, they’re positioned too far forward for my liking, meaning I have to flex my left ankle to avoid riding either the clutch or the brake pedal. I’ve also ditched the rubber floor mat, and now the heels of my shoes are sliding about on the bare aluminium. And quite honestly, I don’t care. The genesis for this weekend plaything appeared 105 years ago, foregoing uncouth ‘power’ in favour of a lightweight build and character. There are no bells, no whistles, and it’s a raw as you could expect in here. So what? I think it’s brilliant: I’m already wondering where I can find a billowing white scarf, leather driving gloves, a Burberry cloth cap and a meticulously waxed pencil-thin moustache to complete the look.
|V-twin, 1976cc||82bhp @ 5250rpm||103lb ft @ 3250rpm||6.0 secs||185kph||575kg (143bhp/ton)||$58,500|
With sinews suitably stiffened, the only mild concern now is the 42-litre fuel tank just behind me, the percentage counter of which (in place of a traditional fuel gauge) is reading 32 per cent full. We’ve only been on the go an hour, but decide to top up the ol’ two-seater anyway to be on the safe side. Cue another flurry of iPhone shots on the petrol station forecourt.
It’s at this point I’m handed a helmet, generously donated by crankandpiston cohort AJ. Photographer Hari is adamant he wants some ‘proper driving shots’, so I accordingly don the Icon and mount up. The bomb is released, the exhaust by my right elbow begins to rattle the cockpit once again, and soon we’re at the base of the Hatta mountains, ready to put the Morgan‘s handling to the test. On three wheels. This should be interesting.
The effect of 87bhp from the S&S V-Twin soon becomes clear. Capable of 0-100kph in six seconds flat the 3 Wheeler might be, but it is not fast, with even the bravest of chaps topping out at 185kph. The lowdown effects of 103lb ft of torque however does at least give the Morgan some guts through the corner, even if the staggeringly heavy clutch pedal is causing irreparable damage to my already ruined left kneecap. A tangible kick from the V-Twin follows each successful gear change, and though the ground may not be whizzing past any faster, it does on occasion go sideways. Momentum into the corner – coupled with perhaps not the most powerful brake pads imaginable – load up the front wheels, lifting the single rear profile tyre as a result: downshift mid-corner and you’ll suddenly find the back end stepping out. Apexes and ultimate lap times are clearly not what the Morgan is looking for, and frankly, neither am I.
After only a few kilometres, I’m already pulling over to rid myself of the iron mask, much to the collective chagrin of our photography unit. But once the driving goggles and cap are donned once again, I’m back onto the road before an argument can kick off.
That’s more like it. The wind is once again buffeting me in all directions, the go-kart like sound of that V-Twin is heavy in the air once again without sound deadening, and I’m soon partially deaf once again. As it should be. Slide a helmet on and ‘drive to the limit’, and you entirely miss the point of the 3 Wheeler. The 19-inch wire wheels run on such low profile tyres that grip is just sufficient enough to keep the 87bhp aerofoil from understeering wildly. The steering is so weighty that attempts to nail the apex are a coin toss, even though the balance – thanks largely to a low centre of gravity – is actually quite good. As the kilometres roll by, I discover I’ve even adopted a new driving position, my left arm clamped tight to the bodywork whilst power from my right shoulder does most of the heavy work. It draws to mind thoughts of Sir Stirling Moss and Mike Hawthorn but not because of the performance. Because of the heritage. Because of the experience. Because it’s slightly mental. It’s an adventure.
“I’m already pulling over to rid myself of the iron mask, much to the collective chagrin of our photographers”
The 3 Wheeler may not be the most aggressive, manoeuvrable or best handling ‘driver’s car’ around, but it’s not trying to be. It’s a 100 years of motoring history, with all the bells and whistles removed. A back-to-basics experience that reminds me why I’ve loved driving since passing my test nearly 15 years ago. It’s fun, it’s exciting and it’s nerve-wracking in equal measure, quite aside from the fact that the wind, the noise and the cramped confines I find myself in are delivering a sizeable beating to me as every kilometre ticks by. It’s British automotive heritage, a sense of character and as back-to-basics as you can get, and I think it’s absolutely brilliant.
I’m no longer hesitating. Driving the Morgan 3 Wheeler is the most fun I’ve ever had in a road legal car, and I’m already on the hunt for a white scarf and cloth cap.
*Images courtesy of Harisanker.S and Awesome Group
Engine: V-twin, 1976cc
Power: 82bhp @ 5250rpm
Torque: 103lb ft @ 3250rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Front suspension: Double wishbones, coil springs, dampers
Rear suspension: Swing beam, coil springs, dampers
Brakes: Ventilated 270mm discs (front), drum (rear)
Wheels: 19-inch (front), 16in (rear)
Tyres: 4.0 S19 65S (front), 195/55 R16 (rear)
Weight (dry): 575kg
Top speed: 185kph
Base price: $58,500