Morgan’s modern 3 Wheeler is a bugs-in-teeth reminder that fun needn’t be fast
If a Martian fell to earth and solicitously inquired of you what it was that defined the difference between fast and fun, you could do no better than to answer by way of the Morgan 3 Wheeler: a strange contraption resembling a semi-enclosed aluminum bath tub with an unusual confection of mechanical parts strapped (for no apparent reason) to its nose.
Morgan has been making three-wheeled cars since its earliest days over 110 years ago. Back then the engines were under a thing called a hood, but it didn’t take long to place the powerplant ahead of the front axle where it was easily cooled, an arrangement that conveniently left more space for occupants. Production of three-wheelers continued even after Morgan started making four-wheel cars in 1936, but it stopped abruptly in 1952 and remained dormant for nearly 60 years. But in 2011 it was back, a brand-new car that looked like it had never gone away. Despite only having 75 per cent of what is generally accepted to be the minimum quota of wheels for a car, it soon became the best-selling car in Morgan’s exceptionally long history, even though its ten-year stint in the market place is actually quite brief by Morgan standards.
Yet an objective assessor would likely dismiss it as deficient not only in wheel count but in cylinder number. It possesses merely two, each displacing nearly a liter, yet between them they can summon barely 80 hp, which these days would be a fairly derisory output for an engine of half that size.
Technically, such a critic would be right in all counts, bar one: Who on earth wants to be objective about a motorized, open-air tricycle? A 3 Wheeler is not a remotely serious purchase. That’s what was so good about it when it was new, and what’s even greater about it now it’s no longer on sale and fast acquiring classic status.
Even the absence of that fourth wheel forms part of the appeal. There is something not merely different but iconoclastic about an engine slung so far out the front driving a single wheel at the back. And what an engine it is! Whatever the 2-liter S&S motor lacks in power, it more than makes up for in torque and aural charm. Think of this less like a car missing a wheel, more like an inherently stable motorcycle, and you’ll be closer to the root of its appeal.
Which is visceral. You sit so low and are so exposed. If you draw a mental triangle between the center points of the three wheels, you’ll realize your seating position is outside it. Your right elbow rests in the air stream rushing past the car. With its folding top, weather equipment, heater, and doors, a Caterham is a luxury car compared to this trike. Even though 3 Wheelers are reliable and well built, every single journey, no matter how brief, feels like an adventure. You feel intrepid. It makes you happy.
And that’s before you set off. The engine is as lazy as it sounds, spinning so slowly and firing its cylinders so infrequently that at idle it’s not difficult to mentally tune into each bang at the top of the compression stroke. Maximum power comes at 5200 rpm, which doesn’t sound like much, but in a car this light, with so much torque from that thumping motor and a quick-shifting Mazda MX-5 gearbox, it’s more than enough.
But you’re still wondering what it will be like in the corners and, specifically, whether it is likely to tip. Not very likely at all. Without going up a bank or hitting something, I’d hazard it was near enough impossible. The rear tire is so fat there’s probably more rubber on the road at the rear than the two super-skinny front boots can muster between them. Grip levels are remarkably good because the car is so phenomenally light (just over 1000 pounds) and there’s so much feed back through the wheel you’d need to be wearing oven gloves not to sense when the car was about to slide. Which it does, in a very gentle and benign fashion.
There is very little not to love. Yes, that Caterham 7 is far more accomplished in almost all areas, but when it comes to pure and simple charm, there really is nothing like a 3 Wheeler. Whether the new Super 3 that replaces it, with its three-cylinder Ford engine hiding under a bonnet is assured of future classic status it is too early to say. But the 3 Wheeler, with those looks and that unique vee twin out front? It’s there already.
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