It's noisy, bumpy and smelly, but driving a vintage Morgan three-wheeler is an
unforgettable experience. Lawrence Pearce reports from the cockpit.
Photographs by Maurice Rowe
MORGANS COULD hardly be described as sophisticated cars even today, so just imagine what a 60-year-old one is like. If you can remember your first pedal car as a child, this will give some idea of the seating arrangement Six inches off the ground and with no padding there are certainly more comfortable ways to travel and cars which are easier to get in and out of.
The driver has to clamber into the passenger's side and wriggle beneath the steering wheel, the passenger does likewise, thus trapping the driver in place.
It has no ignition key, starte motor or even a starting handle: it has to be push started. But before this, a few "pre-flight checks are needed, like operating the grease plungers which lubricate the valve-gear, pressurising the fuel system which feed the twin Amal carburetters and adjusting the flow rate of the drip-fed, total loss oil supply which lubricates the engine. And some of the Morgan's controls look distinctly unfamiliar: e is the handbrake and gear lever, what is that control on the steering wheel boss? No, this threewheeler is not what you would call "user friendly"
In 1925, motoring was a different experience, Morgan threewheeler "triking" even more so This Super Aero Brooklands owned by Lawrence Weeks is an ex-works racer, devoid of such luxuries as lights, mudguards, windscreen and number plates.
Dashboard shot shows large steering wheel dominating cockpit. Note manual fuel pump and drip feed lubrication system on left of dash, advance and retard lever on steering wheel
It helps to have friends!
Owner seems apprehensive!
Surprisingly, it has a conventional foot-operated throttle, having been converted from the more usual-at-the-time hand control, and a footbrake working on the single rear wheel. An external handbrake provides retardation for the two front wheels-earlier versions did not bother with this ''luxury".The gear lever is also outside the body, it engages either of two chainwheel sprockets by means of dog clutches, giving a choice of two forward ratios Vainly, I search for a pair of L plates
The start-up Procedure is eventful. Having primed the fuel system and retarded the magneto timing, my passenger-and doubtless a very apprehensive owner-starts pushing.
Weighing only about six hundredweights, it rolls easily-at least it seems to from inside!
Disengaging the clutch, with the gear lever back in low ratio, the Morgan slows almost to a halt, then suddenly the rare 1098cc Blackburn water-cooled Vee twin erupts into life.
Immediately, you can feel the vibration, smell the Castrol 'R' vegetable oil and hear the unmistakable off-beat sound that only an unsilenced Vee twin can produce And so can the entire neighbourhood-the twin fishtail exhaust pipes doing more to amplify than attenuate the glorious sound I blip the throttle to keep the engine alive and the magneto timing is now advanced to its normal running setting-it really barks, raring to go, but not before my instructor has climbed aboard. Lawrence's job is to regulate the engine's oil feed and maintain pressure inside the fuel tank, using a dashboard mounted pump which resembles that of a primus stove.
Cautiously I edge home the clutch, half expecting it to stall,or go kangarooing down the road There's no drama though the clutch plate bites as smoothly and progressively as many a modern car - and we're away amid clouds of blue smoke from the engine. I hasten to add!
Gathering speed, which it does with frightening rapidity, it does not take long to find out that maintaining any semblance of directional control is an acquired art. The Super Aero is fitted with a steering box reduction drive, very similar to that used on the Model T Ford. It lowers the gearing to something approaching half a turn lock to lock, and is supposed to reduce steering effort. However, in spite of this, and the advantage of a large steering wheel, it still feels immovably heavy, with the slightest twitch sending the car scurrying across the road
This is unnerving. Obviously it would not do to have a mishap in such a prized possession (especially with the owner on board) - though it would not be the Morgan's first accident in its near 60-year history. It was completely rebuilt in 1928 with the first of what was to become the distinctive "beetle-back" bodies
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