For the future in fun motoring, see the three-wheeled past
Looking back has never been more fun - and it's big business at the moment. Toy manufacturers are reissuing classics for eager adult buyers and old TV series and films remain hugely popular. Childish? Certainly, but what's wrong with hankering after a more innocent age, a time when pleasures were more simple, if sometimes out of reach? Affording to indulge ourselves a bit more is one of the joys of growing old.
That looking back is true of cars, too. It's what has people such as James Glickenhaus creating his dream Ferrari courtesy of Pininfarina, an Enzo and a sizeable pot of money. It's what created Ford's GT, the new Beetle, the Mini and many more - manufacturers wise to the fact that nostalgia sells. Of that lot none are more accurate to its forbearer than Morgan's new 3 Wheeler. Shamelessly plundering Morgan's history, the new 3 Wheeler is similar to the originals that rolled out the same Malvern Link factory that Morgan occupies to this day. Not that there's much you could change as it follows a pretty basic format: engine and two wheels out front and a single driven wheel at the rear.
It's overly simplistic to suggest that Morgan has just dusted off some old plans and popped on a more modern engine; that would do the 3 Wheeler a disservice. The tubular chassis is lovingly constructed, while Morgan is among the first manufacturers to heat form the aluminium panels. The engine, a 2.0L V-twin, is built by US firm S&S and delivers 115hp to the Morgan's rear wheel. Combine that power with the 3 Wheeler's sub-500kg weight and it provides performance that's far from nostalgic. Morgan reckons it will reach 100kph in just 4.5 seconds, and there's little reason to doubt that, such is the ease by which the 2.0L twin-cylinder unit shifts the featherweight machine.
It not only shifts it, but shakes it, too. The vibrations resonating though the entire car's structure make it a more physical experience than most. Rearward visibility via the mirrors is all but impossible thanks to the shaking, but adopt a motorcyclist's techniques and check once, then once again, over the shoulder and driving the Morgan is easy enough. Not least because you're sat up out of it, your only protection is a tiny screen and a rollover hoop behind you.
Not that the 3 Wheeler ever feels anything less than sure-footed. Indeed, drive it for a few minutes and you forget that there's just a single rather than a pair of wheels behind you. It's a pretty unique driving environment though. The sight of the skinny front wheels and their mudguards bobbing up and down as the suspension works, and the dome-backed headlamps and the narrow bonnet tapering away from you, is like nothing else.
Those front wheels move about a lot, though the removable steering wheel transmits what they're up to through the Alcantara-trimmed rim. It's unusual seeing your inputs as well as feeling them, the Morgan's nose tucking in keenly despite the weight of the engine between the front wheels. The power at the rear helps, with the 3 Wheeler's tail surprisingly mobile and reactive to your right foot. That's as much down to the weight as it is the engine's delivery, which, while strong on torque, is low on revs. That's perhaps not such a bad thing, as even at relatively sedate speeds it feels like you're really travelling.
It's all great fun - until you hit the brakes. There's not a great deal of pedal feel and it needs a hefty shove for the 3 Wheeler's easily achieved speed to be scrubbed off. It's something that takes a bit of getting used to. The pedal's positioning is too low to allow proper heel-and-toe blipped downshifts and that's an easily rectifiable shame as the five-speed gearbox (borrowed from a Mazda MX-5) is crisp and the physicality and the lack of driver aids and electronics make the 3 Wheeler such a joy to drive. Here's a driving experience that's certainly not without its quirks, but it's one that's hugely entertaining. Evidently, it's enjoyable for passers-by, too. The 3 Wheeler gets waves, smiles and nods of appreciation quite unlike anything else.
It's a talking point when you're stopped as well; when the fine detailing of the interior is clear to see. The aviation-style instruments are cool, if a touch tricky to read on the move, and the indicator stalks and toggle switches are beautifully finished. The bench seat and dash is covered lovingly in leather and pop your head down the footwell and check out the detailing on the pedals - the M3W cut-out on the brake pedal is one of those neat touches that only come with cars so lovingly created. That's all part of its enormous, if unconventional, appeal. Sure, some of the almost 500 orders will have come from owners of original 3 Wheelers, but a good portion will just appreciate the 3 Wheeler for its simplicity and huge character.
More manufacturers could learn from looking back if the results are this good, as the Morgan reminds you exactly what driving a car should be about. The future of enjoyable motoring might just be the past.
Morgan doesn't have a dealership in the Middle East, but that may change in a short while, according to the company. In the meantime, if you can't wait to get your hands on one, the factory will gladly take your £30,000 (Dh180,650) to put you on the books.
Published: August 13, 2011 04:00 AM