Now for something different...James goes full Biggles and hits the road in the crazy Morgan 3 Wheeler.
In a world where we regularly talk about cars generating power and emissions, comes a car which generates something different entirely. Conversation.
Or more to the point, questions. Drive even a block from home in the 2017 Morgan 3 Wheeler, and someone is bound to ask, “what the hell is that thing?”
A bathtub, trimmed in soft, caramel leather, that seems to float on its hidden centre rear wheel, propped up only by outrigger bicycle wheels and a V-Twin motorcycle engine mounted forward of the ‘bonnet’, the Morgan is nothing if not distinctive.
That heat shield-strapped pipework, the pin-up girl riding a bomb decal, even the quintet of round, red lamps on the back… it’s the car that drinks from a jar at a bar you've never heard of.
Some people know, most don’t. Children turn and point, people yell out, and nearly everyone smiles. They want to know you, they want to know more.
Introverts need not apply.
The Morgan 3 Wheeler isn’t a new concept for the bespoke English manufacturer. The first Morgan three-wheeled ‘cycle car’ rolled out of the Malvern factory in 1909. These, like the current 3 Wheeler in every country except Australia, were classified as motorcycles. In fact, Morgan didn’t make a car with four-wheels until 1939.
Even the current car isn’t ‘new’. The Morgan 3 Wheeler was initially shown at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, and remains basically unchanged for the 2017 model year.
Getting the Morgan homologated for local sale took plenty of time and effort for Morgan Cars Australia, and as such, cars didn’t arrive here until mid-2015. There was concern at the end of 2016 that changes to ADR certification process would exclude the car from future availability, but an eleventh-hour change to classification sees the little Morgan’s future secured.
A range of new personalisation and trim options are now available to buyers, with more ‘heritage’ centric colours and styling changes available for buyers to look back on the past as they look to the road ahead.
There are twelve base colours, but the cars are all built to order, so anything is possible. The latest designs really turn the classic screws and include some very smart period delights, from quilted leather seats, to alloy bonnet clips and historic motorsports livery.
But RAF roundels and polished top-tanks aside, I know that you’re all asking, under that funky body, just what is it?
The engine is produced by an American motorcycle fabricator, S&S in Illinois. The company has a long history of creating high-powered engine conversions for Harley-Davidson bikes and custom chopper builds.
For the Morgan, the motor is a 2.0-litre V-Twin offering 60kW and 5200rpm and 140Nm at 3250rpm. It might not sound like much, but the trike weighs just 550kg, giving it a power-to-weight ratio of 114.3 W/kg. For context, that’s about the same as a Mazda MX-5.
Drive is then sent via a helical gearset and belt drive, like a Harley motorcycle, to a 15-inch rear wheel, running a 175mm wide car tyre.
You steer the front wheels only, with some difficulty, and will return about a 9L/100km fuel consumption cycle, although, in this car, that’s not likely to be front of mind for buyers.
So yes, the Morgan is bizarre, unique, and yet strangely familiar. Where might you have seen one before?
I’ve you’ve been a fan of cringe-comedy for longer than any regular Focker, you’ll recall Peter Sellers arrived at The Party in a blue 1933 Morgan Sports trike. Scary to think the car still has more cultural significance than ‘birdie num num’…
Getting in is a bit of a process, but my old and non-supple body was able to complete the task without too much difficulty. You step in and down, ironically like getting into a bath. The pedals will be configured by Morgan to your height and driving position, but even considering I am much taller than Chris from Morgan Australia, I still managed just fine.
And more to the point, I was quite cozy. If you have a passenger in the car as well, better get used to them as you will essentially sit in each other’s laps. It’s a very personal cabin.
The leather is soft and the instruments are very visible behind the enormous, thin-rimmed steering wheel. No airbags here either folks.
Switchgear is limited, which is pretty obvious when you think about it. No wiper stalk as there are no wipers. No demister controls as there isn’t even a windscreen to demist. Windows? Nope. Radio? Uh uh. Touchscreen infotainment system? You have got to be joking. There’s a horn though. Toot toot.
