Having just finished a tour of the Morgan factory in the UK, we’re invited to take the company’s legendary 3 Wheeler for a spin. We don’t need to be asked twice.
After a couple of hours enjoying the rustic charm of the Morgan factory, my appetite was sufficiently whetted. I wanted to see how the handcrafted nature of the company translated into the final product. As did my Dad, who’d joined me on my visit. He’s also lived in Malvern for more than 30 years, and yet had never been in one of the town’s most famous exports.
Morgan very kindly supplied a 3 Wheeler to sample. It’s the vehicle that’s provided Morgan with a huge amount of publicity since it was unveiled in 2011, slotting into a niche and finding fans of those fascinated and delighted with its mix of modern power and retro charm. This particular model, as recently unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show, sports the iconic Gulf racing livery and looks undeniably splendid in the famous blue and orange. However, licensing costs mean it’ll set you back an additional 6000-odd dollars on top of the already pricey $47,865 price tag (including UK tax). It’s an expensive toy.
I’ll ignore the price for now. For your money, you get what was known in Morgan’s early days as a cycle car, powered through the rear wheel by a front-mounted American 2-litre S&S V-twin producing 115bhp. The engine is connected to a Mazda MX-5 gearbox, which is famed for its short-shifting notchiness. Sounds good.
Getting in requires a bit of flexibility. With no doors, one has to hoik one’s leg over the side-mounted exhausts and then lower oneself into place. Once settled into the leather-lined seats it’s surprisingly comfortable. The set up is simplicity personified – a couple of gauges, four toggles for lights and horn, an indicator stalk and a gearstick, with a handbrake next to it. Things are a little snug – Dad’s slim, 5’10 or so, and I’m slightly larger, and we were rubbing arms. But I didn’t fear that I’d not be able to change gear.
Firing the 3 Wheeler up requires a twist of the key and then a press of the button underneath a jet-style plastic cover. The whole cockpit in fact is reminiscent of an early fighter aeroplane, so much so that Morgan offers RAF-style graphics and fake bullet holes as a livery option. You supply your own leather cap and goggles though. The big V-twin bursts into life and settles into a loud put-put-put-put idle. It sounds, unsurprisingly, like a Harley – the S&S engine is oft-used by those looking for more power from their hogs.
Speaking of goggles, the lack of windscreen was a feature I hadn’t really considered until I hopped in and realised that I would be fully exposed to the elements. There are two token glass deflectors but I thank my lucky stars that it’s a sunny day in Malvern and I have sunglasses on.
I push the clutch in, knock the gearbox into first and ease carefully away. I have no real idea how the 3 Wheeler is going to feel, having only ever piloted vehicles with four wheels in the past. But I’m assured that it won’t flip over. Nevertheless, my first few miles are taken cautiously. Even at these speeds however, meandering through town, I’m having a blast. My right arm is hanging outside the car, my hair is being swept back and I’m overloading pretty much every sense it’s possible to feel through while driving.
After the factory tour in the morning, it’s time for lunch, and we decide to eat before heading off to shoot the pictures. As we’re so close to my parents’ place, we go there. A perfect opportunity to grab a quick family pic, and also to pick up my fiancee for a ride through the Worcestershire hills.
After a fine home-made meal, we head out again, and I finally get a chance to see what the Mog is like on the twisting country roads outside of town. In short, hilarious. Although the 3 Wheeler feels a bit like a chugging bathtub, the low weight and potent engine make for pretty decent speed, the sensation of which is amplified by its proximity to the elements. It’s extremely easy, if you’re too eager on the clutch, to spin the thin rear tyre up and given a bit more time I’m sure some interesting sideways action could have been had. But not with my betrothed in the car. The wedding would be off.
The steering is direct and meaty, a world away from the insulated, overly-assisted system I’ve grown used to even in sports cars. The noise of the V-twin changes from a chug to a rasping roar and speed increases very quickly. The gearbox is superb – fast and slick and perfectly in character with the rest of the car. Handling-wise, I’m pleasantly surprised to discover that it handles much like any other small sports car. The thin front tyres were a bit of a worry but the 3 Wheeler is so light that they never feel overloaded, and turn in is sharp and quick. There’s also a great response from the public. People in Malvern are used to seeing Morgans flying around, but they’re still nudging and pointing. It’s far too British a place to get the kind of cheering you’d see driving a Ferrari around Maranello, but the sentiment isn’t a world away.
I love the 3 Wheeler, as does my other half, but it remains an expensive toy. Although there’s nominal luggage space, and it’s surprisingly comfortable, I wouldn’t recommend it in a practical sense for a second. On this day, on these roads, with this beautiful weather, it’s fantastically good fun and perhaps best sums up Morgan as a company for me – eccentric, very different to the mainstream, but still very capable.