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This article is reprinted from and copyrighted by Motor Magazine,
July 28, 1984.

Three-wheel Racer

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

large photo

Curiosity dictates a brisker pace and a change into second gear. I'm half expecting the transrnission to make expensive qraunching noises, or worse, to seize solid - but, depressing the clutch, edging the lever into neutral and pausing, it slips into second smoothly and silently. With only two ratios, they are inevitably wide apart, so there is a considerable drop in revs accompanying the change up. To its credit, the Blackburn engine (of the type that was used in a successful 104 miles in an hour record attempt) is astonishingly flexible, pulling strongly despite revving so slowly that the individual firing pulsations can be felt.

Now, wind in the hair motoring can really be appreciated, but this Morgan does have minor failings. Along with the wind, one's body gets assaulted with oil, water, petrol and grease from every source imaginable, not to mention heat soak from the radiator. And worse, without mudguards, you have to be particularly careful what you run over with the front tyres, lest it ends up in your face!

There's no speedometer fitted, so it is Impossible to tell how fast it is going, and the tachometer (reading to 6,000 rpm, though usual maximum is 4,000 rpm) does not work on this occasion.

In any case, the Morgan's performance would depend greatly on what gearing was used - this being easily varied by fitting alternative chainwheel sprockets, just like a bicycle.

Some indication of its performance potential can be gleaned from the Blackburn engine's 4550 bhp allied to a total weight of around six hundredweight, giving a power-to-weight ratio in the region of 160 bhp/ton. That is better than the Porsche 944 ,

Unlike most three-wheelers, the Morgan feels immensely stable, with no sign of body roll around corners This is because all the weight is low down, and contained within a triangle formed by the three wheels. (In concept, the gearbox mounted between the driver and rear wheel and drive to it- via a torque tube enclosed propshaft, is similar to that of a Porsche 944 ) It is also because the three wheel independent suspension is unyieldtngly firm, and the Morgan has a particularly wide front track. Interestingly, the sliding pillar front suspension, which gives zero camber change, continues to be used on modern Morgans.

Every movement of the front suspension (not that there is much) and front wheels can be seen from the cockpit, every ripple in the road, felt. But despite this jarring ride, and nearly 60 years use on the road and track (it was first road-registered in 1928), the lightweight structure still feels incredibly solid and free of the scuttle-shake which plagues too many modern open cars.

Regrettably there was no opportunity to experience the Morgan's capabilities at high speed, but I'm told that over anything less than a perfect surface, most of the time is spent airborne - with the occupants rattling around like peas in a pod. Normal racing practice is to huddle down inside the cockpit, out of the airstream, so improving maximum speed. I preferred a more conventional seating position, allowing me to see ahead.

The dual braking systems work surprisingly effectively -though obviously it is not possible to use the handbrake and change down simultaneously With only two gears, it is not a problem which occurs often

My thanks to Lawrence Weeks for trusting me with his Super Aero (which incidentally cost him just f 125, "a few years ago"). It was a challenge to drive and as thrilling as any modern Italian exotic.

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Isis Imports Ltd
PO Box 2290 Gateway Station
San Francisco, CA 94126
(415) 433-1344
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