You get a bit of storage under the rear hatch, enough for a sponge bag and perhaps a spare driving cap. The car comes with a wet-weather tonneau cover to keep the water out when you aren’t in it. If it rains while you are driving though, either go faster to carve a bathtub-shaped hole through the weather (not always recommended), pull over and let the rain pass (not really the car for you then…), or soldier on and motor to you destination, like a sir. Yes.
Fire up the S&S V-twin with a start button behind a classic missile switch cover in the centre of the dashboard, and after a few lazy turns, the motor cranks into life.
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Left. Right. Left. Right.
The syncopated exhaust rhythm is very much in stereo as the beating drums of exhaust assault each side of your head in turn. Tap the throttle to build revs and a the alternating beat becomes a more singular throb, rising to even produce a wonderful buzz as it sighs between shifts.
There’s a solid amount of castor from the front wheels when turned to lock, but the amount of overall angle is very limited, meaning u-turns and even negotiating the workshop carpark at Morgan HQ are a series of shallow three-point turns.
It’s okay on the road though, but better suited to sweeping corners than hairpins.
The gearbox is easy and light to negotiate, but the clutch is pretty jolly heavy. I wouldn’t recommend the Morgan for a quick zap to the shops.
On the move though, and the 3 Wheeler is very easy to get used to, and an absolute blast.
Driving gloves, and ideally a leather cap and goggles, and perhaps a scarf are a must in the Morgan. You’ll feel more like Biggles than Senna though, the wind in your hair and bugs in your teeth experience mostly limited to speeds up to 80km/h.
That’s not to say the Morgan isn’t fast, with weight on its side, the Morgan has a claimed top speed of over 180km/h. Not with me in it mind you. Not in a million years.
This is driving with the volume up. The wind howls and the engine shouts even at street speeds. Australia specification Morgan trikes have extra sound suppression caps fitted to moving parts of the engine, which helps with high frequency noises, but the exhaust and out-in-the-open experience do their best to quash any hearing you may have left.
The 3 Wheeler is quick off the line and energetic acceleration can even entice a chirp from the rear tyre as you snatch second.
It is, put very simply, hilarious fun.
Power comes on well, and builds nicely to about 80km/h. Here it feels like you are pushing the triple-tonne down the Mulsanne straight. Every bit of feedback is visible through the exposed suspension and translated directly into the cabin. Raw motoring at its finest.
Given its rather basic set-up too, the Morgan rides surprisingly well. Those four-inch wide front tyres working with the double-wishbone suspension to give a reasonably compliant ride, for the type of machine this is.
You need to own the experience end to end. Expect to arrive, craving a cup of Earl Grey (or a G&T depending on the time of day), with a tired left leg, cheeks kissed by the sun and a ringing in your ear. The clock has wound itself back more than half a century, but there's a smile on your face, and on those who have come across you. You need to be like the car, a bit eccentric and nostalgic, an ambassador for automotive enthusiasts everywhere.
At $97,500 before options and on-road costs, the 2017 Morgan 3 Wheeler isn’t an everyday car for everyday folk. It’s a blast from the past in every conceivable way, a motorcycle you can drive on a car licence, still fun and thrilling but a little bit more stable and safer than it’s two-wheeled compatriots.
Sure you could be sensible and buy a Porsche Boxster for similar money, but if that's even a consideration, the Morgan isn't your car. By comparative standards, it's low on tech, low on power and low on safety, but I'd wager if you are reading this and wondering what it would look like in a lovely marine blue with white stripes, black quilted leather and polished wheel rims, you couldn't care less about such things.
The Morgan's biggest attraction is that it is different, and to many buyers who have a number of choices of other transport, that is perhaps the biggest appeal of a car like this. And dare I say it, park a Morgan next to a Harley, and I know which one is going to garner more interest with less hesitation.
So grab your gloves, don the flat cap, and hit the road for a bit of good old-fashioned adventure. It's never been so easy to make everyone so happy.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward and David Zalstein.