Morgan has always kept tradition high on its agenda, but in re-launching the Morgan 3 Wheeler the Malvern based niche sports car manufacturer has gone straight back to its 1910 roots.
No one can dispute how Morgan cars have kept traditional techniques, involving Ash, elliptical rear springs and sliding pillar front suspension alive for over a century now. Interestingly the engines have kept pace over time with what must be one of the longest ever partnerships, Ford have supplied many of the engines from their 1930’s side-valve to 2013 Sigma and everything else in between. Buy a 4/4 today and the original construction of an aluminium body over an Ash frame attached to a steel chassis is still very much what you get back in return. One can only assume a product of what loyal customers still demand as well as that strong sense of keeping with tradition.
Semi-elliptical springs and a live back axle I totally get, with four wheels anyway, but the sliding pillar front suspension to me just seems to be at odds with the natural physics involved when a car leans into a corner. Doesn’t the front suspension want to move in an arc? This is where the new Morgan 3 Wheeler (M3W) breaks away slightly from tradition with a newer approach. Yes there is the large diameter and widely spaced twin motorcycle wheels up front supporting a very pronounced air cooled engine, open leather clad cockpit in the middle and hidden central mounted single wheel at the rear. Underneath the skin though are aircraft quality aluminium box sections, wishbone suspension up front and a single trailing arm at the rear. All packaged in ice cool retro-styling that harks straight back to both the pioneers of motoring and aviation.
The marketing department at Morgan must have had a field day, a blank canvas on which to re-enact every pre-war scenario that anyone had witnessed first-hand, seen on a black and white film, or simply dreamt up. From early Hillclimb competition cars, through to romantic picnics for two and even imaginary bi-plane battles in the sky, there is a colour decal combination for you. This is everything BMW have done in the Mini and then everything else Fiat have done in the modern day 500 with icing on top. The M3W has got to be the retro car of our time. 1910 motoring brought to you in 2013 and by some miracle all without alerting the health and safety brigade. Fair play Morgan, you’ve only gone and done it.
Squeeze into the M3W and rest on the comfy leather cushion and you are faced with touches of old and new at the same time. For instance your elbow rests on the side of the car which dates the car no later than mid-1960’s by any standards. You look across the cylindrical bonnet to the top of a V-Twin, surely now that really is pre-1940’s whilst to the rear is a single driven wheel. OK, others have done that since but normally with extrovert styling, and not in this case completely hidden, so pre -1940’s it most definitely is. Contrast that with a quick release removable steering wheel, slick 5-speed Mazda MX5 sourced gearbox, trip computer, one touch indicators and electronic immobiliser and you can appreciate the coexistence of both worlds in this compact modern day retro-styled package.
However, lift the fighter plane looking starter switch guard and stir the 2.0 litre S&S sourced twin into life and things start to disappear distinctly back in time. Air cooled motorcycle twin powering a three wheeler that can be bought brand new in 2013, now that really is unique. Pull away and the 80bhp and 100lbs/ft torque make their presence felt through the superb gearbox and belt driven drive train. The little M3W simply leaps off the line resisting the ambitions of the usual hot hatch antics a set of lights can bring. Your only hope is that the informal race is sorted well before 60mph is reached because beyond that speed you enter a whole new world in the M3W.
As stable, forgiving and predictable it is below 60mph with modern day wishbone suspension up front and a single trailing arm at the rear, displacing cart spring and sliding pin suspension systems found on other Morgan’s, even today. Above 60mph the very lightness of the car combined with the now too common hazards on a modern highway of potholes, sunken sections not to mention dead animals make it dramatic to the extreme. This is like riding a motorcycle but without the convenience of two wheels line astern. In the M3W you have to re-train your brain to regard the road surface in thirds like an isosceles triangle, base at the front and pointy apex behind.
At times the front end can feel a little bit nervous, there is something with the geometry that tends to send the car either left or right depending on which side hits a compression or pothole in the road. This in itself does demand high’ish levels of concentration, particularly given the M3W’s relative light weight. But the rear is the surprise in this package and behaves itself much more than you think it will. Single wheel drive and traction through corners doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, but in the M3W the rear wheel works brilliantly well. It is the front that requires all of the attention, the back end seems quite happy to follow on behind.
The M3W is extremely playful by its very nature, a true puppy dog of both the modern and classic car world. If you remember we took Lakes and Dales superb Mini Cooper S up to the Hartside Café in the Pennines, a quite excellent climb it was to. But in the M3W the far more humble hill near Frocester in Gloucestershire was just as much of a hoot to climb. In fact every hill, every road, every town, village and corner we drove up, along, though and around was to. Once over the initial shock of only having three wheels, very little leg room, a seat belt that appeared to fit the wrong way round, with the securing clip wedged between your hip bone and the outside of the car, the only way to describe the M3W is quite brilliant.
It was that puppy dog you crave; it was that Mini Cooper S you always promised yourself and more besides. Maybe, just maybe this was love on the first date, all 80 miles of it. It must have been love as well because at only 2 degrees Celsius before a serious wind chill factor as well as occasional snow it was arguably not the best day to be doing this. Would we do it again, yes of course, tomorrow?
How does this car make you feel?
In one word: Puppy
As a favourite meal: Bacon Cranberry and Brie Pannini with a cheeky side of chips at Staverton Airport near Gloucester, that did the trick.
Anything Else: The M3W is a car that just wants to have fun and we absolutely loved it.
Key Ingredients: V-Twin noise, that starter switch, 3 wheel handling, light weight, slick 5-speed box, punch off the line, even the slight hint of warmth provided by the engine when sat at a set of lights.
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