If a Martian fell to earth and solicitously enquired of you what it was that defined the difference between fast and fun, you could do no better than to answer by way of illustration and direct our alien friend in the direction of a strange contraption looking like a semi-enclosed aluminium bath tub with an unusual confection of mechanical parts strapped (for no apparent reason) to its nose.
Morgan has been making three-wheeled cars since its earliest days over 110 years ago. Back then the engines were under a thing called a bonnet, but it didn’t take long to place them ahead of the front axle where they were easily cooled and left more space for occupants. Production of three wheelers continued even after Morgan started making four-wheel cars in 1936, but stopped abruptly in 1952 and stayed stopped for nearly 60 years. But in 2011 it was back, a brand new car but looking like it had never gone away. And despite only having 75 per cent of what is generally accepted to be the minimum quota of wheels for a car, it soon became the best-selling car in Morgan’s exceptionally long history, even though its ten years in the market place is actually quite brief by Morgan standards.
Yet an objective assessor would likely have dismissed it outright as simply deficient not just in wheel count, but cylinders too, possessing a mere two, each displacing nearly a litre of capacity, yet between them being able to summon no more than 82bhp, which these days would be a fairly derisory output for an engine of half that size in a conventional car.
And, technically, they’d be right in all bar one really quite important regard: who on earth wants to be objective about a three-wheel Morgan? A 3 Wheeler is, then, not a remotely serious purchase, and that’s what’s was so good about it when it was new, and what’s even greater about it now it’s no longer on sale and fast acquiring classic status.
Even the absence of that fourth wheel forms part of the appeal. There is something not merely different, but disruptive and iconoclastic about it not being there. So does having an engine slung so far out the front driving a single wheel at the back. And what an engine it is! Whatever the 2-litre S&S motor lacks in power, it more than makes up for in torque and aural charm. Think of this less like a car missing a wheel, more like an inherently stable motorcycle, and you’ll be closer to the root of its appeal.
Which is visceral. You sit so low and so exposed. If you draw a mental triangle between the centre points of the three wheels, you’ll realise your seating position is outside it. Your right elbow rests in the air stream rushing past the car. With its roof, weather equipment, heater and doors, a Caterham is a luxury car compared to this. Even though 3-Wheelers are reliable and well built, every single journey, no matter how brief, feels like an adventure. You feel intrepid, it makes you happy.
And that’s before you set off. The engine is as lazy as it sounds, spinning so slowly and firing its cylinders so infrequently that at idle it’s not difficult to mentally tune into each bang at the top of the compression stroke. Maximum power comes at 5200rpm, which doesn’t sound like much, but in a car this light, with so much torque from that thumping motor and a quick-shifting Mazda MX-5 gearbox, it’s more than enough.
But you’re still wondering what it will be like in the corners and, specifically, whether it is likely to fall over or not. And the answer is that it’s not very likely at all. Indeed without going up a bank or hitting something I’d hazard it was near enough impossible. The rear tyre is so fat there’s probably more rubber on the road at the rear than the two super-skinny front boots can muster between them. Grip levels are remarkably good because the car is so phenomenally light (about half a tonne) and there’s so much feel fed back through the wheel you’d need to be wearing oven gloves not to sense when the car was about to slide. Which it does, in a very gentle and benign fashion.
There really is very little not to love here. Yes, that Caterham 7 is far more accomplished in almost all areas, but when it comes to pure and simple charm, there really is nothing like a 3 Wheeler. Whether the new Super 3 that replaces it, with its three cylinder Ford engine hiding under a bonnet is assured of future classic status it is too early to say. But the 3-Wheeler, with those looks and that unique vee twin out front? It’s there already and the fact that cars appear essentially immune to depreciation rather proves the point.