Flying Through Wiltshire

Behind the wheel of a 3-wheel British icon

Car: Morgan 3-Wheeler

Drive: Castle Combe/Lacock (112km) 

Pix: Dawn Green


‘To drive this car was the closest thing to flying without leaving the ground’, so said Captain Albert Ball VC, DSO and Two Bars, MC.

That’s ‘Albert Ball’ as in World War 1 British flying ace and ‘VC’ as in Victoria Cross (posthumously awarded).

And if you thought he was referring to his beloved, bespoke-bodied lightweight Morgan 3-Wheeler Grand Prix — then you’d be right.

At the time of death, killed in action on May 7, 1917, at just 20 years of age, Captain Ball was the Royal Flying Corp’s leading ace, having downed 42 enemy aircraft on the Western Front.

As well as a crack shot and consummate pilot, he earned a reputation for being as fearless as they come. His exploits are many.

On one occasion, he was in such a hurry to take to the air and do battle that he went off clad only in pyjamas and overcoat.

Another time, he took on six German aircraft single-handed, two of which he accounted for.

In 1920, in homage to this legendary aviator, Morgan named one of its sportiest models the Aero, a practice that was to endure to modern days. 

Time’s moved on nearly a century, though I can heartily relate to the great man’s words about the Morgan driving experience.

Ensconced in an open cockpit and peering over the aero screen, wind tugging at my flat cap and green English hedgerows racing past on each side, we might be on the ground — but ‘flying’ is the operative word.

I’m behind the tiller of not one of the original 3-Wheelers like Captain Ball, but its 21st century successor. 

This particular example happens to be the Morgan Motor Company’s demonstrator and we’re heading through rural Wiltshire towards the picture card-pretty villages of Castle Combe and Lacock.

There’s a canopy of cloudless, blue sky above; a winding, grey ribbon of quiet road ahead; and the ‘Moggy’ is mine for the day. 

Designed by Morgan’s chief designer Matt Humphries while still in his fresh-faced 20s, the 21st century 3-Wheeler (priced from £30,000 – about $A60,000) certainly evokes the spirit, charisma and individuality of its long-ago predecessor.

That means typical Morgan – the underpinnings of a tubular ‘space frame’ steel chassis mated with alloy panels stretched over a Belgian Ash timber frame  – produced by hand, to order, in a small, red-bricked factory in Malvern Link, Worcestershire.

Aesthetically, the new boy is closest to the Super Sports model of the late-1930s.

Could the superb, grey and red Morgan pictured that we saw driving through Monkleigh, Devon be such an example?

But instead of a big, brawny British-built J.A.P. or Matchless V-twin thumping away up front as in ye days of olde, there’s an American-made S&S X-Wedge unit of twice that capacity. 

9 A grade drive on a B road.
A-grade drive on a B-road.


From the moment I fired it up, on the gravel forecourt of the Williams Automobiles’ Morgan dealership, the Morgan felt alive in my hands, a meaty pulse coursing through the small, thick steering wheel and along the leather seat back.  

Put the hammer down and row up the short, slick throws of the Mazda MX-5-derived five-speed gearbox and both pulse and pace quicken.

All the while the barrage from the straight exhaust pipes that run either side of the car escalates from double-barrel shotgun to 50-calibre machine gun. Bang, bang, bang!

With 85kW @ 5300rpm and 136Nm @ 3200-4200rpm on tap, hauling just 480kg (minus driver), power-to-weight and torque-to-weight are impressive.

As the aforementioned numbers suggest, the Milwaukee V-twin responds best when your right foot keeps the tacho needle hovering around the 4000rpm mark.

Top speed is nearly 200km/h with 0-100km/h coming up in less than 6.0 seconds. 

A pair of 280mm ventilated discs at the front and a 230mm single drum at the rear take care of braking.

There’s no servo, nor ABS. The result is a (relatively) heavy middle pedal, though one that’s still progressive and reassuring.

The steering is devoid of power assistance, but you don’t need it. With only skinny motorcycle-style 4.0 S19 65S tyres to turn (of the type commonly fitted to vintage road cars), it’s light and direct enough.

And this is despite the engine hanging over the very front of the car – a proverbial, lead-tipped dart, it ain’t.

Front grip levels are good; however, ask a little too much under cornering and the 3-Wheeler will gradually push into understeer. 

A toothed rubber belt to the rear wheel, wearing a fat 195/55 R16 tyre, puts power to the ground.

Here, there’s superior grip to the front, but with a little time behind the wheel, and in the right time and place, the Morgan lends itself to hanging the tail out on demand.  

It’s handy if you can pick your driving company because the cockpit is very much shoulder-to-shoulder.

There’s minimal adjustment to the driving position, though the pedals can be repositioned, but controls fall to hand easily and the twin aero screens do a surprising job of keeping wind rush to an acceptable level. 

The centre-of-track positioning of the rear wheel tends to pick out creases and bumps in the road surface, particularly on typically, narrow English lanes.

But such is the visceral driving experience, you would forgive the 3-Wheeler for this and other minor foibles such as bugs in your teeth from not being able to wipe the grin off your face.

In an increasingly regulated and vanilla world, the Morgan 3-Wheeler is a refreshing double shot of individuality and dare-to-be-difference.

Here’s to good, old-fashioned British eccentricity and character – long may it continue to live on in the marvellous Morgan marque.

Albert Ball, methinks, would surely approve.

The 3-Wheeler looked right at home in Castle Combe and nearby Lacock.

Gliding through the narrow, high streets at a little above walking pace, V-twin note rebounding off the honey-coloured, centuries-old stone walls, this could well be a scene from any time out of the last 100 years.

Tourists and locals alike stop in their tracks as we approach and pass, many giving us a wave or thumbs-up, others raising their smartphone or Canon/Nikon/Olympus DSLR to record the Instagram ‘you-will-not-believe-this’ moment. 

While parked, to get a shot of our own, we we’re approached by a middle-aged guy fairly buzzing with excitement. For him, the look-at-me, sky blue and orange Gulf racing livery from the 1960-70s assisted with instant ID.

Zis very same machine was on television in Chermany,” he said. Hmm, sounds like Mr Clarkson beat me to it. 

Long named as ‘the prettiest village in England’, Castle Combe has attracted film makers for decades.

More recently used as a location for The Wolf Man, Stardust and Stephen Spielberg’s War Horse.

It also featured in the original Dr Doolittle film of 1968. 

Nearly as charismatic, Lacock continues the cinematic theme. Scenes for period dramas such as Downtown Abbey, Pride and Prejudice and Carnford have been shot here.

Ditto a Harry Potter trilogy (Philosopher’s Stone, the Chamber of Secrets and the Half Blood Prince) and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.


2013 Morgan 3-Wheeler

Basic price: £30,000

Engine: 2.0-litre pushrod 4v V-twin

Power: 85kW @ 5300 rpm

Torque: 136Nm @ 3200-4200 rpm

Transmission: 5-spd manual (MX-5)

Weight: 480kg

Drive: Rear-wheel

0-100km/h: Sub-6.0 secs


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