Sunday, February 22, 2009

Morgan Three-Wheeler

When I was a student in 1963 my first car (motorised device with more than 2 wheels) was a 1934 Morgan Super-Sports Matchless MX4 Beetleback.
Big name for a very tiny vehicle!

The picture here is of an identical one I found last year in Auto & Technik Museam Sinsheim near Neckarsulm, historical home of NSU.

This one is a lot smarter than mine, but mine was red...

In fact it was small, red, fast &
dangerous, which sounds like the start of an elephant joke!

Wish I had it now, instead of having sold it for £95 - but then I bought it for £65 so it seemed like a good deal at the time...

The Morgan Three-Wheeler was an interesting example of being the best answer to a particular question (the most economical way to go fast without (all) the discomfort & danger of a motorcycle) and it stuck to, and improved on, the same basic design for nearly 30 years.

It was an object lesson in lateral thinking & distilling down to the bare essentials.

Mine taught me a lot about driving, especially about anticipation as the 'go' pedal had
a much bigger effect than the 'stop' pedal.
In fact the brake pedal only acted on the rear wheel so could at best have had limited results even if it had worked.

The main braking effect was from the hand brake working on the front wheels by inefficient cables.

Not as stupid as it sounds, this allowed you to apply the hand-brake & leave it on the ratchet while you got on with heel-&-toe double-declutching to a lower gear for some welcome engine-braking.

It also taught me a lot about being towed, including being towed home for 100 miles at high speed in the dark & rain, as the original cone clutch had a nasty habit of discarding all the loose ball bearings needed to release it.

At that point you could carry on for a time, doing clutchless gearchanges on the crash box for as long as you didn't need to stop (more practice at anticipation).

If you could see you were going to have to stop, you could try to do it facing downhill, so you could coast away afterwards & then snick into gear on the run, but sooner or later this would all come to a hopeless halt.

I carried a lot of spare ball bearings in my extensive on-board tool kit (with saws, hammer, files, wire, tape, chains etc as well as the usual sissy spanners & screwdrivers) and it was easy enough to take the engine off at the side of the road & put new balls in, but when it happened for the second time with darkness looming in the sleet on the Derbyshire moors, it was time to phone home.

The cone clutch was a very bad idea anyway & the most delicately finessed smooth start always ended in a 'shudder-snatch' nutation effect reminiscent of the last gyrations of a spinning coin as it gives up & snaps onto the table, even after thorough degreasing & treatment with the recommended Fullers Earth.

So I replaced it with a plate-clutch adapter kit which was a revelation in smoothness & reliability.
I seem to remember it also included a pulley on the front of the flywheel which allowed driving a dynamo off the engine, instead of off the back wheel (correct me if wrong).
Of course there was no way you could then install a normal Vee-belt on a pulley located between the engine & the flywheel so you had to use a special split belt with a screwed-together link...

I also learned about starting the engine with a starting handle as that was the only way.

This was a big, 990cc V-twin motobike engine, so not to be treated lightly.

Normally, you started by being sure the hand-brake was on & the gears in neutral, then turned the petrol on, set the ignition timing & mixture richness, then maybe tickled the carburettor if it was cold then pulled up on the handle, when it would usually start immediately & settle down to the beautiful off-beat idle you can see & hear here.

If you stalled in traffic, then it was necessary to run through all the above settings as you leapt out of the car, grabbing the starting handle which lived at the side of the seat, swing the engine & leap back in again & drive off (no doors - no seatbelts...).
The big thing to remember was to retard the ignition timing from the normal running setting, otherwise as you pulled the handle the engine would snap backwards, snatching the handle from your fingers & flinging it at your face...

I think it probably had a speedometer, but mine had long since stopped working & that didn't bother anybody.
It didn't work as an excuse at the first radar trap I ever met either…

I don't remember a fuel gage.

The petrol cap, oil cap & water caps were just in front of the windscreen & you could easily see how much of each was left.

The petrol tap was just by your left knee & leaked a bit, so left knees smelled of petrol.
I remember there being some sparking electrical device (regulator?) just next to the leaking fuel tap & I remember it glowing red hot one day due to a short-circuit somewhere...

Your hair would also get lightly oiled on a long fast run due to unavoidable leaks from the exposed valve gear in front.

Appart from the absence of synchromesh, the gear selectors had another quirk, no doubt due to wear.

If you did not do deliberate square movements with the gear lever (which had first & reverse on the right & second & third on the left) then you could change into second without changing out of first.
This caused an immediate & total locking of the back wheel, with surprise & consternation all round!

There was a hood, but I don't know why.

It clipped on to the centre & outside screen pillars, so that with it up you could not get in or out or see forwards or sideways or backwards...

I did put it up when parking in rain or snow.

All the above can be excused in a car which was already over 30 years old, cost £65 and was being run on a student's-grant budget.

Certainly all was forgiven as you blatt-blatted across the moors, rocketed up hills, left incredulous Riley 1.5 drivers standing & generally behaved like Walter Mitty, Biggles or Snoopy after
the Red Baron !

All thouroughly reprehensible now, but I couldn't even spell reprehensible then.

As I said earlier, I dearly wish I had not sold it & could really enjoy driving it again now (sensibly!) on dry summer days only, but I see one was recently sold at Christies (!) for £17,000…

Nice description of the "goods" here.

Have a look at & listen to these links & you may begin to understand the irrational appeal.,Bj.1932.jpg

Funnily enough, the same layout is now being rediscovered for the same reasons in the latest American ecological commuter vehicle, the Aptera 2e.

Parting thot: "Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors" – African proverb

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