Mor­gan’s blast from the past

The Weekend Australian - Life - - MOTORING -

The noble dare­devil of the sky, in silk scarf and coy­ote ruff, ad­justs his gog­gles, squint­ing with mal­ice at the en­emy be­low. He pushes for­ward the stick, the en­gine shakes and roars and … the light changes to green. For that mo­ment of rev­elry he was an ace avi­a­tor. Now, back in re­al­ity, he’s back to just be­ing ec­cen­tric.

This is the Mor­gan 3 Wheeler, a liv­ing fos­sil of au­to­mo­bil­ity decked out like a vintage fighter plane and built by the sin­gu­lar Mor­gan Mo­tor Com­pany in Malvern Link, Worcestershire, Bri­tain. As the ad­dress sug­gests, if Mor­gan were any more Bri­tish it would burst into plum jam.

This is a com­pany that still forms alu­minium body pan­els on English wheels and still uses ash-frame car­pen­try and calls it tech­nol­ogy. It re­mains the only car fac­tory I’ve been in that smells of saw­dust.

Through two world wars, through re­ces­sion and re­nais­sance, Mor­gan has adopted a lichen-like sur­vival strat­egy: just cling to the rocks, never change.

Founded in 1909 by HFS Mor­gan, the com­pany spe­cialised in cy­cle-cars: twoseat, tube-frame zep­pelins with mo­tor­cy­cle en­gines in the front, with in­de­pen­dent front sus­pen­sion and a sin­gle chain-driven rear wheel.

Ac­tu­ally, Mor­gan didn’t build its first four-wheeled car, the 4/4, un­til 1936.

So that wind blow­ing up your kilt in the 3 Wheeler comes right from Ed­war­dian Eng­land.

Mor­gan sports cars were hugely pop­u­lar in the post­war Amer­ica — I mean, they sold lit­er­ally hun­dreds of them. But by the 1970s the com­pany started run­ning into prob­lems get­ting the cars cer­ti­fied for Cal­i­for­nia emis­sions and fed­eral crash stan­dards.

Mor­gan’s re­sponse through years of de­clin­ing sales was to have more tea.

In the early 90s, fate — or at least fate’s per­verse sense of hu­mour — stepped in. Pre­sen­ter John Har­veyJones, of the BBC show Troubleshooter, ar­rived at Malvern Link to give the com­pany a lot of sen­si­ble ad­vice.

He looked around at the la­bo­ri­ous hand-fash­ion­ing of ev­ery­thing from bon­net lou­vres to bumpers, saw the hap­less ac­coun­tancy and wit­nessed the al­most in­so­lent dis­re­gard for clients’ time and pa­tience. Mor­gan must mod­ernise, stan­dard­ise, mech­a­nise, Sir John de­clared, or die.

Mor­gan, owned by the Mor­gan fam­ily, did ex­actly none of that. But that Troubleshooter episode was a mas­sive hit and soon or­ders were pour­ing in from prospects who were charmed by the com­pany’s balmy con­sis­tency through the decades.

In 2011, Mor­gan brought back the 3 Wheeler, this time as en­ter­tain­ment, not trans­porta­tion. And as a $US50,000 man toy, the 3 Wheeler car­ried no great ex­pec­ta­tions of sales vol­umes. The list of op­tions — the bul­let-hole de­cals, the fighter pin-up art and tiger shark de­cals — clearly speaks to ex­u­ber­ant per­son­al­i­ties who may or may not be stick­ing to their med­i­ca­tion.

But again, pop cul­ture took a hand. BBC’s Top Gear fea­tured the 3 Wheeler be­ing driven by Richard Ham­mond through a bru­tal, face-peel­ing rain. Well, of course, Brit cus­tomers said to them­selves, “I want some of that!” Again the or­der book swelled.

“I saw one and I re­ally wanted one,” says Mark En­gle, owner of Mo­tor­cy­cles of Char­lotte, in North Carolina.

“I talked to the folks at Mor­gan and there was a long wait. I re­alised the fastest way to get one was to be­come a dealer.”

The cur­rent 3 Wheeler is a cu­ri­ous in­dus­trial arte­fact on sev­eral counts. Aes­thet­i­cally it’s clos­est to the Mor­gan Su­per Sports circa 1937: the rearstream­ing ex­haust pipes ex­posed with heat shields; twin-cowl Per­spex wind screens; pol­ished cowl and bul­let head­lamps; and a big chucka-chucka up­front. If you like ma­chin­ery, this thing makes you want to take your clothes off.

The con­tem­po­rary (not to say mod­ern) 3 Wheeler is pow­ered by a pseudo-an­tique — the 2.0-litre V-twin thumper sup­plied by the S&S Com­pany of Vi­ola, Wis­con­sin. But here is where old and new part com­pany be­cause the 21stcen­tury S&S mo­tor, while sort of re­sem­bling a vintage pushrod V, starts cold and runs very agree­ably, thanks to a big, fat en­gine con­trol mo­d­ule some­where and solid-state ig­ni­tion.

Like­wise, the 3 Wheeler’s five-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion, from the mid­ships of a Mazda MX-5, is quick and as­sured, no doubt vastly more tractable than the non-syn­chro­nised two-speed gear­boxes of pre-war days. The keen-eyed nerd will also note the cur­rent trike doesn’t use the tra­di­tional slid­ing pil­lar sus­pen­sion but links with in­board coil-overs. This car even has seat heaters.

From the open cock­pit, with its padded waist rails, the car feels less like a plane than what re­mains of the plane af­ter it has crashed through the barn. The gauges and switchgear are of aero­nau­tic de­sign; and the blatty, bugsin-your-teeth vibe as you look over the cowl will re­mind you of your days crop­dust­ing at the kib­butz, or what­ever.

In any event, right about 140km/h, when the Mor­gan starts gen­tly wan­der­ing with the slight­est cross­wind, you’ve had all the ro­mance you can bear.

It’s not fast be­cause it can’t be. Most of the ve­hi­cle’s 525kg is up­front, which makes the Mor­gan fan­tas­ti­cally, hor­ri­bly prone to spin­ning the rear tyre. It just can’t put that much of its 140Nm of torque into the ground. But you can chirp the tyre like black ca­naries in three gears while you roar to 100km/h in six sec­onds. Also, you know that sound ef­fect of a car skid­ding around a cor­ner, the one from Warner Bros movies? These tyres make that noise.

Ahh! Ban­dit’s in my six! Tell Johnny I love him. But be­fore I go, there was some talk of Mor­gan build­ing an elec­tric ver­sion, in the mould of the EV3 con­cept.

Yes, well, I’ve spo­ken to the fac­tory and they as­sure me they will get around to it, right af­ter tea.

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